- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 20, 2007

LYNCHBURG, Va. — Thousands of parishioners packed a church yesterday to mourn the passing of the Rev. Jerry Falwell and greet a horse-drawn hearse carrying his body.

Two morning services were held in the church founded by Mr. Falwell, the 73-year-old evangelist and major force in conservative Christianity who died May 15. His son, Jonathan Falwell, executive pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church, rallied the tearful crowd of roughly 5,000, pleading with members to continue carrying forward with his father’s work.

“What do you think that my dad would say to us today?” he asked. “As a pastor, he would wrap his arms around us and say, ‘Guys, it’s gonna be OK.’ He would say, ‘I have finally — I have finally — reached glory.’ He would say, ‘You have a world to reach.’ ”

Mr. Falwell founded a fundamentalist church in an abandoned bottling plant in 1956 with 35 members. He built it into a religious empire that included the 24,000-member Thomas Road Baptist Church; the “Old Time Gospel Hour” carried on TV stations across the country; and the 9,600-student Liberty University, founded in 1971.

Parishioners comforted one another throughout the services. But many becoming emotional during a video-and-photo montage, played on the church’s two giant TV screens, chronicling Mr. Falwell’s life.

But when told Mr. Falwell was with God, they rejoiced and at one point sang the song, “Holy, Holy, Holy.”

Quoting one of Mr. Falwell’s favorite sayings, “Nothing of eternal consequence happens apart from prayer,” son Jonathan urged parishioners to join him on the altar to pray for his father.

After the service, mourners lined the streets around the church and applauded as the horse-drawn hearse carried Mr. Falwell’s body to the sanctuary.

Parishioners lined up to view the preacher’s body, which lay in a casket on the church’s pulpit. Mr. Falwell was dressed in a navy blue suit, a copy of the Bible pressed into his hand.

As founder of the Moral Majority, Mr. Falwell had made plans for a transition of his leadership to son Jerry Jr., vice chancellor of Liberty University, and Jonathan, who acknowledged the change in power during the service.

“There’s no person alive who is more capable, more prepared, to lead Liberty University into the future than the man I call brother,” Jonathan said, and hugged Jerry Jr.

Mary North, who has been a member of the church for the past two decades, said she is confident Mr. Falwell’s work will continue through the efforts of his two sons and the dedication of the church’s parishioners.

“Jonathan has a very sweet, precious spirit,” she said. “Even though he’s very different from his dad, he clearly is the man God put here.”

That sentiment was echoed by many parishioners, who — despite their grief — said they would carry on with Mr. Falwell’s message and had no doubts the church and university he founded would continue to thrive.

“It will carry on as it always has,” Jean Pauley, 63, said of the church. “We’ll stick together as a family.”

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