Hundreds pack Lexington church to celebrate life of Kennedy Branham

dhinshaw@thestate.comDecember 31, 2013 

Hundreds gathered Tuesday to celebrate the brief life of Kennedy Branham, a young woman who brought a community together through her battle with cancer.

The pews of Lexington Baptist Church were filled with slender youths in ties and heels.

The high school baseball team sat up front in their Wildcat jerseys. The arrangement they sent – mums in school colors, blue and yellow – carried a card signed “Forever4Kennedy,” an echo of the Pray4Kennedy campaign in support of the girl with the wholesome smile.

A coach, ministers from four different churches and a local singer participated in the service, which lasted about an hour and 15 minutes.

Several in the sanctuary wore cancer-awareness ribbons pinned to their lapels.

They came not to focus on their loss, the Rev. Scott Crede said, but to celebrate a precious life – a teenager mature beyond her years, living in the moment, displaying courage and grace in the face of brain cancer.

“I can’t remember a single time she wasn’t thankful for her life,” said Dawn Wisniewski, a youth minister who leads a girls group that meets at a local coffee shop.

“Mostly, she wanted us to pray for her family. ... That was just the way Kennedy was, always looking out for everyone else.”

Kennedy, 14, died Friday at Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital.

She was diagnosed with glioblastoma 22 months ago, a time she spent studying the Bible, professing her Christian faith and finding solace in a caring community.

Soon after the Lexington girl was diagnosed, Pray4Kennedy signs and car magnets began popping up all over the Midlands. A month ago, more than 3,000 people came together in a tribute at River Bluff High School.

But Dec. 7, Kennedy was admitted to the hospital after a series of seizures and fever spikes. She remained there for three weeks, until her death.

Lexington High baseball coach Brian Hucks said his team worked to win the 2012 state championship game in Kennedy’s honor but fell short. He felt like a failure, he said, until getting a call from Kennedy, thanking him for their dedication.

Imagine, he said, choking up, a 13-year old comforting an old man.

On the bus ride back to Lexington, Hucks said, he realized winning a game wasn’t the point; living each day to the fullest was.

“I realized we’d already won because of the influence Kennedy had on our lives,” he said. “She taught us to make the world a better place because of our time here.”

Music played an important part in the teenager’s funeral service.

The congregation sang the hymn “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” together.

Amy Williams Craft and Carlos Guevara, a competitor on the X Factor, performed a moving contemporary Christian song called “How He Loves,” accompanied by Buster Whitlock on guitar.

And Kennedy’s loved ones exited the sanctuary to a recording of an Alicia Keys song, “Girl on Fire.”

The burial was private.

Reach Hinshaw at (803) 771-8641.

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