Norwich pays tribute to Billy Graham at live TV relay
Norfolk friends and families whose lives were ‘transformed by faith in Christ’ were able to share their heart-warming stories in Norwich following the television relay of Billy Graham’s funeral in the United States. Mike Wiltshire reports.
Friday’s live relay on the big screen at Soul Church, Norwich – one of six centres across the UK - celebrated the life of the 99-year-old evangelist who preached to 210 million people at huge gathering in 185 countries - including stadium meetings in East Anglia. More than 63,000 attended the meetings at Carrow Road stadium in 1984.
“So many of us who attended those great meetings have what they call ‘their own Billy Graham story,’” recalled Norwich Christian Theresa Pimlott, whose family has for decades been involved Christian ministry in the city.
Theresa, who is married to Bud Pimlott, committed her life to Christ in Carlisle at the age of eleven, 64 years ago, after attending a Billy Graham relay meeting broadcast from London’s Harringay Arena. In later meetings in 1956, her elder sister, Margaret, and brother Eric Robinson (now a vicar in York), also made commitments to Christ. And, “most wonderful of all”, Theresa joyfully shared that her late dad, Charles, was one of the first people to go forward at the invitation of Dr Graham at Carrow Road Stadium. Some time later, Charles later wrote a note in the back of his treasured Bible: “I’ve read the Bible through," he wrote. "It’s taken me two years, but I have done it!”
Businessman Roly le Roy and his wife, Jane, whose six grown-up children have all made commitment to Christ, recalled how he and Jane, then in their 20s, were invited to join a busload of people to hear Billy at Carrow Road in 1984. “I asked myself, ‘What on earth am I doing here?’” said Roly. “But I came away a new man!”
He was amazed to find himself standing next to Jane, not realising she had also gone forward at Dr Graham’s appeal. “Our counsellors at Carrow Road were Tony and Jean Gardiner, much-loved Christian leaders from Diss who kept in touch with us for years,” said Roly.
Retired pastor Rod Robertson said a lifetime in Christian ministry for him and his late wife, Christine, could be traced back 60 years to Christine’s commitment to Christ at the packed Wembley Stadium in 1955. Her life was ‘completely transformed’ – and Rod also made a similar commitment soon afterwards. “Christine’s faith never wavered – she was a ‘rock’ – and a woman of prayer all her life.”
John Drake, former Sheriff of Norwich for many years the CEO of Norwich and Norfolk YMCA, was treasurer of the Billy Graham crusade in Norwich. He agreed that many Christians had ‘their own Billy Graham stories.’ He recalled how Billy, a prayerful man of great integrity, had called John into a room where Billy was preparing for the meetings – “I recall the intensity of Billy’s gaze . . . this was no time for waffle or to give glib answers.”
“As the ‘money man’, I was also overseeing the offerings, and when I said from the platform that we Christians in Norfolk would meet our obligations, he turned and shook my hand,” said John. The Norwich event, which cost £175,000, involved 4,500 volunteers from 850 churches.
John Drake and his wife, Barbara, also served Dr Graham in the later Amsterdam crusades, and were entrusted to oversee the hospitality and accommodation for more than 9,000 evangelists from 200 nations who travelled in on four trains a day to attend a week at Amsterdam’s RAI Convention Centre in 1986.
Dr Graham’s Gospel-infused celebration service in his home town of Charlotte, North Carolina, was attended by more than 2,000 guests, including members of his family, Christian leaders from 50 countries, and dignitaries such as US President Donald Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence.
In an intensely moving service, Dr Graham’s children - Gigi, Anne, Ruth, Franklin and Ned, who have all gone on to lead ministries of their own - shared their favourite memories of their father. Billy’s sister, Jean Ford, also spoke “the brother she always adored,” especially as he was 14 years older than Jean.
Anne Graham Lotz remembered reading Scripture to her father after their mother died. “He was hard of hearing, so I would sit in front of him, knee to knee,” she shared. “He would ask me to give him a full 60-minute message... he loved to hear God’s Word. As he got weaker, it went down to five to 10 minutes.”
After she finished each message, Anne would always say, “Daddy, I love you.”
Franklin Graham, Dr Graham’s eldest son, reminded the audience on Friday that “the Billy Graham that the world saw on television, the Billy Graham that the world saw in the big stadiums was the same Billy Graham that we saw at home. There weren’t two Billy Grahams. He loved his family. He stood by us. He comforted us. He left us an enduring legacy: his uncompromising testimony of God’s great love.”
Franklin added: “My father preached on heaven, told millions how to find heaven, wrote a book on heaven, and now he’s in heaven. His journey is complete.”
Following the ceremony, Dr Graham was buried beside his late wife, Ruth, in a prayer garden, alongside the barn-style library erected in the evangelist’s honour. His pine casket was made by inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary. The grave marker read: “Preacher of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Billy Graham was the first religious leader to lie in honour at the US Capitol Rotunda, normally reserved for presidents, statesmen and war heroes. The Queen, a personal friend, sent condolences to the Graham’s family. Incidentally, Dr Graham first met the Queen in 1956, the year when two million heard him preach in London during a 12-week mission.
Last Friday, more than a million people watched the funeral on the website of Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. The service can still be viewed on YouTube.
Read our tribute to Billy Graham.
Pictured above is Soul Church in Norwich which showed the funeral service live on a large screen.