can attest that the following two
accounts from Harold Timmons and
Mark Lowry sum up the celebration
accurately and beautifully.
Vestal's funeral was
well attended, she looked good,
and the events of
the service were a celebration of
life, and of Heaven, which Vestal
quite often sang about.
Anticipating a large
turnout and knowing that there was
construction happening on the church
grounds, my wife and I arrived
about 11:30am, finding cars and
folks everywhere. We were had to
in the back area, and buses brought
us to the front of the church. Upon
entering the church, one was in
line to view the body and take a
We sat in the last row center section,
and the main floor quickly
filled, and I could see portions
of the balcony on the extreme sides
were full, and I assume the balcony
was probably full as well.
As her body was rolled
down the center aisle, the recording
Jones and Vestal's "Mansion
Over The Hilltop" was played.
greatly timed. George sang the first
verse as the procession went down
the aisle, there was a turnaround
and modulation as the body was placed
in front of the pulpit, and the
house was electrified as Vestal
into the next verse. Great timing
The invocation, scripture,
and opening remarks were by Rev.
Hardwick, Jr., the Pastor of Christ
Church. Included in the opening
remarks was a letter from Tennessee
Governor Phil Bredeson, and while
was reading this letter, a letter
was brought to Rev. Hardwick from
President Bush and his wife. This
was followed by a congregational
hymn, "Blessed Assurance,"
led by Joy Gardner. Remarks were
Dodie Osten and Beth Chapman (Alabama
State Auditor), who were both
close friends with Vestal. Beth
revealed Alabama legislative plans
had been going on for sometime to
name a section of highway near
Vestal's birthplace, "Vestal
Goodman Highway," and she seemed
confident that this would happen
in the near future.
Janet Paschal sang
"How Are Things At Home,"
followed by remarks from
Rev. Marvin Gorman, then Vince Gill
came to the platform and sang "Go
Rest High On That Mountain,"
using only his acoustic guitar.
Interesting stories were rendered
by each of the speakers, including
Rev. Johnny Minnick, who has been
a member of The Happy Goodmans for
many years. "Look for Me,"
written by Rusty Goodman, was sung
Goodman Sykes. Rick Goodman paid
to friends associates through the
Bill Gaither's Homecoming
Friends Choir sang several songs.
included Dottie Rambo, Joel and
LaBreeska Hemphill, Naomi Sego Reader,
members of The Crabb Family, The
Hoppers, Faye Speer, Mary Tom Speer
Reid, Bob and Jeanne Johnson, Gloria
Gaither, Ann Downing, Ivan Parker,
The Gaither Vocal Band, Terry Blackwood,
and many, many more. Near the
end, several songs from the Gaither
Homecoming Videos were shown,
featuring Vestal. Included were
"This Is Just What Heaven Means
"God Bless America," "O
Come Angel Band," and of course,
Take Nothing For My Journey Now."
Paul Bearers were:
Steve Chandler, Aaron Minick, Jack
Elefante, Marshall Pugh, and Aaron
Wilburn. Honorary Pallbearers were:
Ken Abraham, Harold Bradley, Andrae
Crouch, Rev. Amos Dodge, Bill
Gaither, Rev. Mark Gorman, Rick
Headley, Dr. Harry Jacobson, Ronnie
"Bear" Jones, Dr. John
Oates, Gordon Stoker, Danny Boyles,
Dr. John Dixon, Dr. Drew Gaffney,
Dr. Marvin Gregory, Randy Gorman,
Hess Sr., George Jones, Dr. James
McPherson, Rev. Earl Sherrick, and
The service lasted
about two and a half hours, and
was a great tribute
to the life of Vestal Goodman.
I can't believe it's
2004. It's been a sad and strange
time around here. Amidst the confetti,
balloons and fireworks, there were
some tears and farewells. At Jubilaté
(the New Year's Eve celebration
in Charlotte), Bill presented a
wonderful video tribute to Vestal.
It was surreal watching her sing
on the big screen and imagining
where she's singing now.
I guess there were
about 1,800-2,000 people at the
funeral yesterday. The line was
long to see Vestal. She looked like
she was sleeping. I leaned over,
stared hard into her face, touched
her hand, and expected her to open
her eyes and say, "Hello Darlin'."
During the funeral when the choir
was singing This Is Just What Heaven
Means To Me, I thought, wouldn't
it be great to see her kick the
lid off that casket and come out
singing, "What will it be when
we get over yonder..."
But, she didn't.
What is she doing
now? What is it like over there?
Has she found Howard, yet? Or, is
she still worshipping Jesus? Does
she like her mansion? Has she thought
of us? Did she get to go to her
funeral? Would she want to? What
has she seen? Heard? Tasted? Has
she played David's harp yet? She
always said the first thing she
wanted to do when she got to Heaven
was to play David's harp. (As if
he's just gonna hand his harp over
to a complete stranger.) But, if
Vestal is anything over there like
she was over here, she won't be
a stranger long. Do you think Rusty,
Sam, Howard and Vestal are singing
again? How loud? Wouldn't you love
to see the look on King David's
face when he gets a good earful
of that foot-stompin', hand-clappin',
Camp-meeting-style singing of the
Heavenly Happy Goodman Family?
Will they still sing
about Heaven? Crossing Jordan? Are
all songs entitled Heaven Bound
changed to Heaven Found. That would
be an easy enough change. But, what
about all the songs longing for
home and Heaven. We won't need to
sing those anymore. I guess there'll
be new songs, written by Jesus Himself.
And, they'll be really good. Bill
Gaither will try to sign Him to
a writing deal as soon as he gets
there. I'm sure he'll get there.
And, since Heaven
is a place beyond the reach of time
- where time will be no more - I
guess, everything will be now. There'll
be no history and no future. Just...
now. Maybe, you will be able to
go back and visit the crucifixion
- or the resurrection. Watch Jesus
and Peter walk on water. Heal the
sick, raise the dead. Maybe. Maybe
not. Who knows?
Vestal does. But death
has sealed her lips. She ain't talking.
She won't sing for us anymore. No
more tidbits of wisdom. No more
hugs, no more kisses. For now, nothing.
Since the Bible does
say we will be known as we were
known, Vestal may have changed bodies
but her spirit must be the same...
I guess. Or, I should say, 'I believe'.
We live in the land of believing,
not in the land of knowing. Vestal
has entered the land of knowing.
She should be grieving for us. We're
the ones still having to walk by
faith. Her faith has become sight.
No more trying to focus through
smoked glass, for her.
I'm glad the Bible
says "But as many as received
him, to them gave he power to become
the sons of God, even to them that
believe on his name." He never
said we had to know, see or understand.
Just believe. In fact, Paul said,
at the end of his life, "Now
I know Whom I have believed."
So, that's what we'll do... keep
believing until our faith becomes
It won't be long.
Here for a Photo Montage of Vestal