For nearly 90 minutes Saturday, friends and relatives took the stage in the brand-new 3,450-seat sanctuary at Bell Shoals Baptist Church to spread the gospel and share stories about their beloved pastor, the Rev. Forrest Pollock, and his 13-year-old son, Preston.
Images of Pollock flashed on giant TV screens as thousands of mourners came to pay tribute to the father and son who died Monday when the small plane they were flying crashed into a North Carolina mountainside.
"It's not a goodbye for Preston," Caleb Clark told the crowd. "It's a see ya' later."
Caleb and Preston were a year apart, best friends with their own Christian rock band.
Caleb said Preston cherished his Gibson Les Paul electric guitar, which sat nearby as he spoke.
Preston, who attended Randall Middle School but more recently was homeschooled, liked to fish and dreamed of owning a DeLorean sports car.
"He's probably driving one right now," Caleb said.
The congregation prayed, and they sang, and they laughed, and they asked for God's mercy.
"Lord, we need you now and we're looking and we're listening for your grace," prayed J.D. Courtney, a pastor from Arkansas and one of Pollock's closest friends.
Courtney Pollock, Forrest Pollock's 16-year-old daughter and the namesake of his friend, took the stage to perform a moving rendition of His Eye is on the Sparrow.
The standing-room-only crowd stood and raised their hands in praise as she sang: "I sing because I'm happy. I sing because I'm free … And I know he watches me."
They did not get to pay their last respects to the bodies of Preston and Forrest Pollock. They remained at Serenity Meadows funeral home in Riverview, where a private, closed-casket visitation was held Friday night. The bodies will be buried Tuesday in Oklahoma City.
Forrest Pollock, 44, had been pastor at Bell Shoals in Brandon since 2002. He also preached at churches in Louisiana and Texas.
Before that, he was a successful businessman who founded and sold a multimedia company called PDC Productions.
The company still exists and provides video and other services for conventions, meetings and large corporations.
Pollock brought his command of the media, technology and public speaking to Bell Shoals, where membership numbers more than 7,000. Church services are broadcast live online, and videos and CDs of music, sermons and special events can be purchased on the Bell Shoals Web site.
Pollock's passions were his church, his family and flying. He got his pilot's license at 19.
Those who spoke Saturday painted him as a man who was charismatic and good looking, humble and intelligent, giving and supportive, faithful to God and his family, yet not afraid to enjoy the good things in life.
"He was the smartest man in the room," said friend Mike Chadwell, a local builder. "Yet he never made me feel anything less than what he was."
Chadwell said Pollock was always genuine. "He's irreplaceable as a husband, son, father. He's irreplaceable as a friend."
Chadwell remembered the first time he met Pollock, soon after the pastor came to Bell Shoals.
"He pulled up in that little sports car he used to drive when he first got here," Chadwell said. "And he stepped out looking like a GQ model."
Pollock hired Chadwell to build his dream home in the gated Hammocks Oaks Reserve in Lithia. It sits on 5 acres and is valued at more than $800,000.
Pollock joked that he drew up the plans years ago, but kept having to add rooms as he and his wife, Dawn, had more children.
Besides Preston, the couple had two other sons and three daughters, ages 8 to 16.
Forrest and Dawn Pollock had been married 17 years.
He proposed on the second date. The couple was in the middle of premarital counseling at their church in Oklahoma when Forrest Pollock decided to become a minister, according to Tom Elliff, who was their pastor.
"I asked him if it was for Dawn or for God," Elliff recalled. "I don't think Forrest saw a lot of difference between the two at that moment."
Bob Anderson, an adviser on the church staff, spoke directly to Dawn Pollock and her children.
"We sure love you guys," Anderson said, crying. "We sure loved Forrest."
The music quieted. There were more prayers and a call for those who wished to pray with the pastors to come forward. Baskets were passed for the offering.
Dawn Pollock and her family were ushered out a side door. They slipped into waiting limousines to gather their emotions before heading into the fellowship hall for a public reception.
Jan Wesner can be contacted at [email protected] or 813-661-2439.