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07 July 2014

60th anniversary of Harringay Crusade

It is 60 years since the 1954 Harringay Crusade, which Christians look back on as the closest we came to mass revival in 20th century Britain.

Organised by Billy Graham and the Evangelical Alliance, the events, officially entitled the Greater London Crusade, took place in North London in the Harringay Arena and saw an aggregate attendance of two million people - the biggest Christian event of its kind in UK history.

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association announced yesterday that the anniversary is being marked with the impending release of a new, free evangelistic resource from the My Hope UK with Billy Graham campaign.Entitled The Cross, the DVD is set to be released on Billy Graham's 96th birthday on 7 November this year.

The crusade came about when evangelical Christian leaders in the UK started to mull over the possibility of holding an evangelistic event for adults after having seen Billy Graham conduct a number of popular evangelistic youth events in the UK.

After Youth for Christ was formed in 1947, Dr Graham returned to attend their annual conference. It was here that the link between him and the Evangelical Alliance began – a relationship that was to continue for decades to come.

The Alliance's passion for evangelistic outreach had been roused by the introduction of new members of staff between 1946 and 1949 who were keen to see revival in the UK. This group of Alliance staff held discussions with Dr Graham and his team both here and in the US and eventually facilitated an organising committee for the 1954 Harringay Crusade.

Maurice Rowlandson, a staff member of the Evangelical Alliance, was one of the key figures in the Harringay organising committee and his life was to become so intertwined with Dr Graham's that his autobiography would be entitled Life With Billy.

Mr Rowlandson recalled his memories of the planning stages for the crusade. "There was not a lot happening in English Christianity at the time," he said. "We were very post-war. A lot of young people had never seen any evangelistic things in their lives and there were not very many evangelical churches. We had heard of Billy Graham and had received so many reports of what he was doing in America it seemed right to bring him here."

"The very first night was significant, because nobody thought anyone would come," said Mr Rowlandson. In fact, an estimated two million people turned up to the events at the 15,000-capacity arena. The rally was supposed to run for four weeks, but ended up being extended to three months.

During the crusade Dr Graham employed his trademark style of preaching the gospel in an accessible way before inviting people to make a response in an altar call. Thousands did.

The Alliance's publication Evangelical Christendom stated in September 1954: "The Greater London Crusade marks an important milestone – perhaps a turning point – in the history of the Evangelical Alliance." It is also thought to have been the launch pad for Billy Graham's international crusade ministry which had hitherto been confined to the US.

David Hilborn, former head of theology at the Evangelical Alliance and now Principal of St.John's College, Nottingham, said: "When Billy Graham first came to minister in the UK in the 1950s, the Evangelical Alliance was privileged to play a key role in helping to co-ordinate his campaigns. The good relationship between the Alliance and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association continues to this day, and the shared vision of the two organisations for united mission in the gospel of Christ is as strong as ever".

Steve Rhoads, Vice President for My Hope UK,said of the new DVD: "Evangelism is clearly the hardest activity of the Church, but it's also the one most closely tied to the health and growth of the local church. We want to come alongside pastors and church leaders across Britain and help them as they equip and encourage their congregations to reach out in love and share their faith."