Barbara Bush worked with church to set up 'celebratory liturgy' at funeral

Photo does not have a caption

HOUSTON – The Rev. Dr. Russell Levenson Jr., the rector of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, said that years ago when he and former first lady Barbara Bush started talking about funeral arrangements, she would often joke that she didn’t think they’d be able to fill the church.

VIDEO: First Lady's priest talks about her faith and friendship

Bush also told him she didn’t want anyone making a fuss over her.

Levenson always responded the same way, telling her you are too loved in this city and if she didn’t want it, then do it for the people.

Bush was a faithful Episcopalian.

With the exception of those attending her funeral, including former presidents and world leaders, Bush was intent on making sure that her funeral service would be like any other in the church.

From the lessons to the music, everything was discussed at length and carefully planned out.

“There was no negotiating, not that I had any problems with anything she would have suggested. Once she suggested it and once we dropped into the service format, it was pretty clear what she wanted,” Levenson said.

Saturday’s service will begin with the opening hymn that Bush chose. Her body will be received in the foyer of the church. All the clergy at St. Martin’s will participate.

The other celebrant will be the rector of St. Anne’s in Kennebunkport, Maine.

He was Bush’s summer priest.

From there, selective readings from Scripture will be read that she had seen, reviewed and chosen.

That will be followed by three tribute speakers, then a brief reflection on her faith by the rector.

“This is an Easter liturgy. This is not a grief liturgy. This is not a sad liturgy. This is a celebratory liturgy. The last hymn that we chose together. The hymn we will sing as we leave is joyful, we adore thee. It's a joyful hymn,” Levenson said.

Down to earth, sincere and courageous -- Levenson fondly remembers the times he spent with Bush over the past 10 years, calling her extraordinarily humble.

“You know her well from the first time you meet her,” Levenson said.

As the matriarch of the Bush family, what he admired most is how she always led with humility.

“The mantra in the Bush home was we don't talk about the big me. people were discouraged anytime vanity or hyperbole took center stage. It was all about others,” Levenson said.

St. Martin’s Episcopal was founded in 1952. The Bushes have been members since 1964.

A stained glass window was dedicated to Barbara Bush by her husband and children back in 2004.

It’s the window of St. George.

“All six. Robin is included too,” Levenson said.

About the Author:

Award-winning journalist, adventure seeker, explorer, dog lover.