Oral History Interview with John Stott, 1971
Lois Ferm was a member of the staff of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA). For more than thirty years, one of her duties was conducting oral history interviews with people who had been involved in one way or another with the ministry of Billy Graham and the BGEA. In 1971, during the BGEA-sponsored European Congress on Evangelism, her husband Robert Ferm (also a BGEA staff member) sat down with John Stott to record an interview about Stott's friendship with Billy Graham. The hundreds of interviews conducted by the Ferms can be found in Collection 141 in the BGC Archives.
Comments in brackets  are by the transcriber.
STOTT: I was ordained in December 1945, just after the war ended. So I was ordained in the period of post-war reconstruction. There was a great ‘Mission to London’ organized by the Church of England round about 1946 or 1947 (I forget the date). I don’t how you would assess the results. Of course, being a Church of England thing it was limited. I And I don’t think it took the form of aggressive [unclear]. It took the form of a lot of local church missions in different churches in different areas in greater London. And there was also a Methodist thing. You will recall it, it was called the Christian Commando Campaign.
FERM: Yes, I remember that.
STOTT: In other words there were at least two major London missions before Billy arrived. I don’t know (I don’t have any statistics) but I would guess that neither of them made any real impact on the city.
FERM: Do you think that the...the psychological climate of London, England was something different being post-war?
STOTT: Yes, I do. I would guess that nine years after the war, (which it was in 1954) we had got into what you might call the post-war stage of disillusionment. I think for five years or so after the war, people were still talking in positive terms of reconstruction and were expecting to be able to construction a new and better world after the war. But I think disillusion set in after 1950 and I think, was fairly strong by 1954.
FERM: Do you feel that the climate was favorable to Billy Graham coming to London?
STOTT: Yes, I think it probably was. I think there was a vacuum, a spiritual vacuum in the hearts and minds of people who were looking for something in that period of disillusionment.
FERM: How did you first meet Billy Graham?
STOTT: I can’t remember very clearly, but I rather think I had just seen him, although not met him, on one of his very early visits to London when Colin Kerr brought him over when he was still, I believe, in Youth for Christ. I saw him in Hyde Park when he was speaking for Colin Kerr in an open air service. But I was coming back [unclear] I was on the council of the Evangelical Alliance and I had been incidentally at Woudschoten in Holland here when the World Evangelical Fellowship was formed [August 4-11, 1951] and one of the first things the Evangelical Alliance did after the formation of the WEF was to invite Billy to come. So I was [unclear] to invite him.
FERM: I see. When Billy Graham came to London then, what kind of support did he really have from the churches and what denominations seemed to come into the picture Here?
STOTT: This is probably in Frank Colquhoun’s book, Harringay Story and I can’t remember accurately. But I do recall the meeting at which he spoke in the Church house Westminster about a year before he came for the Crusade, which was published in a booklet in which he answered a lot of questions. And I believe that this did untold good in clearing away misconceptions and prejudices, and uniting people in inviting.... He was not invited by the churches, was he? He was invited by the Evangelical Alliance. But I would add that he did get quite a bit of unofficial support from the churches.
FERM: Were you in on the preparatory phase of that Crusade?
STOTT: Yes, to some extent, when Dawson Trotman and Lorne Sanny were preparing counselors.
FERM: Was that the primary preparation? Were there other things that were involved?
STOTT: There was the prayer preparation, of course. I don’t recall anything else at the moment.
FERM: Do you remember any personnel from the Billy Graham Association who came to London and became involved?
STOTT: Dawson Trotman is the one. This was his last major Crusade before he was drowned [in 1956], I believe. I got to know Dawson quite well and also Lorne Sanny, who was his young lieutenant at that time. I don’t recall others in the pre-crusade period.
FERM: You feel then that the two aspects of preparation again were the organization of prayer groups and of the counselor training?
STOTT: That’s all I can remember.
FERM: Skipping right into the Crusade itself, you were quite actively involved in it yourself, weren’t you?
