Billy Graham, the renowned evangelist and preacher who died at 99 earlier this week, had the distinction of having preached the gospel for up to 215 million people worldwide.
His planned funeral and memorial services reflect the massive scale of his influence in the US, where he was variously known as “America’s pastor” and the “pastor to the presidents” due to his close personal and spiritual relationships with each post-World-War-II president since Harry Truman.
After a private family service today in Asheville, North Carolina, his casket will proceed to the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, about 130 miles away. His casket will remain, until Wednesday, in his childhood home, which was relocated and reassembled in 2007 on the library grounds. Members of the public will be able to visit to pay their respects on Monday and Tuesday.
On February 28, Graham’s remains will be transferred to the United States Capitol Rotunda, where they will stay until March 2. Members of the public are invited to pay their respects. It is extremely rare for private citizens to lie in repose at the Capitol, which is ordinarily reserved for former presidents, members of Congress, Supreme Court judges, and military commanders; the last person to receive this honor was civil rights activist Rosa Parks, in 2005.
A private, invitation-only funeral will take place March 2 at noon at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte. The event will take place under a tent, a reference to the tent revivals that marked Graham’s early preaching.
Graham’s casket, like much else about his funeral, was planned by the pastor long before his death. Two simple, $200 plywood caskets were made for Graham and his late wife, Ruth, who died in 2007, by inmates of Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, Louisiana, a prison with a longstanding history of brutality and racial tension. The group of incarcerated men who built the caskets, a group who found faith in prison, was led by Richard Liggett, who was serving a life sentence for second-degree murder (Liggett also died in 2007 shortly after the Grahams’ coffins were completed).
According to the Washington Post, Graham had requested that his and his wife’s caskets be made by prisoners at the penitentiary after preaching there in 2005, a request that a prison warden later described as providing prisoners with the “the most profound” opportunity to celebrate their faith.
According to the Billy Graham Association, no upgrades or improvements were made to the casket after Graham’s death, at Graham’s request.
While the final guest list has not yet been announced, invitations have reportedly been sent to both Donald Trump and all living former presidents. Given Graham’s famously close relationship with a number of US presidents, including Jimmy Carter, the elder and younger George Bush, and Barack Obama (who was the first president to visit Graham at his home), it is extremely likely that many, if not all, will attend. Graham will then be buried next to his wife in a prayer garden on the library grounds.
A number of public figures, including both Donald Trump and Barack Obama, have already taken to Twitter to express their condolences.
.@FLOTUS Melania and I join millions of people around the world in mourning the passing of Billy Graham. Our prayers are with his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and all who worked closely with Reverend Graham in his lifelong ministry. https://t.co/e1697tcyaI— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 21, 2018
Billy Graham was a humble servant who prayed for so many - and who, with wisdom and grace, gave hope and guidance to generations of Americans.— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) February 21, 2018