In his own words, worship pastor Nathan Parrish developed his TikTok username Original Panda Man because he “was a big guy” and “had dark circles” around his eyes.
Touring with gospel quartets before he became a full time worship pastor, “We stayed up all night long traveling and I didn’t sleep much, so I always looked like a zombie,” he said Dec. 14. “We were riding down the road on a bus one day, and one of my friends looked over and said, ‘You look like a big ol’ panda.’ And it just stuck from there.”
The Original Panda Man took to TikTok in September at his wife Sarah’s suggestion and expanded to include several online platforms including YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, CashApp and an official website.
The ministry coordinator and worship director of Dutch Cove Missionary Baptist Church in Canton, N.C., uses the platforms to share the unconditional love he learned from a personal relationship with Jesus, forged against the backdrop of a traumatic childhood.
Parrish said his adoptive father and mother were physically and emotionally abusive and eventually turned him over to the care of his adoptive maternal grandparents. For a time, they all lived together and went to church every Sunday, never discussing their struggles outside the home.
Parrish’s first single, “Season Ain’t the Same,” debuted Nov. 5 and gets to the heart of his mission as a pastor, husband, musician and songwriter.
“My main focus is the gospel,” he said, “as long as my life can in some way reflect all that Jesus has done for me and where He’s brought me from and the amazing ways He’s changed my life, as long as His sacrifice comes first. At the end of the day, I don’t matter.”
Parrish has lost about 240 pounds, he shared in one TikTok video and is still on his weight loss journey. At his biggest, he was 603 pounds. His diet as a traveling gospel singer was full of unhealthy fare. He’s always been big, he said, weighing nearly 17 pounds at birth. But when he saw a 650-pound man on television bathing in a horse trough, he knew he had to change.
“I honestly think I had a heart attack one night in my recliner. I was having to sleep in a recliner because I couldn’t sleep in the bed it was so bad,” he said. “I did not go to the doctor, but it was a pretty rough night that night. And it was around that time when I said, ‘Yeah, I’m not going to die, and I’m not going to bathe in a trough in the front yard.’
“I struggled with weight my whole life,” Parrish said. “And so I learned a long time ago that really people are going to talk about somebody; it might as well be you.”
It wasn’t a far-fetched suggestion for Parrish, who began singing as a tenor for The Florida Boys’ Gospel quartet (since disbanded) in 2015, and sang “Amazing Grace” on stage at the Macon County fair when he was 3 years old.
Today, he variously uses humor and traditional and contemporary worship music to honor God. He’s been known to play Baby Shark and Beauty and the Beast during the altar call, he said.
“In all my music, I try to bring it back to God somehow,” he said. “I try to flip a little Jesus into everything I do, even if it sometimes might be a little bit of a stretch for the context.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ senior writer.)