State News

Songs, heartfelt words fill Billy Graham's funeral

Posted March 2, 2018 1:12 p.m. EST
Updated July 13, 2018 1:42 p.m. EDT

— Billy Graham's funeral Friday featured rousing music along with heartfelt words from his adult children in the culmination of more than a week of tributes to "America's pastor."

"I just want you to know my father was 'FAT' – he was faithful, he was available, and he was teachable," said Ned Graham, his youngest child. "Faithful, available, teachable, may we all be that way."

Ruth Graham shared a poignant story of fearing to go home when her second marriage was in shambles, worrying that her parents would be ashamed of her. Instead, she said, her father greeted her in the driveway with a big hug.

"My father was not God, but he showed me what God was like that day," she said. "When we come to God with our sin, our brokenness, our failure, our pain and our hurt, God says, 'Welcome home.'"

The 75-minute service commenced at noon with the evangelist's family bringing in his casket before an invitation-only crowd of more than 2,000.

President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and their wives and North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper were in attendance. Neither Pence nor Trump spoke during the service, but they met privately with the family beforehand.

Linda McCrary-Fisher's performance of the gospel song "Until Then," which opened the service, included the poignant lyric, "my heart will go on singing ... until the day God calls me home."

McCrary-Fisher was among several gospel musicians who performed at Billy Graham events in the past who sang hymns at the funeral. Michael W. Smith and the Gaither Vocal Band also sang during the service, and family spokesman Mark DeMoss said all had sung for Graham at his home in recent years.

Graham, who died last week at age 99, brought a message of salvation to millions during visits and live broadcasts to scores of countries. DeMoss said Graham, some close friends and his family began planning the funeral a decade ago, and it also included words from preachers from Spartanburg, S.C., to the Middle East.

The service was held under a giant tent in the parking lot of the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, harking back to the tent revivals that launched his ministry almost 70 years ago. His family wanted to capture the feeling of the crusades that made him the world's best-known Protestant preacher of his era, DeMoss said.

The Rev. Franklin Graham, who now is chief executive of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, delivered the main funeral address for his father, urging mourners to accept salvation.

"My father preached on heaven, told millions how to find heaven, he wrote a book on heaven, and today, he's in heaven. His journey is complete," Franklin Graham said.

Billy Graham "preached the gospel with urgency," his son said, knowing that everyone will eventually face God's judgment.

"Most of his life was spent traveling the world, but the last week, he embarked on the journey he had been looking forward to all of his life – the journey from earth to heaven," Franklin Graham said. "How about you? If this were your funeral, would you be in heaven? Are you sure?"

Anne Graham Lotz said her father's death was "a shot across the bow from heaven," comparing him to Moses for leading the world to the brink of the Promised Land.

"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," she said. "I believe God is saying: 'Wake up church! Wake up world!'"

Graham's funeral followed more than a week of public mourning.

On Saturday, 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 on Monday and Tuesday. On Wednesday, Graham became the first private citizen since civil rights icon Rosa Parks in 2005 to lie in honor at the U.S. Capitol.

Funeral inspires many to carry on Graham's legacy

People came to Charlotte from across the state, the nation and the world to attend the funeral, and they said the service was inspiring – much like Graham's famed crusades.

"We're all sharing the word, like his children are. We're also spreading the word of the gospel of Christ," said Darlene White, of Minneapolis. "The people that are following Christ are called to do what he did, to spread the word and win other people to Christ."

"Billy's message, and everyone of us as Christians, our message to everybody should be just come to the foot of the cross and meet Jesus. You'll never be alone again for the rest of your life. You'll never be alone again," said Kathy Lee Gifford, host of NBC's Today Show.

"The message continues. He's one of many, many servants that God has called to preach the gospel – the simple gospel message – and so that's what should continue to happen," said Rev. Michael Randall, of Kansas City, Mo.

"The challenge, I think, is on all of us who are believers is that we have a message to give, a message of hope and love, forgiveness and grace," said Andre Thornton, of Cleveland.

"(It was) very very moving, really to the point of emphasizing the message given by the late Billy Graham," said Archbishop Demetrios Geron of the Greek Orthodox Church.

"I loved how the gospel message was presented in such a clear way and everyone can understand how to get to heaven," said Randy Cecil, of Greenville, S.C.

"It was very encouraging to keep going and to serve Jesus Christ in our life. Mr. Graham was a very big example," said Dina Hashweh, of Jordan.

The stories and messages of Graham's children touched Joe and Judy Cook, of Nashville, Tenn.

"(It was) very, very personal. You felt like you were part of it, part of the family. We're all in there together," Judy Cook said.

"There was a peacefulness in there that just transcended the event. Even with the cold wind and the blusteriness, it was just to God be the glory," Joe Cook said.

"This is a wonderful family," agreed Woodrow Kroll, of Nebraska. "God has blessed each of them, and the ministry will go on. (It) won't go on as it was in the past, but it won't die either."

Graham was buried next to his wife in a memorial prayer garden at the library, with his grandchildren serving as pallbearers. His grave marker reads: "Preacher of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ."

Family members placed white roses on the pine plywood casket, which was made by inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, at the conclusion of a brief ceremony.

The Billy Graham Library, which has been closed since Feb. 22 in preparation for the visitation and funeral, will reopen Monday to continue showcasing what Billy Graham stood for in life and what others say they are now called to do now that he's gone.