CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The Rev. Billy Graham’s children remembered “America’s Pastor” on Friday as someone so thoroughly devoted to spreading the Gospel that he lived his life at home as he preached it in stadiums, with a personable humility and an unwavering focus on the Bible. As his oldest son told the funeral congregation, “There weren’t two Billy Grahams.”
His adult children — all speakers or preachers in their own right — recalled being taught by their parents how to read Scripture aloud and deliver sermons, but also taking quiet walks with their father and receiving his plainspoken wisdom.
Franklin Graham, who delivered the main funeral message, said all of those qualities were part of the whole.
“The Billy Graham that the world saw on television, the Billy Graham that the world saw in the big stadiums was the same Billy Graham that we saw at home. There weren’t two Billy Grahams,” he said. “He loved his family. He stood by us. He comforted us. He left us an enduring legacy: His uncompromising testimony of God’s great love.”
Franklin Graham’s funeral message, which included a Gospel call to repentance and salvation, followed shorter remarks by his siblings in a service that lasted just over an hour before an invitation-only crowd of approximately 2,000.
“I believe, from Heaven’s perspective, that my father’s death is as significant as his life. And his life was very significant. But I think when he died that was something very strategic from Heaven’s point of view,” said his daughter Anne Graham Lotz, later adding: “I believe God is saying: ‘Wake up church! Wake up world!'”
The noon service commenced with the evangelist’s family bringing in his casket, followed by a renditions of some of Graham’s favorite music. Linda McCrary-Fisher’s performance of “Until Then” included the poignant lyric, “my heart will go on singing … until the day God calls me home.”
The congregation included President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and their wives. The service was streamed live online. Neither Pence nor Trump spoke during the service, but they met privately with the family beforehand.
The funeral planning began a decade ago with Billy Graham himself, and it also reflected his family’s desire to capture the feeling of the crusades that made him the world’s best-known Protestant preacher of his era.
“His fingerprints are on this service for sure,” family spokesman Mark DeMoss said in a phone interview before the funeral. “The Graham family has long considered that his funeral eventually would really be his last crusade.”
Graham, who died last week at age 99, brought a message of salvation to millions during visits and live broadcasts to scores of countries.
The service featured songs from gospel musicians who performed at Graham’s events: McCrary-Fisher, Michael W. Smith and the Gaither Vocal Band. They are all friends who sang for Graham at his home in recent years, DeMoss said.
Other notable guests included North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper. His immediate predecessor, Pat McCrory, was already in the tent hours before the service and doing commentary for a radio station.
Graham will be buried next to his wife in a memorial prayer garden at the library, with his grandchildren serving as pallbearers. His pine plywood casket was made by inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. The grave marker reads: “Preacher of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Earlier, crowds lined the road for a procession from Graham’s home in the mountains to Charlotte, where Graham grew up. Approximately 13,000 people — including former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton — filed past his casket during a public viewing in Charlotte this week. And on Wednesday, Graham became the first private citizen since civil rights icon Rosa Parks in 2005 to lie in honor at the Capitol Rotunda in Washington.