Winnipeg Free Press
March 19, 2011
Although teenagers can download any video, song, or message they
like, the grandson of Billy Graham believes there's still a place
for another way of instant communication: preaching from a pulpit
to a large audience.
"You have a great chance to talk to a lot of people at one time,"
says Will Graham of an upcoming Christian music concert in Winnipeg
Graham was in Winnipeg briefly last week to unveil plans for the
free Sept. 17 Rock the River concert at The Forks.
The five-hour musical extravaganza will be punctuated by two
15-minute messages from Will Graham's father Franklin, who will
deliver an altar call similar to the one the famed evangelist Billy
Graham, now 92, issued during his eight decades of evangelical
crusades around the world.
"We'll call them right to the front of the stage," explains Will
Graham, 36, the assistant director of the Billy Graham Training
Centre in Asheville, N.C.
"We'll have counsellors just like at the Billy Graham crusade. We
won't have Bev Shea and we won't have a choir," he says, referring
to longtime Graham crusade baritone soloist who recently won a
lifetime achievement Grammy award at age 102.
Franklin Graham's last Winnipeg appearance in 2006 generated
controversy because of his comments to CNN after 9/11 about Islam
being an "evil and wicked" religion. Last year, he was disinvited
to speak at the National Day of Prayer at the U.S. Pentagon because
of his opinions on Islam.
So far, the upcoming event at The Forks has generated wide support
among Winnipeg's churches, says David Ingram, director of ministry
at the Calgary-based Billy Graham Evangelistic Association of
Canada. About 150 ministers and youth ministers attended a morning
rally with Will Graham last week at the Church of the Rock.
"No one has raised any issues to me about Franklin (Graham) and
his views," he says.
About 30 churches and organizations have already signed on to
support the Rock the River event, says Ted Hall, chair of the
Winnipeg organizing committee. Those include Gateway Christian
Community, Calvary Temple, Church of the Rock, Elim Chapel, Grant
Memorial Baptist Church, St. Aidan's Anglican Church, Westwood
Presbyterian Church and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of
The archdiocese will promote the concert and its related events
among its parishes and encourage young people to attend, says Erin
Kinsella, director of youth and young adult ministries for the
Archdiocese of Winnipeg. She expects the evening of Christian music
will be attractive to Catholic teens.
"In the end, the thing that is most important is that young people
know who Jesus is and that he loves us," says Kinsella. "That's the
basic starting point of our ministry."
The United Church of Canada has decided not to participate because
the concert doesn't fit with its denominational identity and
theology, says Debbie Coss, the young adult and youth minister for
the Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario conference.
"The focus on personal salvation doesn't fit with the United
Church's response to societal needs," says Coss. "Rather than just
the personal relationship with God, how do we live in the community
of faith that loves and supports us?"
Graham says the goal of the concert is to encourage teenagers to
make personal commitments to the Christian faith, but says his
organization works closely with local churches well beyond any
"We'll have the local churches follow up with all of those who
have made decisions (to become Christian)," he says. "We'll still
be here a couple of months later to meet our financial commitments
and to follow up with each person individually."
The Winnipeg concert is aimed at Christian youth and their friends
who may not go to church, says Ingram.
He says donations from local churches and businesses are expected
to cover about half of the $900,000 budget for the concert and the
volunteer training workshops scheduled for April and May.
The Winnipeg event follows similar outdoor concerts last summer in
Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton, which each attracted about 8,000
people. The Winnipeg date also includes a morning children's
festival with puppet shows, an illusionist and music for elementary
school children. Franklin Graham will not speak at the morning
Some local Christian bands may be invited to perform at Rock the
River, but the final lineup hasn't been confirmed.
As for retired evangelist Billy Graham, he is in good health,
reports his grandson in a southern drawl.
"He's doing so well he wants to preach one more time," says Will
Graham, who says any sermon by his grandfather will likely be
recorded and posted on the Internet.
Billy Graham spoke at the Winnipeg Arena in 1967. His last crusade
was in New York City in 2005.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March
19, 2011 J13
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association of Canada