(This post was originally published on WGRZ.com on 2/21/18: http://www.wgrz.com/article/news/chapel-pastor-speaks-about-billy-grahams-influence/521790777)
BUFFALO, NY — Rev. Billy Graham, known for his 60-year long career as an evangelist preacher, died today at 99 years old. Graham impacted the lives of many, including lead pastor at The Chapel, Jerry Gillis.
“His legacy is one that we can all look to and point to and be inspired by and be challenged by,” Gillis said.
Upon entering Gillis’s office, one of the first noticeable items is his thick coffee table book with “Billy Grahan” emblazoned on the front along with a photo of the smiling pastor.
“It’s hard to underestimate the impact of Billy Graham on the life of any pastor in the evangelical community..” Gillis said. “Whether he was in front of kings, or presidents, or people, or stadiums, he was faithful to the calling that he had.”
Graham, in fact, has spoken to queens, presidents and stadiums. From Harry Truman to Barack Obama, Graham served as pastor to the presidents during 12 different leaderships. He knew Queen Elizabeth II well, they both have visited each other multiple times. Stadiums were Graham’s stomping ground. He filled stadiums across the world (and tents in stadium-less towns) with his non-denominational, evangelist crusades.
Gillis appreciated Graham for his “humility,” “integrity,” and “boldness.”
“Unfortunately there has been some disaster stories, not him. This man was a man of integrity for as long as he did what he did,” Gillis said.
Graham was not completely free of scandals, with some criticizing him for his friendly relationship with Richard Nixon after the Watergate scandal, and some tapes released years later of Nixon and Graham making anti-Semitic comments. He later apologized in a letter saying he didn’t remember it, “but it was there.”
Graham has earned a spot on Gallup’s top ten “Most Admired” list for the past six decades, recently ranking among top politicians, Pope Francis and The Dalai Lama.
Gillis does not think Graham is replaceable, but is hopeful that his message will live on and resonate with younger generations to come.
“My hope is a new generation will have the opportunity to be able to see that and even go back and watch grainy black and white videos when he is preaching to stadiums,” Gillis said. “They can go back and hear a man, it’s a different context and a different world, but whose life was faithful to a message through the span of decade after decade after decade.”
On Gillis’s doctoral diploma from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, hanging in his office, Graham’s signature can be seen. Graham played a substantial role in the merger of the two schools and their early success, a fact Gillis is proud of.