They came by the hundreds to remember Prince — several of them celebrities in their own right — but it was a shy man of faith and not the music superstar who earned praise at a Minnetonka church on Sunday.
He had been "Brother Nelson" to members of the Jehovah's Witnesses hall, often quiet but taken enough by scripture to read aloud memorably in a voice so soft it nearly eased you into sleep, said Lisa Dixon, a fellow congregant from Shakopee.
She shared memories of Prince after attending a private memorial service lasting about 45 minutes. On hand were former bandmate Sheila E. and the comedian Sinbad. Prince's fellow church members were at the front of the hall. A few neighbors were invited in late. None of his music was played, but his words were on display.
"If I were to ever write down my life story, I could truly say with all the fame and glory, I was just a piece of clay in need of the potter's hand," read a quote on the back of the program — a variation on lyrics to the 2006 Prince song "Beautiful, Loved and Blessed." On the front were lilies with the words Prince Rogers Nelson printed over them.
The service came nearly a month after the world-famous musician died April 21 at his Paisley Park home and studio in Chanhassen.
In the early 2000s, Prince joined the Jehovah's Witnesses, drawn to the faith by spiritual mentor Larry Graham, bass player for the legendary '60s rock group Sly and the Family Stone. At Sunday's service, Graham spoke of traveling with Prince on tour, and of being together in a concert venue's parking lot, so swept up in talk of the Bible that Prince suddenly had to say, "I think I'm supposed to go on [stage]," Dixon said after the service.
A few high-profile guests
Paul Allen, the radio voice of the Minnesota Vikings, attended at the invitation of Graham, his friend. For all his talent, Prince worked hard at his music, Allen said, and so, too, his faith. With that said, Allen added, the service itself was "not real preachy."
"It was very peaceful, very simple," said Connie Schumacher, a Maple Grove resident who was in the neighborhood visiting and found herself welcomed into the service by a church leader. She wore purple sneakers, but it was by accident, she said.
During the service, she said, it was noted that Prince was intrigued by references to musical instruments in the Bible.
Others in attendance included Prince's former manager Gilbert Davison, 3rdEyeGirl bassist Ida Nielsen and guitarist Donna Grantis, Prince's personal assistant Meron Bekure and Twin Cities keyboardist Chance Howard, who played with the Time, among others.
The service was closed to reporters.
The program included the song "He Will Call," followed by remarks by Stephen Campagna, who officiated; an "interview" with Graham; the song "See Yourself When All Is New," and a closing prayer.
Dixon remembered Prince as a spiritual brother dedicated to his studies of the scripture and enamored of asking questions.
"He was shy, but that brought him out," she said.
Asked how he might have felt about Sunday's service, Dixon replied: "Prince would have loved it."
Staff writer Jon Bream contributed to this report.