Did Dr Graham crusade change Norfolk church?
2009: Some 25 years after evangelist Dr Billy Graham visited Norwich as part of the major Mission England crusade, the question is: “Did Mission England change the region's spiritual climate and Christian community and what are the lasting legacies today?” This week we look back 25 years. Next week we will see what people today think of it all. Keith Morris reports.
June 9, 1984 was a truly memorable day. It was the day that Norwich City's captain Dave Watson first played for England against Brazil in Rio De Janeiro, Heveningham Hall went up in flames and minister Ian McGregor and Arthur Scargill met during the miners' strike.
There was also a special souvenir edition of the Eastern Evening News dedicated to the first night of Mission England with Dr Billy Graham preaching at Carrow Road.
The meeting was front page news in the Eastern Daily Press and was covered by national newspapers, TV and radio stations and even by international correspondents.
Dr Graham told the hushed crowds that he was going to speak to them as though it was the last sermon he would ever preach and told them that he could not prove the existence of God: "You cannot go to a laboratory and prove God scientifically. But it is instinctive in man's heart to believe that there is a God."
He then asked people to come out of their seats and make a public commitment to Christ and some 3,700 did exactly that.
1984: what people said
Reaction at the time was very positive. One local minister said that the next Sunday morning, he noticed 16 new people in his small congregation. They all said the same: "Mr Graham told us that we should get into a church where Christ is proclaimed."
Dr Peter English, a GP and former lord mayor of Norwich, and chairman of Mission England in East Anglia, said: "I have great joy at so many people coming forward to show their commitment to Christ. It is something I have dreamed of for years. It can only be the work of the Holy Spirit; we couldn't have organized it ourselves."
Rev Hugh Palmer from Holy Trinity, and now Rector at All Souls, Langham Place, said: "I find it hard to take in. This is all that we thought would happen and more than we dared hope. I pray that we pick this up and channel it effectively."
Rev Canon Gordon Bridger, vicar of Holy Trinity, said: "If we learn this lesson, we should never be the same again."
Mission England was in fact a three-year programme of local church outreach with the crusades the centrepiece. Thousands of Christians across the region attended Christian Life and Witness classes and Caring for New Christian Courses in preparation with the backing of Bishops Maurice Wood and Timothy Dudley-Smith.
Now, quarter-of-a-century on, a 25th anniversary celebration is being arranged at Norwich Cathedral on Saturday June 6 and organizers are appealing for people to come along and to tell them their stories or memories of the crusade.
Entitled 25 Years of God's Faithfulness, the celebration event will reflect back on those momentous events of a quarter-of-a-century ago, what happened afterwards and the on-going legacy today.
The event is aimed at people who supported or attended the mission and also for those who did not.
It will include an exhibition and videos as well as the chance to hear from people involved at the time and what it meant to them. Doors will open at 6.30pm for the exhibition, videos and for people to meet up and the main service will be from 7.30pm to 9pm.
If you would like to get involved in helping to stage the celebration event, please contact Peter Carroll at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 07739 189288.
Pictured above is Dr Peter English, with Dr Billy Graham overlooking Norwich city centre back in 1984.