It was nearly a once in a hundred year event. "America's Pastor," the Reverend Billy Graham celebrated his 95th birthday on Thursday night at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville.
Not one to get out of the house very often, Graham did make it to the party where he was met by some 800 friends, including Governor McCrory, Donald Trump, and Sarah Palin.
"I've been a fan of his for all these years," Palin told WBTV.
And country music star Ricky Skaggs, who described Graham as "not religious."
"Yeah, and when I say that, he's relational," Skaggs told WBTV. "There's a difference between being full of religion. The Pharisee were full of religion and they didn't recognize Jesus standing right in front of them. Religion can make you blind, but a relationship can open your eyes.
But the party didn't mark the end, as much as it was about a beginning.
Graham presented a new film called "The Cross." Just thirty minutes long, it features Reverend Graham preaching from the living room of his Montreat home, interspersed with testimonies from two young adults.
Franklin Graham said this father wanted to preach a final sermon and he wanted to do it in the kind of stadium setting he used for years, but his health just wouldn't allow it.
"It's the film that he just concluded it a few weeks ago, The Cross, and I think it's the best thing he's ever done," Franklin Graham told WBTV. "It's powerful."
Those in attendance Thursday night agreed that it is a powerful film that stays on the message Graham has preached since the 1940's.
And while Graham wanted the focus on the film, it was, after all, a birthday party, so Reverend Graham was serenaded by Skaggs, Michael W. Smith, and hundreds of guests who joined in on the birthday song.
No matter where the Reverend Billy Graham went to preach, be it across the Tar Heel State or around the world, he always came home to this little town with a stone archway at the city limits.
Montreat has been his home for decades and people in the community are proud to call him one of their own.
"It's great to have a favorite son," said one man as he hiked in a town park near the archway.
Graham not only has his home in Montreat, but he and his late wife Ruth had another vision for some property not far away.
The Billy Graham Training Center at the Cove was designed to "Train people in God's word to win others to Christ," said Jill Gottenstrater.
It was back in the 1970's she says, that Graham came across the property near Black Mountain.
25 years ago it was finished and has been a place for retreats and seminars ever since.
"It certainly has changed my life," said Kay Withington, who volunteers at the site.
The impact has been widespread, said officials. Many thousands have gone through courses and special training at The Cove and officials believe, turn, that has touched tenfold more people.
Program Director Darren Thomas says it is Graham's legacy.
"When he does go to be with the Lord in heaven we'll be carrying on his legacy of sharing the gospel just like he taught us."
Copyright 2013 WBTV with The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
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