Area pastors remember Graham as faithful servant to God

Throughout the centuries, leaders of all denominations have characterized their belief in God and shared it with their congregations. A Baptist scripture tells the story of a gardener who nurses and attends to an oak tree in the forest. Without the tender loving care the gardener provided, the tree would have fallen and perished. To many people throughout the world, the Rev. Billy Graham was that gardener and his teachings were the oak trees.

For Lisa Martin, the pastor of Woodstock Presbyterian Church, Graham was more than a tree, he was a forest. “A mighty oak forest has fallen,” she said. “We’ve lost an era.”

Graham, one of the world’s best-known evangelists, died on Wednesday. He was 99. Best known for his international appearances, faithfulness to God and the circle of friends he kept, including presidents, queens and kings, Graham was a voice and follower of the Gospel who impacted the lives of many people.

Clay Knick, pastor of the United Methodist Church in Middletown, recalled watching an episode of Netflix’s “The Crown” where Graham preached to Queen Elizabeth II. Knick said he imagined Graham was just the way he was projected on TV. “A simple man, a faithful servant that didn’t live a lavish lifestyle despite his fame.”

For many pastors in the Northern Shenandoah Valley, Graham was an inspiration. Some would go so far as to call him their idol.

Pastor Carlton Rogers, of Dynamic Life Praise and Worship Center in Front Royal, said Graham inspired him personally as a minister. “His character and faith in the Lord has been a tremendous example to me,” he said. “His legacy lives on through his family, the ministry he established and the countless lives he impacted. He has inspired many ministers, including me, to be faithful to the call.

Rob Lovett, the pastor of Christ Episcopal Church in Winchester, said Graham carried the word of God to every corner of the world. “Throughout his calling, particularly the mid-to-late- 20th century, he influenced millions of people with the presentation of the Gospel that started a movement.”

That movement Lovett spoke of brought the Gospel to individuals who might not have had the opportunity to know God through television. Individuals who wanted to worship could do just that, Lovett added.

Knick said his generation learned and was influenced by Graham’s teaching. “He had incredible integrity. He made Christianity come to life.”

Jim Bruce, the pastor of Marlow Heights Baptist Church in Front Royal, said he attended a conference where Graham was preaching. “When he walked into the room, an aura just came along with him.”

One sentiment they all agreed upon was the relationship Graham shared with God.

“He was the most God-soaked person there ever will be,” Knick said.

Rogers noted, “Dr. Graham is one of the greatest examples, in our time, of someone who stayed committed to the call. He pointed hundreds of millions of people to Christ Jesus. Dr. Graham is loved, admired, and appreciated around the world.”

Pastor John Stelzl, of John Wesley United Methodist Church in Front Royal, recalled a book he read by Corrie ten Boom titled “The Hiding Place.”

“Graham was compared to a mission gun,” Stelzel said. “It was so humorous that he compared him to something so strong, but as it turns out Graham was just that. A strong man.”

Even during his ups and downs, Graham remained steadfast through his faith. He decided to abstain from partisan politics but spoke publicly on historic events such as 9/11.

Meeting Graham for many was an ordinary experience. He wanted to have simple conversations, Martin said. When Martin met Graham, she said the experience was completely unremarkable.

“We talked about his mountains,” she said. “He wanted to know what we’re enjoying most about our time. He was just that type of person. Simple. Down to earth.”

It’s unlikely that Graham’s shoes will ever be filled, Knick said, but his admiration for Graham will continue.

Martin said the world has lost a giant

“It’ll be one of those experiences where people will always remember where they were when they heard. And, they’ll never forget. He was just that kind of person,” he said.

Rogers said the Rev. Billy Graham is not dead. “He’s more alive now than ever in the presence of the Lord.”