COLUMBIA — The line to enter Second Missionary Baptist Church late Friday morning wound out the door, down the stairs and onto the sidewalk. Children and adults stood waiting in suits, jeans, sweat pants and polo shirts.
They had come to celebrate and remember the life and work of Almeta Crayton.
As people streamed into the church, they greeted and hugged one another, smiles lighting faces for a day celebrating who Crayton was and what she had done for her community. Those in attendance crammed into the pews, and latecomers stood along the walls and at the back of the sanctuary. The church holds about 200 people, and every seat was filled. The Rev. Clyde Ruffin of Second Missionary Baptist Church told those in the sanctuary that the people represented a true cross section of Columbia.
"The service was befitting of a woman of her stature," Nick Raines, a minister who attended the service, said of Crayton, who died Oct. 21. "She did so much for the community. You could tell from standing room only how many lives she touched."
Sounds of agreement rang from around the church throughout the service and as Ruffin read Psalm 23.
"I will fear no evil," he read, and then added, "Almeta didn't fear anything."
"Yes" and "Amen" resonated from every direction.
Speakers highlighted Crayton's selflessness, evident in her dedication to changing the city and the example she left.
Danny Spry Jr. was the first to speak about Crayton's impact on his life. Spry has been a fireman for seven years and met Crayton through his work.
At the podium, he held cards in his hands but quickly put them aside.
"I'm not going to use notes for Almeta Crayton," Spry said. "I'm going to do it how she did it, from the heart and from the hip."
The Rev. Brian Hajicek of Fairview Road Church of Christ focused on Crayton's death as a celebration when he spoke, emphasizing his belief that Crayton is now home. Hajicek said that if a death could come at an appropriate time, Crayton's did because of the way she created a sense of home anywhere she went.
"Her legacy lives on in all the ways that she brought home to all of us," he said. "She went home during a week that this entire town calls homecoming."
He also spoke about Crayton's service to Columbia and the First Ward.
"She made this world better, she made this town better, in the way that she loved and the way that she served," Hajicek said.
"Tiger" John Cleek, who attended the service, worked with Crayton for years because his business is based in the First Ward.
"(Crayton) did so many wonderful things for the people who needed it," Cleek said. "There's never going to be another one quite like her."
After the funeral and burial, about 50 people attended a lunch hosted by Second Missionary Baptist Church. The food was primarily donated by church and community members, and Wendy Givans, Crayton's close friend, cooked most of the food.
"I was up till 1:30 a.m., and I didn't mind because if Almeta were here, she would have had a spread," Givans said.
"When our loved ones go home, we eat and celebrate."