Milwaukeeans responded with gusto last month to the simple gospel message preached by evangelist Billy Graham. During a five-day crusade in the nation’s beer capital, more than 10,000 “inquirers” filed onto the outfield grass in 50,000-seat County Stadium. This number represented 6.8 percent of the 150,000 aggregate attendance total—almost double the average response to Graham altar calls at other U.S. crusades.

Local pastors and Graham team members were excited—but admittedly a little surprised by the receptivity. Historically, Milwaukee has had a reputation as a “deathbed for evangelism,” said local Nazarene pastor and crusade follow-up chairman Walter Ballard.

First traversed in the late seventeenth century by French missionaries and visited after 1848 by a heavy influx of German immigrants, the Milwaukee area became largely conservative Roman Catholic and Lutheran. This characteristic, plus its ethnically mixed population, perhaps made the city a “closed community” in terms of evangelistic outreach, said Ballard. That may be one reason, he speculated, why the Graham team earlier was “reluctant” to hold a Milwaukee crusade. Except for a final night appearance at the successful 1973 Leighton Ford Reachout Crusade, which many credited as giving the spiritual impetus to the Graham meetings, Graham had never held a major evangelistic meeting in Milwaukee.

Interestingly, Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches among the metropolitan area’s 1.4 million population gave Graham some of his most loyal support. Local crusade chairman Arthur Riemer, board chairman of the Wisconsin Bridge and Iron Company, is an active Lutheran layman. Roman Catholic Archbishop Rembert Weakland sent a letter last year to priests throughout his 10-county ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

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.