Viewpoint from Tony Mallion
Member of Cliff Park Community Church
The applause was long, warm and totally unexpected. After all, a round of clapping in a cathedral is not
what you’d expect, particularly as this happened while people were speaking.
The occasion, which took place a few months ago, was a celebration service at Norwich Cathedral to mark the 25th anniversary of Billy Graham’s visit to Carrow Road.
In 1984 some 63,000 people from all over the area made their way to hear the famous preacher who, it turned out, wasn’t planning to visit Norwich at all. Mission England was to be focussed on large stadiums in other regional centres – not the far east. But the late Bishop of Norwich, Maurice Wood, had other ideas and was keen to encourage the evangelist to the Canaries’ home ground.
Those who expected a Bible-thumping preacher who wou
ld create something approaching mass hysteria would have been disappointed. Billy Graham explained the gospel, how Jesus died for us and wanted us to follow him, in a clear way. But there was no ranting, no demanding. Just a simple invitation, in the now famous phrase, “to get up out of your seats and come down to the front”.
Many did so. And a quarter of a century later, to prove this was no “flash in the pan” emotional response, many were there to show they were still following the Christian way. Among them was Dan Waite from St.Andrew’s Church in Gorleston who went forward at Carrow Road and is now part of the c
lergy team at the parish church. He was followed by a couple from Dereham, Roland and Jane LeRoy, who also made a commitment. Roland had been told before 1984 that a motor cycle accident had meant he would never be able to father children. After they decided to become Christians, they told the large crowd, a miracle occurred – and they had twins. Then Maureen South, a Roman Catholic lady, told how following her decision to follow Jesus, years of depression had simply lifted. It was at this point the congregation spontaneously thanked God by breaking into prolonged applause.
These were ordinary people with extra-ordinary stories of what God had done in their lives, and 25 years on, is still doing. Or, as the Bible puts it: “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever”