The Rev. Billy Graham has finished his 417th crusade in New York City, and while he may hold one more in London, the recent crusade could be the ailing evangelist's last. That would truly mark the end of an era because, like Bishop Fulton J. Sheen in the 1950s, Reverend Graham became nationally known through the power of television.
In fact his message and his crusades, which often filled outdoor stadiums around the world, made him an international phenomenon whose advice and counsel was sought by the high and mighty, including U.S. presidents.
Although not perfect, Mr. Graham never pretended to be. Certainly he managed to avoid the sort of financial and sexual scandals that toppled lesser lights in the evangelistic pantheon such as TV preachers Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker.
Perhaps the biggest blot on Mr. Graham's record came three years ago when he could be heard on one of Richard Nixon's infamous tapes making anti-Semitic remarks, agreeing that a Jewish "stranglehold" on the media was ruining the nation. He finally apologized, saying he didn't really feel that way.
Little has changed about Billy Graham since he began his public crusades in Los Angeles in 1949, though at 86, age is overtaking him. Instead of bouncing up to the podium at the crusade in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens, he used a walker. Rather than preach about Jesus Christ with the force and gestures he has used in the past, he spoke much more quietly. He was always much more into salvation than self-promotion.
As the nation's preacher and presidents' pastor, he has been called upon at critical times to pray with America's leaders.
One woman who has watched Billy Graham since 1978 said during his recent crusade that "only his face has changed." His uncomplicated way of delivering the Gospel has not. Last week, he said he doesn't fear death and was eager to see the face of God. He has spent a lifetime seeking to be worthy of that, and most would agree that whenever Billy Graham meets his maker, the simplicity of his message will surely earn him a star in his crown.