The billion-dollar New York World’s Fair opens this week. Religious forces are better represented than at any previous fair. They are located in seven major centers scattered across the 646-acre fairgrounds in Flushing Meadow Park in the Queens borough of New York City (adjacent to LaGuardia Airport). Their aggregate investment in fair exhibits has been estimated at $12,000,000.

Evangelist Billy Graham, in formally dedicating a pavilion named for him, observed that the exhibitions at the fair “hold out to mankind the fulfillment of all his age-long hopes and dreams. It is being demonstrated that science could provide a paradise on earth for man.

“However, there is one stumbling block to peace and prosperity—and that is man himself! Christ said, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’ Modern man is proving Christ right. The human race hungers and thirsts for something more than food, shelter, education, and the ‘good life.’ He has deep spiritual yearnings that must also be satisfied.”

More than 70,000,000 persons are expected to visit the fair during 1964 and 1965.

The broadest assortment of religious witness will be found in the Protestant and Orthodox Center, sponsored by the Protestant Council of the City of New York. The center’s exhibit space is divided among more than two dozen denominations and religious organizations. Also in the pavilion is a theater where a controversial film is to be shown (see CHRISTIANITY TODAY, NOV. 8, 1963).

On the eve of the dedication of the pavilion, World’s Fair President Robert Moses asked Protestant Council directors to reconsider their decision to show the film, called Parable.

“The staff of the fair,” said Moses, “have grave misgivings about the propriety, good taste, and validity of the film presenting Jesus as a clown. Of course we do not claim any right of censorship in this field and we realize that this particular symbol has been the subject of much earnest consideration in your ranks. However, most of our people at the fair still hope that you will reconsider.”

The 22-minute color production has been described as an attempt to express the gospel message of redemption, in pantomime, through a parable of the world as a circus.

Dr. Dan M. Potter, executive director of the Protestant Council, answered Moses’ objection:

“We do not feel that it is within his province to prejudge our film as being the proper method of proclaiming the Gospel, especially since he himself has not seen it.”

Another featured billing at the Protestant and Orthodox Center is had by two partly burned pieces of oak that fell from the roof of Coventry Cathedral during a 1940 bombing. Workmen bound the timbers with wire into a cross and set it up in a sand tub. Since then it has been known as the “Charred Cross of Coventry Cathedral.” It was flown to the United States last month amid much ceremony and will be placed in a garden at the center.

Article continues below

The octagonally shaped Graham pavilion will feature a half-hour evangelistic film, Man in the Fifth Dimension, produced by the Todd-AO process and shown on a wide, wrap-around screen. The sound track can be heard in any one of six languages through special earphones. The film closes with an evangelistic appeal, and inquirers will be led to counseling rooms located to the rear of the screen. Counselors will man the pavilion. The film will be shown hourly in the 400-seat theater, which dominates the pavilion designed by architect Edward Durell Stone. Graham said that the exhibit will seek to bring Christ’s message to the fairgoer through “straight evangelism without apology.”

Graham will visit the pavilion periodically. One scheduled appearance will be on June 26 of this year, which has been designated as “Billy Graham Day.” He will speak at that time at the fair’s central Unisphere.

Also dedicated to the task of evangelism among fairgoers is the Sermons from Science Pavilion, which will feature demonstrations well known throughout the world. Dr. George E. Speake and James Moon will use a stage full of scientific equipment in their demonstrations. These are scheduled three times each day. Between them, films from the Moody Institute of Science like The Prior Claim and Red River of Life will be screened in the pavilion’s 500-seat, air-conditioned auditorium.

The activity program at the Sermons from Science Pavilion is patterned after that which proved successful in a similar pavilion at the Seattle fair in 1962. More than a thousand counselors have been trained under the direction of Gordon Klenck of Campus Crusade for Christ. Finances for the pavilion were collected by a group of New York businessmen headed by George Hickman.

The April issue of Moody Monthly predicts that “hundreds of thousands will make the most important discovery of their lives during their visits to New York this summer.” “Leaders of the New York committee recall that 75 per cent of the visitors to the Seattle Sermons from Science Pavilion were unchurched,” the magazine reports. “That means that, if the figures hold true, one and one-half of the two million they expect to reach during the two seasons will be without religious ties or interest. They also expect that the demonstrations will have particular appeal for youth.”

