DURHAM, N.C. (RNS) — Billy Graham will be buried on March 2 at the library he established in Charlotte, N.C., after a funeral service under a tent similar to the one where the evangelist held his first major revival nearly 70 years ago.
The 99-year-old preacher died at 7:46 a.m. on Wednesday (Feb. 21) at his home in the mountains of Montreat, a small town on the western edge of the state in which he was born.
At a press briefing Wednesday, Mark DeMoss, a family spokesman, detailed a long list of prayer services, viewings and motorcades beginning Thursday that will culminate in Graham’s burial beside his late wife, Ruth, outside the library in Charlotte.
DeMoss said a tent for the service will be erected on the grounds of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, meant to resemble the one Graham preached under in Los Angeles in 1949, in a revival that catapulted him into the public eye.
“We, his family and team members thought it would be fitting to also conduct his funeral service under a tent as a reminder of how his public ministry was launched,” DeMoss said.
The invitation-only funeral for about 2,300 people, as well as the burial, will be private.
The events, many of which Graham planned years ago, begin Thursday when his casket will be driven to the Billy Graham Training Center, also called The Cove, in Asheville.
On Friday, Graham’s family — five children, 19 grandchildren and many great-grandchildren — will gather for a private family prayer service, after which his casket will be driven by motorcade to Charlotte, about 115 miles away.
Graham will lie in repose there Monday and Tuesday at the Graham family homestead, which is adjacent to the Billy Graham Library. The viewing will be open to the public.
U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan announced Thursday that Graham will be brought Wednesday to the U.S. Capitol, where he will lie in honor in the rotunda until March 1. He appears to be the first pastor ever honored in this way.
Inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola built Graham’s casket, made of pine and topped with a wooden cross.
The burial will be conducted by Graham’s longtime pastor, Donald Wilton of First Baptist Church, Spartanburg, S.C. Graham became a member of the church in 2008 and watched live feeds of the service on his television after he could no longer attend in person.
“He came to view Dr. Wilton as his pastor and the two became close friends,” DeMoss said, adding that Wilton visited Graham “almost weekly.”
High-level dignitaries are expected to attend the funeral for Graham, who befriended presidents and served as a confidant to many Oval Office occupants. DeMoss said law enforcement agencies were consulted and helped plan and vet the arrangements.
Graham had been in failing health since being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1992 and with hydrocephalus, a condition in which water collects on the brain, in 2000. DeMoss said Graham's son Franklin last saw him on Sunday.
DeMoss said no family member was present at Graham’s death. His doctor, Lucian Rice, arrived at the home 20 minutes after his death and, according to the spokesman, said of the preacher, “He just wore out.”