In March 1952, while still a layman, I was fortunate enough to be invited to a gathering of 750 evangelical leaders, not-quite-leaders, and not-yet-leaders, at Church House in central London. We gathered to hear a 35-year-old American evangelist speak and answer questions about his burgeoning crusade ministry.
Billy Graham’s address, based on Habakkuk’s prayer that God would revive his work, averred that God was working a modern-day revival through the remarkably fruitful large-scale missions that he had been leading. He was relaxed, humble, God-centered, with a big, clear, warm voice, frequently funny and totally free from the arrogance, dogmatism, and implicit self-promotion that, rightly or wrongly, we Brits had come to expect from American evangelical leaders. He was engaging in his style, displaying the evangelist’s peculiar gift of making everyone feel that he was addressing them personally. He monologued for 90 minutes and answered questions for another hour. Though somewhat prejudiced at that stage of my life against all forms of institutionalized mass evangelism, I ended up admiring the speaker and rejoiced that I had been squeezed into the meeting. In retrospect, it stands in my memory as something of a landmark.
This meeting was held to consider whether to invite Graham to lead a crusade in London. Two days after his star performance, the invitation was issued—the first step on the road to the Harringay crusade, by far the most momentous religious event in 20th-century Britain. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of lasting conversions, spinning off into dozens of vocations to evangelical pastoral ministry, led to high morale and significant spiritual advance through the next generation, despite the inroads secularism had made into British life. That Billy Graham left an indelible mark on England is not open to doubt.
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