Mourners to say goodbye to Billy Graham, 'America's Pastor'

Charlotte – 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 on 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. US 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 spokesperson Mark DeMoss said in a phone interview. "The Graham family has long considered that his funeral eventually would really be his last crusade."

'A message of salvation'

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 on 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 honour at the Capitol Rotunda in Washington.

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