Bishop Phillip Davis, founder and senior pastor of Nations Ford Community Church in Charlotte, was found dead Saturday inside his Union County home, apparently the victim of an accidental gunshot wound, the Union County sheriff’s office said.
Davis, 62, was apparently cleaning his pistol at his home in Weddington when it accidentally fired, striking him in the chest, the sheriff’s office said in a statement. He had invited his adult son to go to a firing range with him later that day.
Cynthia Davis, his wife of more than 40 years, called 911 shortly after 1 p.m. Saturday and said she found him collapsed at his desk. She attempted to administer CPR.
“The investigation revealed no signs of foul play, and the evidence confirms this was in fact an accidental death,” the sheriff’s office said in the statement.
At Nations Ford, a Southern Baptist congregation that is predominantly African-American, Davis had worked alongside his wife, a pastor who serves as community services officer. The couple have three children and three grandchildren.
Worshippers at the church’s 8 a.m. service Sunday were greeted by an usher holding out a box of Kleenex. In the sanctuary, photos of Davis flashed on big screens as members hugged and wept.
“Today is a very sad day for us here at Nations Ford Community Church,” church spokeswoman Jacinda Garabito told reporters. “It’s a shock to us. This morning was supposed to be a huge day of celebration for us.”
Sunday was to have been the culmination of the church’s Founders’ Week, celebrating Davis’ establishment of the Southern Baptist congregation 36 years ago. Last week the church paid tribute to Cynthia Davis, as well marking the couple’s 42nd wedding anniversary and Davis’ birthday.
The Davis family remained at the home Sunday and did not attend the 8 a.m. service, Garabido said. The church’s elders visited the home after the shooting to console the family, she said.
The bishop’s widow, Garabido said, is “holding up as well as she possibly can. We’re praying for her and their three (grown) children.”
The Davises’ son, R.J., is pastor at the church’s Ballantyne campus.
The church usually broadcasts its services live but said it was not doing so Sunday.
This Sunday’s services are to be cut short, with no preaching. Instead, the congregation will be invited to grieve and pray.
“The focus today is, Bishop Davis’ legacy lives on,” Garabido said. “Today it’s OK to grieve. This is something that is hard for all of us.”
Reporters were asked not to go into the sanctuary or to interview members.
“Bishop Davis is an amazing leader here,” Garabido said. “He’s really like a father figure to us all....If you needed him, he was a phone call away.”
In recent weeks, Davis headed up several community conversations before the opening of the trial of Randall “Wes” Kerrick, who was charged in the death of an unarmed African American man, Jonathan Ferrell, while responding to a call as a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police officer.
On July 12, Davis spoke about the upcoming trial during a unity rally at Freedom Park. The “Arms Around Charlotte” event was a call for peace and a move to head off the sort of violent protests that have occurred around the country in response to unarmed black men being fatally shot by white officers. The event was hosted by members with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and the North Carolina Local Barbers Association.
After a mistrial was declared in the Kerrick case, Davis was among the community activists who called for peaceful marches as well as a revision of Charlotte Mecklenburg Police’s use-of-force policy and Mecklenburg County’s jury selection process.
In a statement, U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger described Davis as a friend and ministry partner for 30 years.
“He worked hard to demonstrate the love of Christ to those in need and was passionate regarding racial reconciliation,” Pittenger wrote.
The projects they worked on together included the launch of the Male Leadership Academy, a Christian school at Nations Ford Community Church for boys in kindergarten through fifth grade, said Jamie Bowers, Pittenger’s communications director.
In 2012, Davis had preached in favor of passage of the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, which North Carolina voters approved by a landslide. And he had expressed disappointment in 2013 after two Supreme Court decisions struck decisive blows for same-sex rights. “I will continue praying for our nation,” he said after those decisions.
Davis received his bachelor of science in business from Xavier University in Cincinnati, and master’s of ministry and his doctor of divinity degrees from the Carolina School of Theology. He was the author of two books, “The Vision Casting Congregation” and “The Father Force.”
Nations Ford Community Church plans a public vigil for Bishop Phillip Davis at 7 p.m. Monday at the church’s main campus, 5910 Nations Ford Road.