The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has led tributes from Anglican leaders to the iconic US evangelist Billy Graham, who died today at his home in North Carolina, aged 99. Born in November 1918, Graham became a Christian at the age of 16, after attending revivalist meetings led by evangelist Mordecai Ham. After education at the Florida Bible Institute (Trinity College, Florida) and Wheaton College in Illinois, he was ordained as a minister of the Southern Baptist Convention.
While working for the ecumenical mission agency Youth for Christ (YFC), he organised a series of revival meetings in a big top in Los Angeles. It was the start of a series of large-scale crusades for which he became famous – he would go on to lead more than 400 crusades in 185 countries and territories across the globe.
In concluded his autobiography “God’s Ambassador”, with these words: “Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.”
Speaking at his final rally, at Flushing Meadows in New York in June 2005, he said: “I have one message: that Jesus Christ came, he died on a cross, he rose again, and he asked us to repent of our sins and receive him by faith as Lord and Saviour, and if we do, we have forgiveness of all of our sins.”
In an interview prior to today’s announcement, Billy Graham’s son Franklin said that his father, when asked what he wanted on his gravestone, had replied simply: “Preacher”.
“Dr Billy Graham stood as an exemplar to generation upon generation of modern Christians,” Archbishop Justin Welby said. “When it comes to a living and lasting influence upon the worldwide church he can have few equals: for he introduced person after person to Jesus Christ. There are countless numbers who began their journey of faith because of Dr Graham.
“The debt owed by the global church to him is immeasurable and inexpressible. Personally I am profoundly grateful to God for the life and ministry of this good and faithful servant of the gospel; by his example he challenged all Christians to imitate how he lived and what he did.
“He was one who met presidents and preachers, monarchs and musicians, the poor and the rich, the young and the old, face to face. Yet now he is face to face with Jesus Christ, his saviour and ours. It is the meeting he has been looking forward to for the whole of his life.”
Three days after the September 11 terror attacks in New York and Washington DC, the late Bishop Jane Dixon presided over a memorial service at Washington National Cathedral attended by President Bush. Introducing Billy Graham, who was to speak at the service, she revealed that she had became a Christian at one of his rallies in Memphis, Tennessee, when she was 13 years old. “I was so moved I made an altar call. It was so powerful. I felt I had to do this,” she said.
According to the Daily Beast, she said that during the service, she helped Graham to his feet for the singing of the hymns, but he was very frail and couldn’t stand for long. “But when he went to the lectern all of a sudden he came alive. He was unbelievable. Once he got in that place, the years fell away,” she said.
The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, said: “So often throughout my life I have worked alongside those who have shared with me that their journey of faith in Christ began after hearing Billy Graham preach of the love of God for us sinners, and of Jesus’ power to change lives and lead us out of darkness into his marvellous light.
“In this country many will recall the new life that came to the churches through his missions, especially Mission England in 1984. I met him that year at a rally at Crystal Palace where one of our singers from Holy Trinity Tulse Hill, Jacqui Hall, was one of the singers. Before that I was with him in the early 1970s when he was leading a mission in Kenya, where Bishop Festo Kivengere, one of Uganda's best known evangelists, was his interpreter, translating into Swahili.
“During his life he has faithfully invited millions to come and follow Jesus!”
Archbishop Sentamu added: “After many years of failing health, Billy himself has gone to share in the glory of which he so often spoke, cleansed by the blood of the Son of God, shed on the cross, in whom he put his trust, and welcomed at the throne of the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who first loved us, and gave himself for us.
“Wherever people remember Billy Graham today, there will be gratitude for this faithful servant of Christ, for his bold witness, and for the legacy of changed lives and communities which continues to spread hope, transformation, and a living story of salvation today. I thank God for his witness and for his example.”
Ian Parkinson, a leadership specialist with the C of E evangelical mission agency CPAS, described Graham as “possibly the greatest single catalyst for vocations to Anglican ordained ministry in the late 20th century.”
Writing on The Living Church magazine’s website, editor Douglas leBlanc wrote about the influence a Billy Graham rally had had on the life of him and his family. “Through Graham’s crusade I came to a deeper understanding of what it means to be a Christian, and I learned to be an unapologetic evangelical,” he said. “I give thanks for the creative tensions that come into my life as an evangelical Episcopalian, and I give thanks for Billy Graham.”
The global Anglican mission agency Mothers’ Union said that they were “saddened to hear of the death of Billy Graham – a man of great faith, wisdom and humility. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.”
Another Anglican mission agency, Church Army, said: “We’re giving thanks for Billy Graham's life & all he did to bring the gospel to everyone, everywhere – such an influential evangelist and preacher with an amazing legacy.