Mourners claim seats hours ahead of funeral for Billy Graham
By TOM FOREMAN Jr. and JONATHAN DREW
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Rev. Billy Graham’s five adult children and some of his favorite singers were preparing to offer memories, hymns and prayers at a funeral Friday that marks the culmination of more than a week of tributes to “America’s Pastor.”
Mourners were already taking their seats hours before the scheduled noon start time of the service in a tent on the grounds of Graham’s library in Charlotte. The invitation-only crowd of about 2,000 is expected to include President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. The service will also be streamed live online.
Neither Pence nor Trump are scheduled to speak during the service, but they are meeting privately with the family beforehand.
The Rev. Franklin Graham will deliver the main funeral address for his father after shorter messages from Billy Graham’s three daughters and younger son.
The funeral planning began a decade ago with Billy Graham himself, and it also reflects his family’s desire to capture the feeling of the crusades that made 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. “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 Graham’s events: Linda 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 are expected to 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.
Afterward, Billy Graham will be buried next to his wife in a memorial prayer garden at the library, with his grandchildren serving as pallbearers. His casket was made of pine by inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. The grave marker reads: “Preacher of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
The Finding Faith column printed Feb. 17 and titled “Err on the side of life, and love” was written by Rev. Scott Garman, pastor of Cedar Heights Brethren in Christ Church. His photo and name appeared with the column, but the last sentence mistakenly credited it to Rev. Tim Boger. The Express regrets the error.