Article continues below

The missionary flavor at the fair will center at the Wycliffe Bible Translators’ 2,000 Tribes Building. It takes its name from the approximately 2,000 world languages yet to be reduced to writing. Inside will be a museum and a 100-seat auditorium. On display will be tribal artifacts and information on methods used to create new written languages and to translate the Bible into languages understandable to isolated tribes.

Wycliffe leaders, taking their cue from the theme of the fair, “Peace Through Understanding,” have chosen as the theme for their own exhibit “Understanding Through Literacy.”

The pavilion was designed by William E. Kohn to suggest a hut and is indicative of the buildings in the areas which Wycliffe serves. It has a diagonal siding of dark wood.

The focal point of the Wycliffe pavilion will be a dramatic 100-foot mural created by Douglas Riseborough, who visited the jungles of Peru to observe Indian life in preparation for his work. The mural, in five panels, shows the impact of Christianity on a once savage tribe. It was inspired by the true story of the life of a headhunting Shapra Indian chief. Some art critics have predicted that the mural will create a sensation when it is unveiled.

Perhaps the work of art that will attract the most attention at the fair will be Michelangelo’s “Pieta,” the 400-year-old marble statue depicting a dying Christ in the arms of Mary. This marks the first time the cream-colored statue has left St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. It was shipped to New York in a crate of foam and will be exhibited at the Vatican Pavilion behind a sheet of bulletproof glass.

Some feel that the statue’s setting in the pavilion will be more dramatic than its resting place in St. Peter’s. It will be mounted on an inclined plane on a low pedestal, reportedly as prescribed by Michelangelo himself. There will be a circle of lights above and also lamps at the sides.

The Vatican’s decision to display the “Pieta” in New York has been a source of controversy, as has the design of the pavilion. Many art lovers felt that the trans-Atlantic trip posed too many hazards for the statue. The shippers have been taking extraordinary precautions, however, to insure its safety. Special policemen will guard it twenty-four hours a day.

In New Jersey, the editor of a Roman Catholic magazine publicly criticized the Vatican’s decisions with regard to their fair exhibits. Father Gregory Smith said foreign visitors and “travelers from our own Midwest” will be “disappointed” in the “staid exterior” of the Vatican Pavilion. Father Smith, writing in The Scapular, claimed that the pavilion tends to be out of harmony with the modern area and gives little recognition to present-day trends in the church. He said that the loan of the “Pieta” is a “crowning achievement” of which Catholics can be proud. But, he added, “one can only question the wisdom that has made a Renaissance work of art the central attraction in a pavilion which should show a contemporary church looking toward the future.”

Article continues below

The Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of America hopes to attract art lovers to see a 500-year-old ikon of the Virgin Mary which it recently purchased from a private collector for $500,000. The ikon, measuring ten by thirteen inches and encrusted with some 1,000 diamonds, emeralds, rubies, sapphires, and pearls, is housed in a replica of an old Russian Orthodox church.

American Jewish religious leaders had discussed the possibility of sponsoring a pavilion, but the idea was dropped. A group of Jewish businessmen, however, got together and built the American-Israel Pavilion which includes portrayals of ancient and modern life in the Holy Land.

Other religious exhibits at the fair will be housed in the Mormon Pavilion, which features a replica of the facade of the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, and the Christian Science Pavilion.

A series of 104 special sacred concerts on the fairgrounds will be sponsored by the Bibletown organization of Boca Raton, Florida. The concerts will be given every Saturday night and every Sunday afternoon at several auditoriums and arenas. The Bibletown organization, headed by Dr. Ira Lee Eshleman, owns and operates a resort conference in Boca Raton and an adjacent housing community.

The New York Bible Society has printed a million copies of the “World’s Fair Edition” of the Gospel of John for distribution at the fair. The society’s exhibit is located in the Hall of Education.

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, in addition to operating its own pavilion, will lease 400 square feet of exhibit space in the Protestant and Orthodox Center.

The largest exhibits in the Protestant and Orthodox Center will be those sponsored by The Methodist Church, the Churches of Christ, and the Lutherans (a composite exhibit of the Lutheran Church in America, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, and the American Lutheran Church).

