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Audio clip from an oral history interview Rev. Daniel M. Potter in which he talks about the invitation extended to Billy Graham by the Protestant Council of New York City. Potter was the executive secretary of the council. He was interviewed by Dr. Robert Ferm of the BGEA on December 11, 1970. 8 minutes.
item 12: from Collection 141, audio tape T3 and transcriptPOTTER: And in any consideration of this subject, the question of mass evangelism becomes one of the concerns or one of the methods to be considered. And in 1957, in turning in this direction there was no single spokesman, no person on the horizon of the world church as well as the American church that had been as effective as a mass evangelist as Billy Graham. His ministry, starting oh, some...a decade before this, had already demonstrated in many cities his ability to be the symbol around which the churches could rally, and the person who could articulate the Gospel in such a way that persons outside the fellowship could become a part of it. And so he became the natural, in terms of consideration, this kind of evangelism.

FERM: Was there any individual clergyman in New York who was particularly pulling for Mr. Graham to come here?
from Collection 16, NYC57 #IV

POTTER: Well, I don't recall now, it's the years back. I know that the Chairman of our department of evangelism at that time, was an outstanding layman in this city, George Champion, who was the head of the Chase Manhattan Bank, and as a businessman he came from the South. He was familiar of mass evangelism and had a personal commitment along this direction. So that as being Chairman of the department, I suppose he played a singular role in influence. Some of the Baptist clergymen...and I think this we also need to recognize that there are denominations that are very familiar with mass evangelism and have used this method of the propagation of the Gospel ever since their communion came into being. And among these denominations, the Baptists, particularly Southern Baptists, some of the independent churches were very familiar with this. So a number of these clergy came to the surface in terms of recommendation. But there were other men who would really surprise the general public. A man like Dr. Wolfe, who was the minister of the Brick Presbyterian Church, a very elite church in this city, and a man whose strong statement before presbytery, I'm certain, shook and surprised many other men that he felt that it would be absolutely unbelievable for the presbytery not to be a part of a Crusade like this, and that He put his church on record for it. The Bishop of the Episcopal Church, in a communication early in our consideration of this as a possibility was influential in terms of his own personal stand. He was for this, though later he did make it clear that the Episcopal Diocese would not itself be a sponsor of the Crusade. Another single individual is a laywoman, Mrs. Cleveland E. Dodge. The Dodge family has been a very responsible philanthropic family in New York City for at least a half century. And Mrs. Dodge, I recall, was seated with me at, I think, a YMCA annual dinner. And most of our discussion at the table was discussing whether or not it would be a good idea for a Billy Graham Crusade to be held in New York. And I'm certain she influenced me. So that in posing this question among many people over a period, I would say of...I guess it was under consideration about three years before an invitation was actually extended to Billy. And in probing there were those for and those against, but eventually it began to became clear that there would be a consensus for this if the Council did take the leadership in trying to corral the ministers and the laymen who were for it.

 

FERM: During that three year period, were you at any time in contact with representatives from the Billy Graham Team?

 

POTTER: Well, not in the first year at least of this probing. I would say it was not until the second year that we then contacted Billy Graham, and he had one or two members of the Team just stop by New York City to discuss this possibility with us.

FERM: Do you recall who were there from the Team?

POTTER: If you would mention the names, I would remember.

FERM: I would suggest that it could possibly have been Willis Haymaker.

POTTER: Yes, Willis Haymaker was one.

FERM: Jerry Beavan?

POTTER: Yes, and Jerry Beavan was another. Those two were, in fact, were the first two who visited us in connection with it. And so following this we began to get the factual information down as to what would be the, well not exactly the requirements but the feeling of Billy Graham and the Team as to what is necessary locally, before the climate appeared to be ripe for the Holy Spirit to move in an affirmative decision for Billy himself to accept the invitation. And we began that process then, and as I say, we had...there were many people who disapproved of this kind of evangelism and disapproved of Billy Graham personally; and we had quite a number of meetings. One rather knock-down and dragged-out meeting. I recall there were some sixty or seventy persons of the [evangelism] department, and we spent most of the afternoon; and after everyone had had his say, and the vote was at last taken, it was a slim majority, but a majority, favored an invitation to be extended to Billy Graham.

FERM: Were there any churches who were outside of the Protestant Council who were contacted or talked to?

POTTER: Yes, and some of these ministers and some of these churches were part of this whole discussion. They were ones very strongly in favor of an invitation being extended. Some of them were anti-Protestant Council. They felt that they were really not for a Council of Churches, and they felt the present Council was too liberal anyway. If they were in an association of churches, this wouldn't be their instrument; and some of them did attempt to have a different kind of instrument to cooperate. And so when the invitation was extended, Billy was very anxious that the invitation be as broad as possible; that is you would hope it would have one hundred percent of the churches if this would be possible. And so we had churches in the Protestant Council who were not in favor, and there were churches who were not in the Council that were in favor. So it was very desirable to get all who wanted to participate in this to be part of administering it, part of the invitation, part of participation, involvement, all the way along the line. So the machinery was set up to do this. We did find that when we asked some of the churches who were outside of the Council...and there was a layman who was very active, but has since dead, and I can't think of his name right now, but he was kind of self-appointed representative of the conservative separatist churches.

FERM: Might that have been Erling Olson?

POTTER: It was Erling Olson.

FERM: I recall them talking about Mr. Olson at that time. I believe he was an investment counselor on Wall Street.

POTTER: Right. And he was a very deeply committed man personally, and he gave a great deal of time. In fact, he spoke in many of the churches. So we were working through Erling Olson and a few of the other clergymen who were...well, Erling Olsen was a layman...a few of the clergymen in this field. We had a nucleus of individuals who then agreed that they would come in with nominees to be on a general planning committee. And to our surprise, when the nominees did come in, about eight out of the thirteen were persons who had been very active in the Protestant Council for many years. You know, it wasn't really the big dichotomy that appeared on the surface. But when we came right down to the ABC's of this thing, we found that there were very few churches that were really in sort of a group that considered themselves outside [the Council]. But nevertheless, we did everything possible to be sure that it was broad in sponsorship and in cooperation.

FERM: Can you recall now that during the months of preparation, did these men work quite well together in the planning stages for a Crusade?

POTTER: Yes, the attendance was excellent. The planning was thorough. The particpation was genuine and very rarely were there insurmountable, or apparently insurmountable, differences of opinion. There was excellent give and take. A great deal of prayer, common prayer by all involved in this, I think, helped to mellow differences. And I think the sense of team work and cooperation, unanimity was very pronounced.

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