We mourn the loss of Billy Graham who passed away this week. Reverend Graham made his home just a few miles from Camp at Montreat. Over the years he developed friendships with a number of Rockmonters, and it was not uncommon for Graham to pay a visit to Camp and even deliver a message. Graham’s sons Franklin and Ned attended Rockmont as campers, and Ned served on the staff in the early 70s. Our Associate Director, Stan Wilson, recalls a wedding that he officiated at Rockmont with Reverend Graham’s assistance. As with most stories told by Stan, it does not lack for humor or insight…
February 21, 2018
I rode my bike at dusk, up Montreat Road toward the Greybeard Trail. I wasn’t thinking about Billy Graham’s death until I saw all the news trucks lined up near the gates. I wrote this down when I got home.
I never knew Billy Graham, but one night about 25 years ago, he did two solid, human, and kind things for me that I’ve never forgotten.
I was a seminary student, and I was invited to officiate my first wedding for friends from Camp Rockmont. I knew nothing about officiating a wedding. I had to borrow a robe and get special authorization from my church. I had to learn how to lead the service. Billy Graham was a friend of the bride’s family, and he agreed to offer the opening prayer rather than take the lead, so that was a decent act in and of itself. He was a big deal, but he didn’t hesitate to take a minor role. But that was only to foreshadow the decency to come.
It turns out that I had loaned my one pair of dress shoes to my nephew some months before the wedding. I had forgotten about them until I was packing, of course at the last minute. I called my nephew, who raced over – 45 minutes from Wake Forest to Durham – only to hand me one shoe. He had lost the other.
I picked up my second best pair of shoes, a slightly beat-up pair of “dirty bucks,” and I didn’t think twice. It didn’t occur to me that I was going to be underdressed. Maybe I thought the borrowed robe would cover it; more likely, it just didn’t occur to me.
The wedding turned out to be more formal that I had imagined. The wedding was on the camp grounds, after all, but the grounds and the guests were immaculate. The bride and groom were stunning, beaming, and brilliant. There was a buzz in the air when Dr. Graham arrived. I led the groom to the altar, watched the bride and her father process royally down the aisle, and did not once think about my shoes.
Dr. Graham prayed, kind of a long prayer I have to admit, but then he sat down and did the first of the two genuinely decent things for which I’ve been grateful all these years. He listened. He looked at me like I was the pastor in the room, like the stole around my shoulders authorized me to speak, bless, and join these two in God’s name. It was a humble act – yielding to a still-unofficial officiator, and I will never forget how intently he listened.
Good preachers are always great listeners, by the way. I love preaching to a good preacher because they are truly “with you.” Dr. Graham was with me that night. His attention elevated me and encouraged me. It was a small, but much appreciated gift from a seasoned preacher to a new one.
The service went off without a hitch. I was relieved…. okay, a little elated. And again, it just did not occur to me that I was underdressed until I was finally introduced to Dr. Graham. A small crowd was gathered around him, my name was given, and someone quipped, “You can tell he’s a student by his shoes.”
In an instant, I felt low and lost and out of place. Truth was, even if I had worn both dress shoes, they wouldn’t have been nice enough for this night. I started thinking about taking a walk in the woods, where I belonged, but Dr. Graham examined my shoes and then looked me in the eyes. He said, “Young man, you did a fine job, and when I did my first wedding, I was shaking in my boots. And I do mean boots.”
So, say what you will about him. He would want us only to say he was a sinner of God’s redeeming. And he was also a decent man who elevated one lowly student on one important night.