Article continues below

Other exhibitors at the Protestant and Orthodox Center: the Protestant Episcopal Church; the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America; Guideposts Associates, Inc.; Seventh-day Adventists; General Council of Assemblies of God; New York Association of the New Church (Swedenborgian); Salvation Army; Evangelical Covenant Church of America; Aramaic Bible Society, Inc.; Association for a United Church of America, Inc.; John A. Dixon Co. (publishers of the New Analytical Bible); John Milton Society; National St. George Association; and Protestants and Other Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

A Baptist display at the center will be jointly conducted by the American and Southern Baptist Conventions, the National Baptist Convention, U. S. A., Inc., the North American Baptist General Conference, the Seventh Day Baptist General Conference, and the Baptist Federation of Canada. A Presbyterian exhibit is sponsored by the United Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A. and the Reformed Church in America.

Billy Graham In Birmingham

Legion Field is a football stadium in Birmingham, Alabama, located at the foot of “Dynamite Hill,” a Negro residential section that has been rocked repeatedly by the bombs of the Negroes’ white neighbors.

To this stadium on Easter Sunday came Billy Graham to speak to an integrated audience, and the white supremacists were aroused. “If violence occurs, the blood will be on the hands of the rulers of Birmingham,” said a spokesman for the segregationist “Citizens Council.”

The Citizens Council had pressed for the canceling of the meeting. The Birmingham City Council rejected the request.

“Why have you come to Birmingham?” Graham was asked at a news conference before the rally. “To preach the Gospel,” he replied.

On Easter Sunday at Legion Field, not only was there no violence; people went out of their way to be friendly. The crowd of 35,000 that gathered to hear Graham was the largest integrated audience in the history of the city and the state. Over 300 policemen were on hand, some with truncheons; but no incidents were reported.

“During the waiting period, Negroes and whites chatted informally with those nearby,” wrote Mrs. William McMurry for the Southern Baptist Press. “One woman who was having her first experience sitting by a Negro said later, ‘When she put out her hand to shake mine and smiled, I couldn’t refuse.’

Article continues below

“A white usher responded to a friendly greeting from a woman sitting next to him with, ‘Well, some folks said there wouldn’t be many here, and I just told them maybe those who do come will get a good dose of religion.’ ”

To this audience Graham preached a simple message on John 3:16. “Integration was not the issue at Legion Field,” said Dr. Sherwood Wirt of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. “The issue was the claim of Jesus Christ upon the individual heart.”

Some 3,000 to 4,000 people—about 10 per cent of the audience—came forward at the end of the message to respond to that claim. “I have never seen this [great a] proportion in America,” said Walter Smyth, crusade planning director.

“What a moment and what an hour in Birmingham,” said Graham. “Let’s make this the beginning of a spiritual awakening in Birmingham.”

The reaction of many observers was one of almost stunned surprise. Time magazine put the story in its lead civil rights article, which concluded, “And if it could happen in Birmingham, it could happen anywhere, a fact of which the debating senators might take notice.”

“Rev. Billy Graham has brought out the very best in us,” said Mayor Albert Boutwell.

The mayor sat on the platform during the meeting, as did the president of the Birmingham Ministerial Association and the presidents of the city’s three colleges: Howard, Miles, and Birmingham Southern.

Many Roman Catholics and Jews cooperated, and almost all the evangelical denominations in the city, white and Negro, supported the rally.

More than 1,000 prayer groups had been meeting in advance of the service.

Graham has already been invited back for a full-scale crusade, and he has said the team would be “delighted” to return.

Evangelicals And The Ymca

The Young Men’s Christian Associations seek to unite those young men who, regarding Jesus Christ as their God and Saviour according to the Holy Scriptures, desire to be his disciples in their faith and in their life, and to associate their efforts for the extension of his Kingdom among men.

With these words delegates to the first YMCA world conference, on August 22, 1855, laid the basis for the admission of new associations. The YMCA movement went on to become part of community life the world over. But the religious leg of its traditional body-mind-spirit triangle eventually sagged (see CHRISTIANITY TODAY, November 11, 1957, “Will the ‘Y’ Recover Its Gospel?”).

Paul L. Hershey, 28-year-old community work secretary for the Central Y in Washington, D. C., is challenging the notion that evangelicals should write off the movement. A letter-writing campaign over the past year has netted him a list of dozens of Y secretaries around the country who are concerned about the movement’s spiritual outreach. Hershey has encouraged them to start prayer meetings and Bible study sessions.

