Dignitaries pay respects to ‘America’s Pastor’ Rev. Billy Graham

Credit: Billy Graham Evangelistic Association

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) –

Thousands of people attended Reverend Billy Graham’s funeral Friday afternoon to say goodbye to the man known as "America’s Pastor."

The 99-year-old Charlotte-born evangelist will be laid to rest after a private funeral service at the Billy Graham Library. Rev. Graham died at his home at 7:46 a.m. in Montreat on Feb. 23. According to his doctor, Rev. Graham "just wore out," passing peacefully in his sleep. No one was with him except a nurse.

Graham’s funeral service began at noon on Friday and was private, open only to 2,300 invited guests.

The funeral was held in a huge white tent that has been set up in the parking lot just in front of the Billy Graham Library and home place.

The tent serves as a reminder of how Mr. Graham’s ministry launched under “The Canvas Cathedral”—a white canvas tent during a 1949 Crusade in downtown Los Angeles, where 350,000 people heard him share the Gospel over a period of eight weeks.

More than 2,000 guests and dignitaries arrived in Charlotte on Friday to attend Graham’s funeral.

Earlier in the week, President Donald Trump and Vice President Pence confirmed their attendance, along with North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, former Governor Pat McCrory, and Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles.

Prior to the funeral, the family declined to release the list of dignitaries attending.

On Friday, many notable figures were spotted among the crowd attending Rev. Graham’s funeral including Sarah Palin, Joel Osteen, Steven Curtis Chapman, Rudy Giuliani, Beth Moore, Kathie Lee Gifford, Jerry Richardson, Rick Warren and Cardinal Timothy Dolan.

"No one will ever be Rev. Billy Graham," Osteen said before the evangelist’s funeral. "It will take all of us working together to continue his work. He inspired an entire generation of us to become pastors.”

Chapman, who is a Christian music singer, reflected on Rev. Graham’s life and legacy ahead of the funeral. "…It is amazing that here even in his home going, he is preaching the Gospel," Chapman said.

Chapman said that Rev. Graham would have wanted people to remember him spreading "a great message of God’s love."

"As I’ve said so many times, I don’t think he ever wanted to be known as a great man of God, he wanted to be known as a humble man of a great God," Chapman said.

"You know these are the moments where we are reminded this really is the culmination of this whole life of preaching and sharing the hope of the Gospel. And it encourages me to just keep on," Chapman said.

Cardinal Dolan said Friday’s service was especially touching for him because his family grew up listening to Graham’s preaching. “For me it’s very personal today because look, I was born in 1950 and I remember growing up you won’t be surprised in a solid sound Catholic home, and yet my mom and dad, grandparents, loved listening to Billy," Dolan said.

"This was a time when America did not seem to be tone-deaf to religion. It was a time of trial after the second World War, and when we were under the constant, constant peril of nuclear annihilation and communist oppression," the Cardinal said. "People sort of naturally said ‘Where do we go from here?’ Weapons don’t seem to be doing it. Wars don’t seem to be accomplishing anything. Where do we go? And Billy said, ‘you go to the Lord.’”

Over 13,000 people attended Rev. Billy Graham’s public visitation Monday and Tuesday in Charlotte.

Visitors began paying respects at 8 a.m. Monday at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte. Graham’s body was lying in repose at the Graham Family Homeplace through Tuesday.

George Bush and former First Lady Laura Bush arrived just before 4 p.m. on Monday to pay tribute to Graham at the library bearing Graham’s name.

Former President Bill Clinton paid his respects to the late Billy Graham on Tuesday at Graham’s childhood home in Charlotte.

"While we all believe that it’s faith plus nothing, he wasn’t a faith plus nothing. He lived. He showed his faith by his works," Mr. Clinton said of Rev. Graham.

Clinton remembered a packed stadium listening to Rev. Graham and said, "when he gave the invitation, hundreds and hundreds of people came down in tears together. It had a profound effect on me."

During his years as president, Mr. Clinton and Rev. Graham had meetings in the White House. Clinton says people should not criticize Billy Graham for being the pastor to presidents.

"Don’t forget. Those of us who are Christians believe in a God of second chances and the politicians need those as well as anybody else. So you gotta cut him a little slack for trying to give a willing ear and an open heart without regard to his political preferences," Mr. Clinton said.

"I think he was a profoundly good man who conveyed a simple belief that we can claim kinship with God by asking. For me, every time I think about him I’ll be 11 again. Having no idea how my life would turn out, grateful that in that one moment when it would have been easier not to do it, he actually lived his faith," Clinton added.

President Donald Trump and members of Congress honored Graham Wednesday during a ceremony on the arrival of Graham’s casket at the U.S. Capitol.

"Billy Graham carried his message around the world, but his heart, like Franklin will tell you, was always in America," Trump said. The president said that Graham shared his message of faith with everyone who he met.

“We can only imagine the lives touched by Billy Graham,” Trump continued, describing him as “an ambassador for Christ, who reminded the world of the power of prayer and the gift of God’s grace.”

"Everywhere he went he gave the same beautiful message. " "God loves you – that was his message. God loves you," Trump said.

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