New Birth Missionary Baptist Church was filled to near its 25,000 person capacity. Late arrivals could only park on the street and sides of the parking lots. They were there Wednesday for the funeral of longtime NBMBC Senior Pastor, Bishop Eddie L. Long.
From the long and winding roadway leading to the church and through the sanctuary, every detail was handled professionally. The officers providing direction, to the ushers who offered everything from programs to tissue, all were done in what one might call beyond respectful.
There were strict rules about cellphones not being used to record or for photography inside the church, nowhere on church property. But, one will not easily forget the massive presentation that was the home-going for one of the most famous religious leaders in the world. Bishop Eddie Long’s body was well-placed in a full open casket. He was dressed in an off-white to canary colored suit. His shoes, as he shown in life, were well-coordinated for his final appearance.
The service began at 10:30am with the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church Memorial Choir singing and the Processional. The Crossbearer, Candle Bearers, Bible Bearers and the New Birth Ministry preceeded the Bishop’s family. Every eye was fixated on the family members, the many who filed into the sanctuary and filled the hundreds of empty seats that awaited them. Once all were positioned in the mega sanctuary, it was announced that the Bishop’s body would be returned to the hearse, and then, at the family’s request, a celebration would be held. They wanted no sadness. Only when the bier (casket) was covered, closed by the Bishop’s family, sporadic cries of sorrow echoed through the upper sanctuary.
Among the many celebrities and dignitaries who eulogized Bishop Long were former Georgia Governor Roy Barnes, Hall of Fame member Deion Sanders, Civil Rights Leader Xernona Clayton, and Dekalb County CEO Michael Thurmond. Barnes remembered Long as “a force of nature, and you could not not like him because he was immediately your friend. He became my confidante, my friend, and my pick me up.” Barnes added that, “when times would get rough, I’d call Eddie Long and he’d always make me feel better.” Sanders said of Long, “this man taught me how to face adversity, this man taught me how to stand in the midst of the storm, this man taught me so much about how to even be a man.”
There were musical tributes from gospel recording artists Rev. Byron Cage, Dottie Peoples, and Rev. William Murphy. The 5 hour service also celebrated the Bishop’s wife Vanessa, and their four children, Eric, Edward, Jared and Taylor and 3 grandchildren. The resounding message of the service was, that while Bishop Eddie Long was a tremendous leader, he was also a wonderful friend, and a man of God. When Long died from cancer on January 15, 2017, he was 63.