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The Hour Attends Billy Graham Funeral

3/8/2018

CHARLOTTE — About 2,000 people filled a huge white tent last Friday for a private funeral outside the Billy Graham Library to honor the iconic evangelist who preached to over 210,000,000 people (in person) across the globe. The Mississippi Annual Conference was represented in that number by The United Methodist Hour.

As a part of the selected press to receive the coveted media passes, on-air host Steve Casteel, Producer Anthony Thaxton and cameraman Bryant Thaxton were invited to cover the event. Bryant Thaxton, age 17 and long-time Annual Conference cameraperson, said that the funeral was an amazing experience. “It was moving and very well put together, but nothing flashy... it echoed how the life of Billy Graham was lived.” 

Graham, who died Feb. 21 at age 99, was honored this week in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda. Graham served as a key spiritual leader, friend and counselor to all U.S. presidents since Harry Truman. The funeral was attended not only by President Trump and the First Lady, but also by Vice-President Pence and his wife. Other notable celebrities and influential leaders also paid their respects to the well-loved icon.

Attending the invitation-only funeral was a unique opportunity that the crew from The Hour took very seriously. “Billy Graham was a hero of mine,” said Steve Casteel, host of The Hour and pastor of Heritage UMC in Hattiesburg. “Graham once prayed that if he ever became an embarrassment to God in any way for God to strike him dead… that is truly choosing to live a dedicated and intentional life."

Anthony Thaxton, who produces the television ministry as well as heads his own production company, Thaxton Studios, was also moved by the service. “It was a time of worship,” he said. “It was moving on television, everyone said, but the Holy Spirit was very present in that tent, I can tell you.” Thaxton was also pleased to run into Maxie Dunnam and his wife, Jerrie, at the funeral. “Maxie is a good friend of mine,” said Anthony. “I produce a show with him in Memphis, and it was great to see him in Charlotte. He, too, is an icon who lives with integrity and class.” Dunnam related how he was so humbled to be invited and was thrilled to see The Hour in attendance.

“It was exciting to be a part of the limited press allowed at the funeral,” said Bryant. “There was Fox, NBC, CBS, CNN, The New York Times…. and The Methodist Hour!” The Mississippi-based ministry airs on 16 stations all over the state, in Memphis, Birmingham, Philadelphia, PA, and in other markets. The Thaxtons have headed production of the broadcast for the past 10 years and have also produced the upcoming season of “Palate to Palette with Robert St. John and Wyatt Waters” which airs on Mississippi Public Broadcasting.

“I was so honored for us to be allowed to attend and pay respects to Billy Graham,” said Anthony. “He meant a lot to my life and is a model for living with integrity and generosity. Being able to share this experience with my son made it all the more meaningful. It’s something we will never forget.”

Bryant said the thing he liked best was how the use of the tent (along with the music and preaching) harkened back to the early days of the crusades of Billy Graham. “It was, in fact,” Bryant said, "the last crusade for Billy Graham."

One other memorable thing happened for the Jackson Academy senior who plans to attend Mississippi College as a Presidential Scholar and music major in the fall. With the restrictions imposed by the Secret Service traveling with the President, Bryant only had a brief window of time to slip from the tent to dispose of some trash (near the refreshments area for the press) before hurrying back into the tent before the President entered. As he zipped through the crowd, Bryant lost his balance and plowed right into a man who was deep into conversation with those around him. Bryant said, “I ran into him pretty hard.” Bryant quickly apologized. The man, startled, turned and flashed a big smile to Bryant before resuming his conversation. Bryant realized then that he had just plowed into Houston mega-church pastor and author Joel Osteen! Bryant emptied his trash, took the pastor's photo, then returned to the platform for the service. “I can honestly say that I ran into Joel Osteen at Billy Graham’s funeral,” said Bryant.

The Hour will broadcast a two-part special series tribute to Billy Graham during March. The program can be seen Sundays in the Jackson market (7am on Fox WDBD, and 8am on WLOO MeTV). Programs can be seen online at thehour.org.

 

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