Thursday, April 27, 2006

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — At age 87, the Rev. Billy Graham speaks softly and no longer strides to the pulpit. But to many American Christians, he is still a larger-than-life figure, and that will be reflected in a bronze statue to be unveiled by the Southern Baptist Convention at its meeting later this spring.

Created by a pastor and sculptor in Wyoming, the figure of Mr. Graham will stand with a Bible in one hand and arms outstretched before a giant cross.

The statue will be presented in June at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in Greensboro, N.C. — Mr. Graham’s home state — and then moved to Nashville for permanent installation later this year.

Terrell O’Brien, the sculptor and a Baptist pastor in Pavillion, Wyo., said his research for the artwork turned up several portraits and busts of Mr. Graham, but nothing like his statue.

Mr. O’Brien, 58, wanted to recognize Mr. Graham’s evangelism all over the world — he has preached to more than 210 million people — so the artist created the outstretched gesture, which he calls an invitation for people to accept Christ.

“I have to try to tell a story and pay tribute as well,” Mr. O’Brien said. “This was not easy, in particular because I’m dealing with a world-known figure. It caused me to tremble. But it’s been a tremendous blessing.”

Mr. Graham didn’t sit for the statue, so Mr. O’Brien used photographs to sculpt and mold the piece.

David Bruce, executive assistant to Mr. Graham, said the evangelist appreciates the tribute. “Mr. Graham is humbled by those kinds of things, and it’s nothing he seeks out,” Mr. Bruce said.

An ordained Southern Baptist minister, Mr. Graham has been in poor health for several years with a variety of ailments; he held his last revival meeting in New York City last year, though he spoke to victims of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans last month.

Mr. O’Brien said he was approached in 2004 to create the piece by Southern Baptist Convention President Bobby Welch, who had seen some of the artist’s work.

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