- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The recent crusade of the Rev. Billy Graham in New York, the most expensive evangelistic effort in the preacher’s 55-year-career, is running more than $2 million short.

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has raised just 61 percent — $4.1 million — so far of the projected $6.8 million budget for its June 24-26 crusade.

The event, which drew 242,000 people and saved 9,413 persons’ souls, according to crusade tallies, was the ailing 86-year-old minister’s last major evangelistic effort.

Crusade director Art Bailey promises more money will be raised by September, but with most of the big donations already in, his options are running out.

“We will exhaust every effort,” he said. Although the New York crusade office will close in August and its tax-exempt corporation will dissolve in September, “every bill will be paid.”

Mr. Graham’s crusades usually have the money in the bag by the time the last “Just As I Am” is played, says Bill Martin, a Rice University sociologist and Mr. Graham’s official biographer.

“Over the years, I’ve known [crusade officials] to say they’ve reached their goal by the second or third night and they won’t take a collection any more,” he said. “They used to get the bills paid before the crusade was over and use extra funds as seed money for the next crusade.”

But New York was different. Although organizers got cheaper office space through a sublease in Manhattan, the projected cost was $2 million more than the average crusade price tag of $4 million.

Plus, the venue was switched from Madison Square Garden in Manhattan to Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens in April, nine weeks before the event, to accommodate larger crowds.

Thus, instead of dealing with a pre-built stadium, organizers had to build a stage from scratch, install lighting, lay a canvas floor and rent 70,000 chairs on what was empty parkland. Creating such a venue was a first in the history of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Mr. Bailey said.

The evangelist’s on-again, off-again health situation involving prostate cancer, a broken hip and pelvis, hydrocephalus and Parkinson’s disease raised questions as to the crusade’s viability.

“When you go to a donor and you haven’t settled where it’s going to be yet, it’s difficult for them to feel led to give,” Mr. Bailey said. “Because Mr. Graham’s age and health were questionable — it was remarkable he was as strong as he was — maybe there were some people who thought it wouldn’t happen.”

Thus, very few gifts of more than $1,000 came in, he said. A few days before the crusade, organizers got more funds from donors attending a fundraiser at the Harvard Club for the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, N.C., which is breaking ground next month.

The Rev. A.R. Bernard, crusade chairman, says the tab has been paid off to date, but he knows of at least another $800,000 in outstanding bills.

“We will deal with this as we go,” he said. “But it looks like we’ll be under budget.”

The funding shortfall was not a factor in Mr. Graham’s recent decision to decline an invitation to preach in London this November, according to his spokesman, Larry Ross.

“Every bill will be paid,” he said. “They are still seeking funding sources. For us to have an extraordinary ministry moment in New York City required an extraordinary response.”

Organizers in New York are hoping a letter to pastors and local businesses will turn up more money, also to pay back funds loaned to the crusade from the BGEA.

“I still believe we have some money in the pipeline that’s meant for this crusade,” Mr. Bailey said. “I am not looking for a $2.5 million gift but I wouldn’t turn that down. People will give once they know there’s a need.”

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