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Songs, heartfelt words fill the Rev. Billy Graham’s funeral (w/video)

By TOM FOREMAN Jr. and JONATHAN DREW, Associated Press
Published: March 2, 2018 Updated: March 2, 2018 at 02:31 PM
The casket of the Rev. Billy Graham is moved during his funeral at the Billy Graham Library on Friday, March 2, 2018, in Charlotte, N.C. [John Bazemore | Associated Press]

CHARLOTTE, N.C. ó The Rev. Billy Grahamís funeral Friday featured rousing music along with heartfelt words from his adult children in the culmination of more than a week of tributes to "Americaís Pastor."

The noon service commenced with the evangelistís family bringing in his casket before an invitation-only crowd of about 2,000. It was followed by a rendition of the gospel song "Until Then," and a welcome message from one of Grahamís confidants. The 90-minute funeral also included remarks from Grahamís five adult children and pastors from the South and around the world.

"I believe, from Heavenís perspective, that my fatherís 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 Heavenís point of view," said his daughter Anne Graham Lotz, later adding: "I believe God is saying: ĎWake up church! Wake up world!í"

Linda McCrary-Fisherís 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. Neither Pence nor Trump spoke during the service, but they met privately with the family beforehand.

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The Rev. Franklin Graham, who now is CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, delivered the main funeral address for his father, urging mourners to accept salvation, after shorter messages from Billy Grahamís three daughters and younger son.

He said, "the Billy Graham that the world saw on television, the Billy Graham that the world saw in the big stadium was the same Billy Graham that we saw at home. There werenít two Billy Grahams."

The funeral planning began a decade ago with Billy Graham himself, and it also reflects his familyís desire to capture the feeling of the crusades that made him the worldís best-known Protestant preacher of his era.

"His fingerprints are on this service for sure," family spokesman Mark DeMoss said in a phone interview. "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 features songs from gospel musicians who performed at Grahamís 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.

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Other notable guests include 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.

The final hymn also had special meaning for the evangelist, his friends and loved ones. The audience sang "To God Be the Glory," which was also the closing hymn at the 2007 dedication of his library in Charlotte.

Grahamís late music director Cliff Barrows, who helped Graham plan the funeral service starting a decade ago, has said it was his favorite hymn.

After the hymn, Grahamís casket was led out of the tent while a bagpiper played "Amazing Grace."

Graham will be buried next to his wife in a memorial prayer garden at the library. 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 Grahamís home in the mountains to Charlotte, where Graham grew up. Approximately 13,000 people ó including former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton ó 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.