Family mourns former president at private service

Family and friends gathered Friday to mourn former U.S. president Gerald Ford in the church he and his wife attended almost every Sunday since 1977.

Family and friends gathered Friday to mourn former U.S. president Gerald Ford inthechurch he and his wife attendedalmost every Sunday for 30 years.

Ford, who died Tuesday at the age of 93, had his own "presidential pew" at Margaret's Episcopal Church in Palm Desert, Calif.

Military pallbearers carried Ford's body into the church in a casket drapedin the American flag. Ford's wife, Betty, and his four children followed the casket in as a U.S. Marine Corps band played hymns.

The private family prayer service, the first in six days of formal mourning, was to be followed by a public viewing at the church that was expected to draw thousands to the resort community east of Los Angeles.

During the prayer service,a quiet crowd gathered around the church, which was under tight security. Helicopters hovered overhead, Secret Service agentsswept the area, and surrounding residential streets were blocked off.

After the viewing, Ford's wife plans to accompany his body toceremonies in Washington, D.C., and then Grand Rapids, Mich., where Ford grew up and will be buried.

Ford diedat his long-time home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. The cause of deathhas not beendisclosed, but he had been suffering from heart problems.

Ford, the only unelected U.S. president, succeeded Richard Nixon in 1974 after Nixon resigned in the wake of the Watergate scandal.

Ford'sdecision to pardon Nixon that year sparked controversy and is believed to have cost him the election against Democrat Jimmy Carter in 1976.

U.S. President George W. Bush has called Ford "a great American" who assumed the presidency in "an hour of national turmoil and division."

Bodywill lie in state at the Capitol

Ford's body will be flown to Washington, D.C., on Saturday,where it will be taken by motorcade to the U.S. Capitol. The motorcade will pause at the World War II memorial in recognition ofFord's service in the U.S. Navy during that war.

Ford'sbody will lie in state in a closed casket until Tuesday.

A state funeral will be held Tuesday at the Washington National Cathedral. Former Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney and Michael Wilson, Canada's ambassador to the United States, will attend.

Major U.S. stock markets will be closed that day in Ford's honour. The Wall Street tradition dates to the 1885 burial of former U.S. president Ulysses Grant.

On Wednesday, Ford's body will be interred on the hill beside his presidential museum in Grand Rapids.

With files from the Associated Press