CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The Rev. Billy Graham's children remembered “America's Pastor” on Friday as a man devoted to spreading the Gospel, living 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 feeling his embrace even when they made mistakes.
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,” he said. “He loved his family. He stood by us. He comforted us.”
The invitation-only crowd of about 2,000 included President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and their wives. Neither Pence nor Trump spoke during the service that was streamed live online, but they met with the family.
The funeral planning began a decade ago with Billy Graham himself. 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. Graham, who died last week at age 99, brought a message of salvation to millions during visits and live broadcasts to scores of countries.
Like Graham's famous crusades, the funeral featured singers who had shared his stage in years past: Linda McCrary-Fisher, Michael W. Smith and the Gaither Vocal Band. Other notable guests included television host Kathie Lee Gifford, musician Ricky Skaggs, evangelist Rick Warren and politician Rudy Giuliani.
The funeral came at the end of more than a week of mourning that included crowds lining the road for a procession from Graham's home in the mountains to Charlotte, where Graham grew up. About 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 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.
Friday's goodbye also emphasized the message that only Graham's earthly journey has come to an end, a point underscored by Franklin Graham as he stood behind the same pulpit his father used in the 1990s.
Graham recalled one of his father's frequent sayings that people shouldn't believe it when they hear the famous evangelist had died: “He said: 'I'll be more alive than I am now. I'll have just changed addresses, that's all.'”