The late Reverend Billy Graham, spearhead of an evangelical Christian movement that touched millions worldwide and who provided spiritual counsel to several US presidents, returned for good to his North Carolina home Friday.
President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence attended the 90-minute funeral along with some 2,000 mourners who gathered to say goodbye to the man who became known as “America’s pastor.”
The ceremony took place at the Billy Graham Library on the family’s property in Charlotte, under a broad white tent that harkens back to the “canvas cathedral” in 1949 that helped propel Graham to prominence.
“My father’s greatest longing has been granted. He’s in the presence of God,” said son Franklin Graham, one of several relatives to speak.
Trump, who attended with First Lady Melania Trump, did not address the gathering, but he sang along to hymns including “To God Be The Glory.”
He was the only one of six living presidents to attend the ceremony, although all of them issued statements honouring the late reverend.
As the funeral began, Graham’s casket — a simple but elegant plywood pine coffin crafted by inmates at a Louisiana prison — was carried by pallbearers through the library’s cross-shaped glass entryway and out to the tent, which was buffeted by strong winds.
Graham, who preached in person to more than 200 million people in 85 countries over a decades-long career, and millions more through the power of television, died last week at age 99, leaving a Christian evangelist movement without its best-known champion of modern times.
Graham was bestowed the rare tribute of laying in honour for two days this week in the US Capitol’s Rotunda, where Trump praised him as “an ambassador for Christ who reminded the world of the power of prayer and the gift of God’s grace.”
The onetime backwoods minister was to be buried at 4:00 pm (2100 GMT) at the foot of a cross-shaped brick walkway in the library’s prayer garden, next to his late wife Ruth, who died in 2007.
More than 100 international dignitaries paid tribute to Graham in Charlotte, including Billy Kim, a Korean pastor and friend who served as Graham’s translator in South Korea.
Kim said he offered thanks on behalf of Christians worldwide. “Thank you for bringing your salvation message to our part of the world,” Kim said.
Message ‘from heaven’
Graham, with his energetic — some would say aggressive — speaking style, made a robust impact in Asia, and particularly in South Korea, where he held his largest ever “crusade.”
Some 1.1 million people attended the event’s final service, in Seoul in 1973, according to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
But he also made inroads in places like Germany, preaching to tens of thousands in Berlin in the 1960s at the height of the Cold War.
Graham offered spiritual guidance and friendship to 13 presidents, several of whom prayed with the minister at the White House.
His daughter Anne Graham Lotz said her father’s death would be as significant as his decades of ministry.
“I believe this is a shot across the bow from heaven,” she said of Graham’s passing.
“And I believe God is saying, ‘Wake up church. Wake up world. Wake up Anne. Jesus is coming.'”