The Rev. Marvis P. May walked the streets near Lafayette Square, delivering a message of hope and encouragement throughout some of West Baltimore's toughest streets.
Pastor of Macedonia Baptist Church for nearly two decades, he died Saturday at Union Memorial Hospital of undetermined causes, church officials said. He was 47.
"He was born to preach and, in my estimation, was one of the most gifted preachers I've ever known," said the Rev. A.C.D. Vaughn, pastor of Sharon Baptist Church. "He preached in a very dynamic way and could reach people on all levels."
"He had the gift of friendship," said the Rev. Harold A. Carter Jr., co-pastor of the New Shiloh Baptist Church. "He knew people from all walks of life."
Church colleagues recalled him yesterday as a voracious reader who kept a library filled with works of theology and pastoral studies.
"His style of preaching was poetic, contemporary and fairly unique," Mr. Carter said. His tenure at Macedonia was described as "a testament to his style."
Dr. May was raised in Los Angeles. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Bishop College in Dallas and received his master's in divinity from Howard University School of Divinity in Washington. In 1992, he earned a doctorate in divinity at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio.
Before coming to Baltimore in 1989, he was pastor at Union Bethel Baptist Church in King George, Va., and had served as assistant to the pastor of Metropolitan Baptist Church in Washington.
When Dr. May was installed as pastor of Macedonia Baptist Church on July 9, 1989, he was the fifth pastor of the congregation founded in 1874.
From the beginning, Dr. May immersed himself not only in the needs of his congregation - his church is at Lafayette and Fremont avenues - but also those of the surrounding community.
His church's Web site quoted him as living by the philosophy that "life will be no better for him, until it gets better for someone else."
'A shepherd's heart'
"He was truly a preacher with a shepherd's heart," said the Rev. Mark A. Wainwright, assistant pastor at Macedonia. "He liked saying that he was 'pastor of the church, everyone here, and also in the community,' and he lived up to that. He touched everyone's life.
"Three or four days a week, he'd walk through the neighborhood, finding where there was need and then he did his best to address them."
When someone who was not a member of his church approached Dr. May and told him about the death of a parent, the pastor would say not to worry.
"He told them he'd take care of everything and he did, including preaching the person's funeral in his church," Mr. Wainwright said.
"He was a very unique expository pastor and was known for telling stories, and he could draw in people that way," he added.
Joseph Chandler Jr., a deacon and church member for 50 years, described Dr. May's preaching style as "flamboyant and articulate," and said he "always delivered a strong Christian message."
"When he delivered a sermon, he used no notes, and they were always very pungent," said Bernice B. Lewis, who has been a church member since 1936. "He was an outstanding teacher as well as a preacher."
Dr. May always made sure that the "church's door was open to those in need and reminded them they had a savior in Jesus Christ," Mr. Chandler said.
During his tenure at the church, Dr. May organized many outreach programs - from feeding the homeless to supporting missionaries in Africa and holding revival services in the square.
"On Wednesday evenings, he'd come and comfort and deliver a message to the homeless who had come for a meal," Mr. Chandler said. "We adopted schools such as Booker T. Washington. He talked to school administrators. We had a daily vacation Bible school and a summer learning center that taught computer skills, math and reading."
Mr. Chandler added: "He was a very charismatic individual who was well-loved by the community. They may not have known the name of his church, but they knew Pastor May's name."
"If anything happened anywhere in the city, whether it was a fire or another calamity, he was there offering his services," Mrs. Lewis said.
Dr. May made national headlines in 1997 when he presided at the marriage of actor Will Smith and actress Jada Pinkett, a Baltimore native, in a secret ceremony held not at his church but at the Cloisters in Brooklandville.
On Wednesday, Dr. May's congregation joined with members of Sharon Baptist Church in a Thanksgiving eve ceremony that dates back a century.
From the 23rd Psalm
"He preached from the 23rd Psalm and reminded us to 'Look at what God has done in our lives,'" Mr. Wainwright said.
Dr. May was an active member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Collective Banking Group of Baltimore and Vicinity, a collective of African-American churches whose goal was fair treatment by banks when those institutions or church members sought loans.
"Pastor May was a great person, and we all loved him," Mrs. Lewis said.
A viewing will be held from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday at his church, which will be followed by services.
Surviving are a son, Marvis P. May II of Baltimore; a daughter, Christina May of Baltimore; his mother, Precious Jones of Oakland, Calif.; and a brother, Stafford Jones of New York City. His marriage to Pamela May ended in divorce.