Crowds gathered at Highland Park Presbyterian Church Nov. 1 to mourn Bryan Dunagan, the church’s 44-year-old senior pastor.
Dunagan served as Highland Park Presbyterian Church’s senior pastor for nine years and was only the seventh in Highland Park Presbyterian’s 88-year history.
Dunagan, a native Texan, served as the teaching pastor at Peachtree Presbyterian Church, a 7,000-member church in Atlanta, for nine years prior to joining Highland Park Presbyterian. He’d also served at Presbyterian congregations in California, Washington, and Houston. He had a bachelor’s degree in political science from Stanford University, a Master of Divinity from Regent College, and a Doctor of Ministry from Fuller Theological Seminary.
Dunagan leaves behind his wife, Ali, and three children: Annie, Wheeler, and Collier Jane.
During the memorial service, Ali, who married Bryan in 2008, recalled their save-the-dates ahead of their wedding that highlighted the couple’s three years of dating long-distance and noted that they’d traveled 90,153 miles to visit each other and wrote 56 letters.
“As I reflect on our 15 years of marriage, I see how his love for me and his love for Jesus shaped me. Of all that I learned from Bryan, what I’ve been most transformed by is his understanding of grace,” she said.
She also played a recording of a sermon Bryan had given in 2015 in which he spoke about God’s presence during times of struggle.
“God never seems to answer that question that everybody wants to ask that I so often am haunted by. Why? Why do good people suffer?” Bryan said in the recorded sermon. “We ask God, ‘Why?’ and his answer is, ‘with!’ He gives us a new word, ‘with.’ ‘I am with you in the storm, in your pain. I will never leave you, never forsake you.”
“The last days have been the hardest of my life, and yet by the power of the Holy Spirit and the incredible ways you guys have shown up for us, I have no doubt that we are being supernaturally carried by this one we call Grace,” Ali concluded.
His friend, Todd Sandel, remembered Bryan as “unreasonably kind” with a kindness that “came from a deep place and sincere regard for people’s feelings and for their dignity.”
The Rev. Scott Scruggs went to seminary with Bryan and recalled their travels, including one time they went cliff-jumping into a river.
“I will miss our adventures, I will miss your sense of humor, I will miss following you down ski hills and watching you jump into rivers,” Scruggs said. “I will miss listening to you preach and admiring how well you pastor.”
Scott Dudley, a pastor and mentor of Dunagan’s, described his friend’s short time on earth as a “thing of beauty, work of art.”
“Thousands of people’s lives were changed by Bryan,” Dudley said. “Back when he was in college, what I mistook as just typical Stanford ambition was a passionate drive to make Jesus known.
“The one thing I know Bryan would want to happen today has already happened: that the name of Jesus would be proclaimed again and again and again,” Dudley added.