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Billy Graham to lie in honor in coffin made by prisoners

[SLIDESHOW=47269]MONTREAT, N.C. (BP) — The late beloved evangelist Billy Graham, who ministered to both the disenfranchised and the most powerful, will lie in honor in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda in a pinewood coffin fashioned by prisoners’ hands.

The Feb. 28–March 1 viewing will mark only the fourth time a private citizen has been so honored, and puts Graham in the company of a legendary list of 11 U.S. presidents and 20 esteemed leaders and others who have lain in state or in honor in the rotunda, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) said Feb. 22.

Graham, who died Feb. 21 at age 99, will be placed in a handmade plywood casket with a wooden cross nailed on top, built by inmates of Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, BGEA announced. Graham’s son Franklin ordered the coffin when he saw the prisoners’ handiwork during a tour of the facility, the largest maximum security prison in the nation. Graham’s late wife Ruth was also buried in one of the handmade coffins upon her death in 2007.

The Angola prison is the site of an extension center of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary/Leavell College that has trained inmates in ministry the past 22 years, offering the Bachelor of Arts in Christian ministry and non-credit certificate degrees. Grace Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist church among 28 inmate-led congregations on the vast prison campus, is a member of the Washington Baptist Association.

In a second opportunity for public attendance, Graham will lie in repose in a closed casket from 8 a.m.–10 p.m., Feb. 26-27 at the Graham family home place in Charlotte, next to the Billy Graham library, BGEA said.

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, in announcing the rotunda viewing, described Graham as a minister and evangelist “internationally known for his devout faith, inherent humility, and inclusive nature.”

Graham was an ordained Southern Baptist minister who in his later years was a member of First Baptist Church of Spartanburg. Graham’s pastor Don Wilton described the evangelist as “an incredibly precious man.

“The closer God has allowed me to sit at Mr. Graham’s feet, the more I’ve realized this man has an intimate relationship with the Lord. He takes no credit for himself. He is a servant of theGod most High,” Wilton said in comments on BGEA’s memorial website. “It’s all about Jesus. He is almost offended by any effort to try and make of Billy Graham anything outside of the Lord Jesus Christ. He deflects the attention away from himself to the point of his own irrelevancy.”

Graham continued to minister well into his 90s through media, even as his health failed. Upon his death, he had preached in person to more than 210 million people in 185 countries and in all 50 U.S. states, according to ministry statistics.

His family has announced a private funeral service March 2 at noon in a tent in the Billy Graham Library parking lot, followed by a private interment service in the library prayer garden. There, Graham will be buried at the foot of a cross-shaped walkway. More than 2,000 individuals will receive personal invitations to the funeral, according to news reports.

A four-hour funeral motorcade from Asheville to Charlotte is scheduled for Feb. 24, BGEA said.

View BP’s earlier stories here, here, and here.