DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. - New Birth Missionary Baptist Church members and followers of Bishop Eddie L. Long gathered to say farewell to their spiritual leader today.
The funeral for the former New Birth pastor began at 10:30 a.m.
Former Atlanta Falcons and Braves player Deion Sanders spoke during the ceremony.
"This was a father figure to me," Sanders said.
He is survived by his wife, children Eric, Edward, Jared and Taylor, and three grandchildren.
Bishop Gary Oliver celebrated the life of Long yesterday during Sunday service.
“Just because our leader died doesn’t mean we died,” Oliver, pastor of Tabernacle of Praise church in Fort Worth, Texas, and "spiritual son" of Long, told the congregation during the service.
“He made you feel special, but the inside joke is, he made everyone feel special,” said another speaker.
Channel 2 Action News received a statement from Bernice King, who was an elder with New Birth until 2011.
The statement said in part that she is "saddened to hear of the passing of Bishop Eddie L. Long" and extended her "heartfelt thoughts, prayers and condolences" to his family and the New Birth family.
The statement went on to say: "As I reflect on his life, I am especially remembering Bishop Long's support during some of the most difficult times in my life ... the passing of my mother in 2006, and the sudden and unexpected loss of my sister in 2007. During these devastating moments in my life, he was there for me and my family in many ways and I will forever be grateful."
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Long disclosed last year that he was recovering from an undisclosed health challenge. Many had speculated he was ill after he posted a video in August that showed him looking very gaunt.
Long had said he was eating a raw vegan diet and giving up on a “slave menu,' trusting “God to deliver me from” from the challenge.
"We hurt not just for ourselves personally, but for the family, because the family struggled through a lot of things, and they have been strong," church member Frank Culbreath said. "Pundits will always bring up what they thought of him and what they think went on. Unless you know, you should not throw stones unless you got facts."
Information from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution was used in this report.
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