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June 2014: Percy Crawford and
The Young People's Church of the Air

     
 

And then I remember the first time he invited me to Pinebrook.... And I remember how excited I was and how afraid I was, and how nervous I was to stand and preach in front of Percy Crawford. And then I remember I stood around in the last day wondering if he would invite me back next year.
And he did, and we went!
Billy Graham, from the sermon he preached at Percy Crawford's memorial service in 1960

 
 
 

 

 
 
 
Interior of the Tabernacle at Pinebrook, with the Pinebrook Vocal Quartette singing. 1940
Exterior of the Tabernacle at Pinebrook. 1940
 
 
Percy Crawford (1902-1960) was an American evangelist and entrepreneur who called himself and was called by others "The Pioneer." He was known for trying new things, especially in broadcasting. During his relatively brief ministry he founded, among other things, the Pinebrook Bible Conference, Christian camps for boys and girls, a radio ministry, a college, a mission, and a chain of Christian radio and televisions stations. He also produced the first nationwide evangelism television program (see "As this is Our First Broadcast"). These were in addition to the evangelistic tours he led across the United States. His restless energy, vision, and strong personality made a deep impression on all who knew and worked with him. Read William Drury's memories of him.

Crawford began broadcasting on radio in 1931 with The Young People's Church of the Air. During the summer months, these broadcasts often came from Pinebrook in the Pocono Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania. The format of the thirty minute program was almost always the same. Crawford served as the master of ceremonies and usually gave a brief prayer early in the program. There were several musical numbers, at least one of them by the Young People's Church of the Air Vocal Quartette (sic), a male group. There were one or two brief testimonies, usually by teenagers or young people who attended his services or camps but sometimes by guest speakers and musicians who were leading meetings at Pinebrook. Each episode also included readings from listeners' mail, appeals for support, and concluded with a ten minute evangelistic appeal (almost always by Crawford, although occasionally there were guest speakers).

This month the Bulletin Board highlights the work of this remarkable and influential evangelist with some materials we have recently received: photos and audio recording of his broadcasts. In March Mr. Edward Davis gave us some Pinebrook photos from 1939 and 1940 which his mother took when she attended there. Three of these photos are shown above. In May Dr. Dan Crawford, author of a 2010 biography of his father called A Thirst for Souls: The Life of Evangelist Percy Crawford), donated, with the kind help of Read Burgan, 30 recordings of The Young People's Church of the Air. These were on the old large 16" vinyl and metal electronic transcription disks that were used to record early radio programs, capable of holding 15 minutes on each side.

Marla Matthews of the Archives staff holding one of the electronic transcription disks donated to the Archives by Dan Crawford. Next to her is the large square wooden box in which the disks were originally stored
The broadcast, from July 14, 1946, is of particular historical interest, because it represents the bringing together in ministry of two men who would have a great impact on American and world Christianity. Evangelist Billy Graham, a vice president with Youth for Christ, had just returned from a preaching tour in England and western Europe. He came to Pinebrook that summer to lead several meetings. His song leader was Cliff Barrows, also a YFC worker. This marked one of the first times they worked together. At Pinebrook, an impressed Graham asked Cliff and his wife Billie to accompany him on the return tour of England he had planned for 1946-47. Barrows served as Graham's song leader, master of ceremonies, and right-hand man on that tour and for his evangelistic meetings over the next six decades.
This photo (not one of the ones donated by Mr. Davis) was taken at Pinebrook in 1946 around the time of the July 14th broadcast. From left to right: Billy Graham, Cliff Barrows, Percy Crawford, Peter Slack. (Slack was the staff organist at Pinebrook.) All four men are in the broadcast.
Below is the link to the July 14, 1946 broadcast. The program, besides Crawford's sermon on John the Baptist and evangelistic invitation and prayer and the other usual elements, includes a prayer by Billy Graham and song leading and a testimony by Cliff Barrows (as well as one by Royal Grubb, who later became a missionary pilot).

As Graham said fourteen years later when he preached the memorial service for Crawford (already quoted from above), "And one of the first times Cliff Barrows and I were ever together was at Pinebrook and that was the partial, at least, beginning of the warm friendship and relationship and association with Cliff Barrows.... He could communicate the Gospel to young people as few men I've ever known; in fact, I don't know anyone who could communicate in so short a time the Gospel of Christ as Percy Crawford. There was something about him, he could grip a person."

Click here to listen to the July 14, 1946 broadcast of Young People's Church of the Air. (30 minutes)

Click here to go to the guide to Collection 357, The Papers of Percy Bartimus Crawford and Ruth Crawford Porter

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Last Revised: 6/01/14
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