The former president was among dozens of political leaders - from members of the Philadelphia City Council to those of the U.S. Congress - paying tribute to Gray, 71, who died July 1 in London, where he was attending the Wimbledon tennis tournament with his youngest son, Andrew.
After soaring gospel tributes by the church's choir, Bright Hope's current pastor, the Rev. Kevin R. Johnson, described Gray as a friend, mentor, and hands-on man of action with an eye for details.
"The program that you see before you today was put together by Bill Gray," Johnson said with a smile. He said Gray sent the program to him two years ago with a note that said, "Do not change it," followed by three exclamation points.
As he asked
Clinton, also noting that Gray had arranged his own memorial plans, said he would not speak longer than the allotted time.
"I tried always to do the things Bill asked," Clinton said, drawing laughs from the crowd that filled the church's modern, wood-trimmed nave and an overflow room, where the service was shown on video.
Clinton noted that at his request, Gray went to Haiti in 1991 as a liaison and to help keep order after the government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was overthrown in a military coup.
"I want you to help me fix it," Clinton said he told Gray. "He proceeded to go to Haiti.
"This is a life to celebrate," Clinton said. "This is a man who made history."
The Rev. William B. Moore, pastor of the city's Tenth Memorial Baptist Church and a longtime friend of Gray's, said, "We celebrate the life, the legacy, and the good works and good deeds of a servant of God."
Moore said: "All he did was worship - whether here at Bright Hope or in the halls of Congress."
He added, "We're all better because William H. Gray came this way."
The service, described as a "Celebration of Life Memorial," was clearly celebratory. There were few tears.
The choir sang a spiritual medley, including "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," "Soon I Will Be Done," and "By and By."
A large portrait of Gray and an array of flowers were displayed in front of the dais.
Video screens at the front of the church ran a montage of photos of Gray with dignitaries, including former South African President Nelson Mandela, music producer Quincy Jones, Pope John Paul II, and others.
Text on the screens described Gray as a "Tough guy on the outside" and "A big softy on the inside."
George Burrell, a trustee at Bright Hope Baptist Church, a lawyer, and a former Philadelphia city councilman, said Gray was devoted to his wife, Andrea, and their three sons.
"Bill Gray loved his family and adored his grandchildren," Burrell said.
He recalled Gray's inspiring sermons at the church, where he was the pastor until stepping down in 2004.
"In 22 minutes, he put current events into biblical perspective and called us to action," Burrell said.
"He was a powerful and formidable political leader."
Gray's son Justin said his father was a great family man. He said Gray and his wife "lived life to the fullest."
"My father's life started in church," Justin Gray said. "It's appropriate that it ends here."
Contact Vernon Clark at 215-854-5717 or firstname.lastname@example.org.