Funeral held for Rev. Billy Graham, 'America's Pastor'

UPDATE: (AP) - The final hymn of the Billy Graham funeral 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.

Graham's 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, Graham's casket was led out of the tent while a bagpiper played "Amazing Grace."
Another of Graham's favorite hymns, "Because He Lives" was performed by the Gaither Vocal Band during the service. It has been featured on Billy Graham musical compilations

Gospel singers Michael W. Smith and Linda McCrary-Fisher also performed. The three performers are veterans of Graham's crusades and events, and were friends of his.

EARLIER: 

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Mourners are gathering to pay their respects to the Rev. Billy Graham at a funeral that marks the culmination of more than a week of tributes to "America's Pastor."

The service, scheduled to start at noon Friday, is to include performances by musicians who shared the stage with Graham at his crusades. The Rev. Franklin Graham will deliver the main funeral address for his father after personal messages from Billy Graham's three daughters and younger son. President Donald Trump is expected to attend, but isn't scheduled to speak.

The funeral planning began a decade ago with Billy Graham himself, and grew into 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. While the invitation-only crowd Friday on the grounds of his Charlotte library is limited to 2,000 or so, internet livestreams are allowing many more to watch.

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.

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 funeral serves as the culmination of more than a week of tributes that included crowds lining the road for a procession from his 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 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.

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Drew reported from Raleigh, North Carolina.

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