PHOENIX (BP) — The Southern Baptist congregation late Sen. John McCain called his “church home” hosted his Arizona memorial service today (Aug. 30). In addition to a eulogy by former Vice President Joe Biden, the service included references by Pastor Noe Garcia to the love North Phoenix Baptist Church felt for McCain and “the faith he has placed in Jesus Christ.”
McCain died Aug. 25 at age 81, a year after being diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer.
During the funeral’s invocation, Garcia called McCain “a true American hero” and “a man loved by this church.” After reading from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14, Garcia prayed, “We will grieve. We will mourn, Father. But we will do so with a different hope because of the faith [McCain] has placed in Jesus Christ. We can with confidence grieve with the hope to know that this very moment he is spending eternity with Jesus Christ, his Lord and Savior.”
To close the service, Garcia said McCain is “more alive than he’s ever been” because “he knew” Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23 and John 3:16. He read each of those Scriptures.
McCain, a two-time presidential candidate, attended North Phoenix for more than 25 years, though he was raised Episcopalian and never joined North Phoenix. His wife Cindy is a North Phoenix member and was baptized there.
A “man of quiet faith,” according to Religion News Service, McCain “sometimes spoke in person and online of his reliance on prayer.” Author Stephen Mansfield told RNS McCain was “cautious” about mentioning his faith “very publicly because he does not want to be identified with the religious right.”
Yet when McCain worshiped at North Phoenix, Garcia told Baptist Press, the congregation could see fruit of his faith.
“When [the McCains] would come here, he would come to church on time — 10 minutes before the service started,” Garcia said. “He waited until the service was over and walked out with everybody else. I just loved his humility and the way he loved our church members. The stories go on and on of how kind he was to everybody around him. That’s one of the main things that sticks out: how he was so personable with church members.”
North Phoenix hosted the memorial service to “honor” McCain and fulfill one of his funeral requests, Garcia said. “He called North Phoenix his church home. He’s been a part of the North Phoenix community for quite some time now.”
After McCain had become the presumptive Republican nominee for president in 2008, then-North Phoenix pastor Dan Yeary told BP, “He has a strong faith and is committed to Christ. I don’t have any doubt about it.” Still, as “a historical Episcopalian … if you and I sat down with him and started talking Baptist talk, he just doesn’t have that kind of vocabulary.”
One of McCain’s favorite stories about his faith — one told at his funeral — occurred when a friendly guard at the Vietnamese prison where he was held as a prisoner of war drew a cross in the dirt by McCain with his sandal then rubbed it out a moment later.
“For a minute there,” McCain told California pastor Rick Warren at a 2008 campaign event, “we were just two Christians worshiping together.”
At the same event, Warren asked McCain what being a Christian means. McCain replied, “It means I’m saved and forgiven.”
McCain’s body will lie in state at the U.S. Capitol Friday and be buried Sunday at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., his alma mater.