More than 500 people filled Trinity Baptist Church Sunday afternoon for the funeral of one of the most influential spiritual leaders in Texas, Rev. Buckner Fanning.
Fanning, who had suffered a stroke in August and was in declining health, passed away on Sunday, Feb. 14, just one month short of his 90th birthday. He was a well-known, inspiring San Antonio faith leader who spent more than 40 years as pastor of Trinity Baptist Church until he retired and founded The Fellowship of San Antonio.
Two identical funeral services were held on Sunday afternoon at Trinity Baptist and the Fellowship.
Family, friends, devoted parishioners, and other community members completely filled the bottom level seating of Trinity Baptist and part of the upper level, accurately portraying the community reach of Fanning; it was clear that San Antonio had lost a prominent figure.
Leslie Hollon, senior pastor at Trinity Baptist Church, welcomed the congregation and shared a few remarks about Fanning before leading the group in a rendition of “Amazing Grace.”
“He was a giant in our midst, and today we’re expressing gratitude to him and the whole Fanning family,” he said.
Widely popular for his 30-second television broadcasts of nondenominational wisdom, Fanning used metaphors to inspire viewers to turn to the love of Jesus. A short compilation of the most popular broadcasts played on the video screens in the church, reminding everyone present how charismatic and sincere Fanning was, both in his ministry and life in general.
Fanning’s son, Mike, shared stories about his father and his unique personality. Whether it was spiritual advice, acts of service, or sharing a bit of humor, he said, the reverend had a special way of connecting with everyone he met.
“He was family to few, pastor to many, and a friend to all,” he said. “You could see Jesus in him.”
He told the congregation that Fanning was sincere and genuine in upholding the values that he preached about.
“The Buckner you saw (in church) was the same man I saw everywhere else,” he said. “He always gave grace, mercy, and compassion.”
Fanning had given thousands of sermons throughout his lengthy career as a pastor, but it was one he gave in May of 1991 that his family found especially poignant; they decided to use the audio of the sermon as his eulogy.
During the sermon, which moved many members of the congregation to tears on Sunday, Rev. Fanning discussed heaven as a paradise which has all of the things that make each of us “supremely happy,” and shared the importance of strong faith in getting you there.
“We don’t get to (heaven) because of anything we’ve done, Jesus is the only way to get there,” he preached. “There are many roads to Jesus, but He’s the only road to the Father in heaven.”
Applause rang out when the sermon finished, and Fanning’s grandson, Michael Fanning, Jr., took to the altar to perform one of Fanning’s favorite hymns on the guitar. Fanning’s other son, Steve, then tearfully shared the ways in which his father inspired him all of his life.
“I always believed in Jesus, but dad helped me see that Jesus believed in me,” he said.
In his last few months of life, Fanning endured a stroke that rendered him unable to speak, an unfair and cruel reality for someone whose whole life revolved around vocally spreading faith. But even then, his father’s spirit proved powerful enough to inspire others, Steve said.
“His physical therapist who cared for him after his stroke became a Christian without hearing him speak a single word,” he said.
Rev. Fanning’s life as a husband, father, friend, traveler, and of course member of the clergy was portrayed with photos and quick video excerpts of him appearing on the screens above the church altar, one last tribute to the man who touched the lives of so many.
The afternoon concluded with the singing of one of Fanning’s favorite hymns “The Solid Rock” which was sung with impressive passion and enthusiasm. The lyrics, “On Christ, the solid rock, I stand/ all other ground is sinking sand,” underscored the devotion Rev. Fanning had to his faith and to the practice of bringing that faith to others.