During recent memorial services, family, friends and fans said goodbye to Christian artist Rich Mullins, who was killed in a car accident Sept. 19 in Illinois. Mullins was buried Thursday, Sept. 25 in his hometown of Richmond, Indiana. The private funeral was attended by 300 family members and close friends, including the first artist to cut one of his songs, Amy Grant, who honored Mullins with her song, Somewhere Down the Road. Navajo children from the Window Rock, N.M., reservation where Mullins lived at the time of his death, surrounded his grave site, singing a song he taught them - Jesus Loves Me - in their native language.
"Most of us here today know Rich as brother, nephew, uncle, son or friend," said Kathy Sprinkle, a friend of Mullins since their days together at Cincinnati Bible College. "And that is what we will remember most about Richard Wayne Mullins as the days and years go by - how he loved. Loved the children on the reservation, loved Compassion International. Loved his music, his family, his friends and his God. We will tell stories about our experiences, recall his laugh and know that he challenged each of us to a more true Christianity. That was his mission; it now becomes his legacy."
On Sept. 26, members of Nashville's Christian music community honored Mullins with a two-hour memorial service at Christ Presbyterian Church. Gay Quisenberry, Mullins' manager for 12 years, spoke frankly on how this event, though tragic, would make Mullins proud as relationships long-severed were mended. "I want you guys to know that Nashville was hard for Rich," said Quisenberry, "but he didn't hate it here. I think he was just more scared here than anywhere ... It's no surprise to any of you that this world was a struggle for Rich, but he's healed. And today is about healing. Somebody said that [his death] is really hard because you miss him, and you want to tell him things. Well you know what I thought? Tell them to each other. Not what you thought of Rich, but what you think of each other. Seeing your faces is healing for me. I've been in [Christian music] for 17 years, and I'm praying, 'God, is this a ministry or a business?' And He told me, 'It's a family.' "
Musical tributes were offered by Michael W. Smith (Awesome God and Sometimes by Step), Ashley Cleveland (Elijah), Rick Elias (Man of No Reputation), Grant (Somewhere Down the Road) and Phil Keaggy (Hold Me Jesus). Personal thoughts were offered by Mullins' longtime producer Reed Arvin, members of his Ragamuffin band, friends and industry associates.
A three-hour national memorial service in Wichita, Kan., coordinated by Cheryl Hurley of Broomtree Productions with assistance from Central Christian Church and KTLI-FM (which broadcast the service live on the air), brought more than 5,000 people together Sept. 27 in Wichita State University's Henry Levitt Arena. Central Christian's Praise Band, many of whom had toured with Mullins, led attendees in several of the late artist's favorite hymns as well as his own praise choruses.
While many of Mullins' close friends offered tributes, it was Dr. Steven Hooks, a favorite professor of Mullins at Cincinnati Bible College, who perhaps summed the evening up best. "The bandstand is dark, and the liturgy has been silenced - forever some are saying - by the demon we call death. Do you really believe that? Do you really think that Rich has written his last lyric and played his last melody? Let me tell you a little secret. Rich knew it well. He sang it often. What empowered his service and inspired his songs? It was the truth. It stood at the heart of his Creed, and it stands at the heart of the Gospel: 'The dead in Christ shall rise.' ...While the moment of death may be shrouded in mystery, the final outcome is not. It is settled once and for all by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. As we gather tonight to honor Rich's passing over Jordan, some would seek to console us by reminding us that he will live on in his music and in our memories. But I'm here to tell you, he lives on."
CCM Magazine's November issue will feature a special cover story tribute to Mullins' life and music. At press time a "Navajo"-style memorial service had been scheduled for Monday, October 13 in Window Rock, and Compassion International was also planning a service to honor the late artist.
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