Franklin Graham: My Part In His ‘Festival of Hope’ Weekender.
by Nick Bishop
When my in-laws suggested that my wife and I join them as stewards of the ‘Festival of Hope’, we said yes.
The Thursday night before the evangelical mission weekender began, my wife, myself, and in-laws attended a briefing at ‘The Winter Gardens’ at 7.30 pm. The briefing was led by an ex-police officer turned vicar who tutored us on what was expected of us as stewards and outlined any potential risks that we might encounter on the job. There were people from all backgrounds and ages helping out, with some like us being stewards and others, counsellors.
We arrived for a quick briefing at the venue (on Friday) and worked in teams under a captain who was responsible for our welfare and safe deployment. My in-laws were given the job of stewarding people to their seats while my wife and I were working in the foyer, checking peoples tickets with a scanner to make sure they were legit. The security teams checked peoples bags and other items about their person.
It all reminded of customs at an airport/port as we anticipated the arrival of anything up to 5000 people.
Those attending the ‘Festival of Hope’ were a mix of nationalities, genders, ages, races and even religions. There was a protest on the night by those in opposition to the event and some attempted to enter ‘The Winter Gardens’ but security held them back and the protest seemed to fizzle out.
Many enjoyed the performances of bands like ‘The Afters’ until it was time for the man himself, Mr Franklin Graham to come on. Rev. Graham walked on to the stage/podium to enormous applause and dare I say, some American style ‘whooping’.
Rev. Graham spoke at length about what he thought of Blackpool and mentioned the fact he found British weather odd. He then delivered his sermon (not unlike his father) mentioning a lost world and that everyone was a sinner including himself. He spoke at length on how he rejected the Christian lifestyle of his parents and preferred to party and chase girls. He said at 22 he accepted the existence of God but didn’t want to be tied down by religion. However, all the ‘partying hard’ and ‘one night stands’ left him empty. Something was missing in his life that his hedonistic lifestyle could not fill. One night he gave his life over to God and a turned a new chapter in his life.
Later on, Rev Graham called for people to come forward to the platform, and many did, making their way towards the stage.
Counsellors were on hand to speak/pray with them and point them in the direction of a church. Seeing that throng of folks going forward reminded me of my own time at Billy Graham’s ‘Mission England’ crusade in 1984. I gave my life to Christ back then at Villa Park in Birmingham, and that night was special. This evening was also very special, as one felt the presence of God all around in the hall.
My wife and I, together with my stepson Aaron, his baby daughter Sophie, and his wife Rodica attended the Sunday evening session of the ‘Festival of Hope’. This time we were a part of the crowd, seated in the balcony area with a fantastic birds-eye view of the stage.
There were overhead screens so you wouldn’t miss the live music or the appearance of Franklin Graham. Accompanying the preacher on stage was a Blue Grass outfit consisting of a mandolin player and a guitarist. Country music or related music isn’t usually my bag as it were; however, these two brilliant musicians playing in harmony together were really good. Their sound reminded of the scene from ‘Deliverance’ starring Burt Reynolds and John Voight in a scene where two musicians play the banjo and guitar in unison.
In his sermon address, he said at the age of 66, he didn’t know whether he would visit Blackpool or the north-west of England again. He said he had enjoyed his time in Blackpool, even if the weather had been strange at times!
Catchy songs were sung, people went forward in response to his message, and the event ended with prayers for those already committed to Christ, those who were about to, and for Blackpool.
Franklin Graham is not everyone’s cup of tea, and some say he is more direct than his father was. There are many Christians who share this view and even though I do not agree with everything the man says, Franklin Graham’s visit to Blackpool was not about Christians on the left or right, but about saving souls. At the end of the 3-day event, many people made their first steps to give their hearts to God.
So we choose to remember the core benefits of the event: relationships generally were good, both in, and outside of the event.
As the dust of a busy event settles, local pastors will be able to better understand the success of the weekend mission.
God bless you x.
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