Almost seventy years ago, my father responded to an altar call and gave his life to Jesus Christ.
He “walked the aisle” while he was a seminarian at the Episcopal Theological School (now EDS) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. An Episcopal Priest and evangelist named Sam Shoemaker had been wandering the halls of many Episcopal Seminaries to ask seminarians if they had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. (In those days, Episcopal seminaries were a rich harvest field for evangelism!) One day at ETS, Sam Shoemaker button- holed my father and asked him that very question. My father couldn’t answer him—even though he had grown up in the Episcopal Church.
So, Sam Shoemaker told my dad, “Young man, there is a crusade in Boston this week and I want you to go and listen to the preacher, his name is Billy Graham. He will help you understand both the question I asked you, and how you can be sure that you have that personal relationship with Jesus Christ and assurance of salvation.”
The year was 1950, it was Billy Graham’s Boston Crusade, and it was there that my father surrendered his life to Jesus Christ and came to know Christ personally as his Lord and Savior—a decision which shaped the rest of his ministry, his marriage and his children, including me. It’s a decision for which I am eternally grateful.
The Rev. Dr. Billy Graham is being laid to rest today at the library named for him in Charlotte, NC, next to his beloved wife Ruth. Today, we honor both his ministry and his life, his integrity and his witness. Here are just a few facts about The Rev. Dr. Billy Graham:
- In 70 years of public ministry he preached to 215 million people all over the world;
- He was the spiritual advisor and pastor to twelve U.S. Presidents, from Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama, Democrats and Republicans alike;
- His breakthrough as an evangelist came in 1947 in Los Angeles where a three-week tent campaign was extended to eight weeks. In 1957, he preached nightly for 16 weeks at New York’s Madison Square Gardens;
- In order to avoid rumors of sexual or financial misconduct, Dr. Graham and his lieutenants agreed to the Modesto Manifesto in 1948. Meeting in a hotel in Modesto California, they pledged to never be alone in a room with a woman other than their wives, and to keep honest financial records;
- The 1969 Miami Rock Festival featured the Grateful Dead, Santana, Canned heat…and, surprisingly, Billy Graham! He said he wore a disguise one night, so he could mingle and get a feel for the crowd. As he mingled with people in the crowd, he found them to be characterized by “spiritual searching and emptiness.” The next morning, he preached to the crowd, pointing out that Jesus Christ was a non-conformist who could “fill their souls”;
- Hillary Clinton said that she first saw Billy Graham preach in 1971 at a Crusade in California that she attended at the invitation of her then-boyfriend Bill Clinton. Years later, it was Billy Graham whom Hillary Clinton sought for pastoral counsel when she was First Lady and dealing with the scandal from her husband’s affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky;
- In 2017, Billy Graham was listed for the 61st time on Gallup’s annual US Poll of “most admired people,” more than any other world figure. The person with the second most appearances on the list, which began in 1946, is Ronald Reagan with 31.
Since 2015, the American Anglican Council has held our Clergy Leadership Institutes and now Rectors Summits at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in Asheville, NC. We discovered in this place the same values of gracious hospitality, loving attentiveness to the stranger, pastoral care, the simplicity and straightforwardness of the gospel, and integrity that shaped and characterized the life and ministry of Billy Graham himself. We have never been disappointed, and we will continue to hold our gatherings there for precisely these values.
Billy Graham didn’t just “talk-the-talk.” He “walked-the-walk,” in Christ and for Christ. He will continue to be a role model for us as Anglican leaders and followers of Jesus Christ.
In an aggressively secular culture that is increasingly hostile to the Christian faith, the Church everywhere needs leaders with the same character, Holy-Spirit anointing, and loving giftedness to preach the simple gospel of Jesus Christ as Billy Graham did: graciously, lovingly and with up-to-the-minute relevance.
While we grieve his passing, we celebrate the impact that his life and witness continue to have upon our culture. As one of our AAC Board members shared with me on her way to Billy Graham’s funeral: “What an encouraging week to hear Jesus proclaimed on the airways and in the Capitol Rotunda!”
And so, today, the American Anglican Council celebrates and gives thanks for the life of the Rev. Dr. Billy Graham.
May the Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. (Num. 6:24-26)
The Rev. Canon Phil Ashey is President & CEO of the American Anglican Council.