Tommy Underwood wasn’t even born when Billy Graham made his preaching debut in Florida, yet the Putnam County native easily recalls stories of the fledgling minister. The one about Billy Graham’s first sermon, for instance, was a particular favorite of Underwood’s late father, and, during a recent visit to the Billy Graham Library, Underwood shared the tale.
It was Easter weekend in 1937 when Billy Graham accompanied his college dean Rev. John Minder on a trip north of Tampa to Palatka, Florida. Tommy Underwood’s father, Cecil, greeted them and asked Minder if he would preach the upcoming weekend at nearby Bostwick Baptist Church. Minder declined and volunteered Billy Graham, much to the 18-year-old’s bewilderment. With knees knocking and four borrowed sermons to fall back on, Billy Graham delivered one after another in front of the 40 or so parishioners.
He concluded his first career sermon eight minutes later.