Article continues below

“We seek to see a new power in the YMCA fellowship as we relate to a changing society,” he says. “We still believe that the only way to build a Christian society is through transformed lives.”

As a step in coordinating evangelical efforts in behalf of the Y, Hershey spearheaded sponsorship of a day-long conference in Washington last month that drew some twenty-five Y secretaries and an equal number of interested laymen from several Eastern states. One speaker predicted that the Y’s greatest days were still ahead, but that the movement needed more of a “cutting edge” in Christian convictions. Conferees agreed to press their cause on local fronts and to report back in a year. Hershey hopes that the next conference will have a national scope.

Hershey, who attended Philadelphia College of Bible and graduated from Grace College, declares he has no intention of creating a divisive bloc in the Y movement. The role of the evangelicals, he says, should be one of service consistent with the existing framework.

The Y movement is currently active in seventy-five countries. The nearly 6,000 associations have 6,000,000 members.

Medium For Missions

Establishment of a new non-profit organization to disseminate missionary news was announced in Washington this month. The Evangelical Missions Information Service was incorporated as a joint enterprise of the Interdenominational Foreign Mission Association and the Evangelical Foreign Missions Association. First project: publication of a periodical to be known as The Evangelical Missions Quarterly.

James Reapsome, editor of The Sunday School Times, will also edit the new quarterly. First issue is due by late 1964. The journal will be designed to report on events and trends vital to the cause of missions, interpreting them in the light of the evangelical position.

A Plan Of Union

Two conservative Presbyterian bodies took the first formal step in St. Louis this month toward merging into one denomination. After years of moving together through sharing academic facilities and exchanging ministers, the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America (General Synod), meeting in its 141st General Synod, and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, meeting in its twenty-eighth General Synod, “were all with one accord in one place.”

Article continues below

The forty commissioners of the RPC adopted the Plan of Union unanimously, the 103 commissioners of the EPC by an 80 to 4 vote. Only the selection of a name for the united church aroused lively discussion. Pride of tradition and sense of identity raised the question whether the united church would be a new church requiring a new name, and whether the 28-year-old EPC would suddenly become 141 years old. In the end both groups unanimously adopted the name “The Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod” for the united church.

If the plan is ratified by three of the RPC’s four presbyteries and by eight of the EPC’s twelve presbyteries, the merger can be consummated in April of 1965, when the two synods are scheduled to meet in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

There seemed little doubt that the merger will take place. According to Paul Gilchrist, pastor of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Levittown, Pennsylvania, “The spirit toward union both before and during the 1964 meetings of our respective synods was exceedingly promising. I have little doubt that the merger will be ultimately consummated.”

The EPC has 8,000 communicant members, the RPC 2,000.

If the merger occurs, it will be the first organizational merger within the twentieth-century “separatist” movement. The EPC separated from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in 1938 and was known as the Bible Presbyterian Church until the defection in 1956 of Carl McIntire and his churches (Bible Presbyterian Church, Collingswood Synod); since that time it has borne its present name.

The Plan for Union includes acceptance of the Westminster Confession, and of the Shorter and the Longer Catechisms. The confession was modified to eliminate the Westminster assertion that the pope of Rome is the “Antichrist.” Modifications and deletions of the Larger Catechism were made in order not to exclude any millennial view that includes belief in a visible, personal return of Christ and does not otherwise violate the teaching of the confession and the catechisms.

The plan also includes resolutions renouncing the various forms of pornography, and warning against the use of tobacco and liquor and against the moral dangers involved in movies, dancing, television, and the sin of gambling. Although the resolutions are included in the Plan of Union which must be adopted to effect the merger, the plan states that “they do not constitute an attempt to legislate.” How such resolutions could be the basis for union and yet be without binding legislative power, seemed to trouble no one.

Article continues below

A resolution about the proper nature of a resolution asserted that resolutions “should bear on the religious and moral issues rather than the strictly political or social issues of the day, or should pertain at least to the moral or religious aspect of any social or political issue,” and that such a resolution “should be aimed primarily at our own constituency … rather than at the high councils of government or at society at large.” Nevertheless, the Resolutions Committee was mandated, immediately upon the conclusion of the synod, “to notify news media of the approved resolutions.”


Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.