STOTT: Yes, our church was. We had buses every night from All Souls, and took many, many hundreds 1 don’t have any statistics. And we had a very large number of referrals because at that time...I was going to say perhaps we were the only Evangelical church in central London. We had a very large number of people referred...assigned to us (whatever the word) I think during the crusade of three months we had five hundred names altogether. If I remember rightly, two hundred of them had given the name of All Souls and three hundred were assigned to us. Many of the latter we were unable to get in touch with because they had given hotel addresses and that kind of things and were ‘birds of passage’. But quite a few were definitely drawn into the fellowship of the church. Perhaps 1 could add one thing while it comes to my mind, trying to assess the effect of the Crusade in our own church. We had already held every year what we called an Annual Training School for our own people to train church members for active evangelism in the church. We started this in 1950, and have had them ever since for twenty years. But about an average of 40 or 45 successfully completed the course and were commissioned each year. But the year after Harringay, 90 people were trained and commissioned. That’s exactly doubled. And then we went down again to about 45 to 50. This is I think a very interesting objective bit of evidence. For me, one of the great effects of the Crusade was not just in winning people to Christ, but in giving Christians people, church members, a taste through counseling of the joys of witness and service.
FERM: Do you feel that people were drawn into the counseling ministry who had not previously done much in the way of witnessing?
STOTT: Yes, I think so.
FERM: So it did create new witnesses.
STOTT: I believe so.
FERM: Now, you were also in the 1955 Crusade in London when Billy returned for a one-week crusade at Wembley, I believe it was?
STOTT: That’s right. And I was also his chief assistant commissioner during his Cambridge University mission [in 1955].
FERM: We don’t for some reason, hear much about the Wembley week. Does that sort of fade in comparison with Harringay?
STOTT: Well, 1 think it was different in concept. There had been one Wembley meeting in 1954 at the end of Harringay, remember?
STOTT: It was the concluding meeting of what was, I suppose, one of the longest Crusades ever held. Is that right? It lasted for three whole months.
FERM: Three months. The only longer one was New York, which lasted four months...
STOTT: New York was longer?
FERM: ...in ‘57
STOTT: Well, I just believe that there is a lot of apostolic warrant for this kind of long teaching crusade in the Acts of the Apostles. And that for me it is most effective thing. The influence and the impact built up over the weeks and the months in a very striking way. But after one week in Wembley [in 1955] did not have an opportunity to build up in the same way. The weather also was extremely bad.. it rained almost every night. There were large numbers who responded, but the Wembley stadium is so huge, that it tends to be very impersonal. You can’t see Billy across the turf at Wembley. I didn’t like it so much.
FERM: You thought there was more depth in the Harringay meetings?
STOTT: I thought it was more personal. I sat at Harringay night after night and asked myself what brought those twelve thousand people, (which was a very large number in those days) I kept saying to myself that one of the things which brought them was Billy’s transparent sincerity and reality. I believe many people there could have said to themselves, “This is the first transparently sincere minister I’ve ever seen or heard, or met.” But then, you see, they were in close personal contact with him. They were close enough to see him and feel the impact of Billy as a man, a Christian man, which I don’t think you get in big stadium.
FERM: Well, what about Earl’s Court? How would you compare that?
STOTT: There were two running, weren’t they, for two years? I was there for one...
FERM: That’s right.. .1966 and 1967.
STOTT: and for the other I was only there for one or two nights. Well, I find it very difficult to sum up, because the whole atmosphere of London had changed in those ten years.
FERM Could you tell just a word about that change?
STOTT: Well, I think again the note of what I described as disillusionment in the mid-fifties had become a note of cynicism in the mid-sixties. I think the whole of society in London, as indeed today it is in the seventies is one of pessimism and cynicism. I think even Christians people were much less sure that the big Crusade is the major way of evangelism. Although, of course, Earl’s Court was amazingly well supported and was full every night, wasn’t it?
Stott. Yet I think you’d find in the Christian papers and among Christian people, certain question marks: “Is this the right way of evangelism today?” I think Evangelicals had become more conscious of the wide gulf separating them from the really secularized segments of society. And of course that is the other point with which I should have begun. Church going had diminished by the mid-sixties. The whole of London had become more secularized, and I think that there was this feeling that a Crusade doesn’t really bridge the gulf between the church and the secular masses.
FERM: Do you think that against this change in the culture of London and England that Billy Graham and his Crusade were changing or were they lagging?
STOTT: Billy, of course, is an amazingly and wonderfully sensitive person. And his ability and desire to listen to people and to get advice is one of his most endearing qualities and one of the signs of his greatness. [unclear] He has changed over the years. Difficult to put into words, but I think he is very adaptable, in his messages rather than just in his method. He does seem to speak to the times.
STOTT: Let me simply say that I do believe, and I think that Billy would say exactly the same thing himself, that crusade evangelism is not the only, or even maybe the major form of evangelism. That it is a legitimate form of evangelism. And I still hold that view, that there is a place for crusade evangelism. May I just add on thing, which I was leading up to?
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