BILLY GRAHAM AUSTRALIAN CRUSADES UNDER WAY; THOUSANDS TURNED AWAY AT OPENING MEETING IN MELBOURNE; 600 RECORDED DECISIONS AT FIRST SERVICE; OUTDOOR MOVES PLANNED
Melbourne, February 16 — SPECIAL - The West Melbourne Stadium yesterday became the focal point of interest for Christians throughout Australia and in more than 100 countries around the world where prayer groups have been organized., as Billy Graham opened his 16 week Australian Crusades.
Long before the start of the meeting, long lines of people, 6 and 8 deep, completely encircled the block where the Stadium is located.. Police estimated. the line to be half a mile long. When every one of the 7,500 seats in the main Stadium was filled., the crowd. moved quickly to the 2,500 seat annexe specially constructed for the Crusade. Closed circuit television equipment relayed the proceedings inside the Stadium to huge screens erected. in the annexe.
With both buildings completely filled, thousands jammed the streets outside to listen to the service through public address system speakers. A heavy downpour of rain began shortly after the start of the service, and much of the outside crowd. was dispersed, but when Billy Graham left the platform to go outside and. address the stand.ees, police estimated that at least 5,000 were still standing in the rain. A brief message by Dr. Graham, followed. by an appeal for commitment to Christ brought 97 persons to an improvised counselling [sic] area, there to record. their decision for Christ.
In the main arena, the Lieutenant Governor of Victoria, Sir Edmund. Herring, officially welcomed Dr. Graham and his associates to Australia. Sir Edmund said in part, “The visit of such a great evangelist as Billy Graham is an exciting and thrilling prospect for the city of Melbourne and its citizens Widespread interest has been aroused during the preparatory stages and on -all sides today one meets a keen sense of anticipation.”
In his reply to the welcome, Dr. Graham said “Australia is an important and strategic country. If a spiritual awakening, takes place here, it could have a significant impact upon the entire world. The tremendous response to this opening meeting is indicative, I believe, of the spiritual hunger which is growing across Australia.”
To the 5,000 who stood in the drenching rain he said, “This is a sight I shall never forget as long as I live. You are a wonderful people. I do not believe that any people I have ever met anywhere in the world would stand this long in the rain, outside a building, to hear the Gospel.”
Sunday’s meeting was preceded by a dedication service on Saturday night when more than 5,000 crusade workers came to the Stadium to familiarize themselves with the crusade meeting place. A transformation bad been wrought, for less than 24 hours previous a series of boxing matches had been staged there. Now a huge platform had been erected for the choir and speakers, and overhead was the text used in all Graham crusades, ‘Jesus said I am the way, the truth and the life.”
Technicians worked through the night to perfect the closed circuit television installation, the largest ever in Australia. A 40 inch lens had to be flown from London to Melbourne in order to make possible the operation of the television equipment.
The opening service in Melbourne came as an answer to the prayers of multiplied thousands of prayer partners not only in Australia but also in more than 100 countries of the world. At the invitation at the close of the service 505 persons responded to record their commitment for Christ . . . the total for the first meeting standing thus at 602.
Church leaders shared in every portion of the service. Acting as chairman for the meeting was the Very Rev. I. S. Barton Babbage, Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral. The prayer for the service was led by the Ft. Bev N. Faichney, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church f Victoria, and the benediction was pronounced by the Rev. Dr. A. H. Wood, President - General of the Methodist Church of Australasia.
The opening meeting was preceded by several days of intense activity, following Billy Graham’s arrival in Sydney on Wednesday afternoon, February 11. Hundreds of well-wishers jammed the overseas air terminal at Sydney, while reporters, radio, TV and newsreel interviewers conducted the largest press conference the Sydney airport had seen. Later when Dr. Graham arrived at his hotel — two hours later than had been expected - - 3,000 persons had filled the street, stopping all traffic, to sing hymns of welcome.
The scenes of welcome in Sydney were repeated in Melbourne a day later. In both cities the newspapers gave unprecedented coverage, and many programs on radio and television were dedicated to the crusade. In all the reports of the arrival and of the crusade, not one unfriendly note was detected, Typical was a columnist for the Melbourne AGE who wrote, “1 cannot help thinking that Melbourne is fortunate to be the launching—place of his crusade.”
Editorially the newspapers gave enthusiastic support. From ones “Australians will welcome the arrival of Or. Billy Graham with the warmth and friendliness of his own nature. The fact that he carries the stamp of approval of many of the world 1 leading churchmen shows that he is not considered a religious stunt-merchant out to feather his own nest but an authentic man of God.” From another “The most significant and. arresting feature of the evangelistic crusade that is being launched upon the Australian people is the obvious fact that, in its preliminary and preparatory stages, it has demonstrated a passionate desire on the part of widely differing sections of the community for a revival of religion comparable with the great revivals of history.”
The newspaper columnists were uniformly cordial. The AGE’s Alan Nichols said “His manner is one of quiet vehemence but with no histrionics. His very imp1icity puts the critical faculties to sleep. Riding on from success to success, it can now be said that there has been no such other evangelist in this generation. There is no doubt that Billy Graham has revived religious faith in many places where it has languished, and that he is oven now putting the churches ‘on their toes’.”
Another popular columnist, Stuart Sayers, commented, “He is a modest man, eager and fluent in his faith. His weapon is the New Testament.”
From a news reporter’s standpoint, the crusade was well received. The AGE described it “A silent and orderly crowd of 15,000 people from many parts of Victoria ignored threatening rain yesterday afternoon to take part in the opening of the Billy Graham Crusade . . . . After a tremendous ovation for the speaker there was a notable absence of any emotionalism. The audience reverently joined in the Lord’s Prayer and in hymns. There was no applause.”
The SUN commented “The huge congregation was spellbound. There wasn’t a sound among them, a movement or a wriggle. When he asked them to come forward to declare themselves for God . . . they came.”
Melbourne church leaders were enthusiastic in their reactions to the meeting. Dean Babbage said. “A deeply moving and deeply impressive commencement to the crusade. Dr. Graham preached with immense vigor and power.”
President-General of the Methodist Conference, Dr. A H Wood said, “I was very deeply impressed. I think Dr. Graham is personally sincere and moving. He deserves the full support of all churches.”
Meetings in the crusade will continue on week nights at the Stadium, but on weekends will move out of doors. The first move will be on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, February 20, 21 and 22, to the new ultra—modern Myer Music Bowl, Accommodations there will permit of crowds of 25,000 up to 50,000. A similar move is planned for th weekend of February 27, 28 and March 1.
A highlight of the entire effort occurred on Monday morning, February i6, when 775 ministers filled the Town Hall in the suburb of St. Kilda f or the first ministers’ meeting in the Australian schedule, Dr. Graham was introduced by the Most Rev. Frank Woods, Archbishop of Melbourne. The meeting is a deeply moving ones and elicited a significant response an the part of. the ministers present. Future plans call for a series of ministers’ seminars on evangelism. The first week’s series of lectures will be given by the Rev, Joseph Blinco, Associate Evangelist, and. the succeeding lectures will be given by Dr. Paul S. Rees who has carried this responsibility for the Graham Team in previous crusades.