Finest Hour 116, Autumn 2002
Matt Fabian (firstname.lastname@example.org) sends us this glimpse of Winston Churchill in the early 1950s, by evangelist Billy Graham in his autobiography:
I received a call from Jock Colville, secretary to the Prime Minister. “Would you be available to join Mr. Churchill for lunch tomorrow noon?” “I’m honored,” I said, “but that is impossible. We are leaving this evening for Scotland.” Turning down an invitation from Winston Churchill—that showed how exhausted I was!
Half an hour later the phone rang again. “Would you be able to meet with Mr. Churchill at noon today?” asked Mr. Colville. “He has a lunch scheduled at 12:30 with the Duke of Windsor, but he can see you before that.” I hardly had time to get nervous! Much later I learned from Mr. Colville’s writings that Mr. Churchill had himself been nervous about the meeting. Apparently, the Prime Minister had paced the room, asking, “What do you talk about to an evangelist?”
When I arrived at Downing Street, I was reminded discreetly that the Prime Minister had precisely twenty minutes. I was shown into a large, dimly lit cabinet room. Mr. Churchill rose from his chair and shook my hand. I had not realized what a short man he was; I towered over him.
He motioned with an unlit cigar for me to sit next to him. It would be just the two of us, apparently. I noticed that three London afternoon dailies were spread out on a table next to him. “Well, first,” he said, in the marvelous voice I had heard so many times on the radio and in newsreels, “I want to congratulate you for these huge crowds you’ve been drawing.” “Oh, well, it’s God’s doing, believe me,” I said.
“That may be,” he replied, squinting at me, “but I daresay that if I brought Marilyn Monroe over here, and she and I together went to Wembley, we couldn’t fill it.” I laughed, trying to imagine the spectacle.
“Tell me, Rev. Graham, what is it that filled Harringay night after night?” “I think it’s the Gospel of Christ,” I told him without hesitation. “People are hungry to hear a word straight from the Bible. Almost all the clergy of this country used to preach it faithfully, but I believe they have gotten away from it.”
“Yes,” he said, sighing. “Things have changed tremendously. Look at these newspapers—nothing but murder and war and what the Communists are up to. You know, the world may one day be taken over by the Communists.” I agreed with him, but I did not feel free to comment on world politics. I merely nodded, and he continued: “I’ll tell you, I have no hope. I see no hope for the world.”
“Things do look dark,” I agreed. I hesitated, not wanting to repeat the gaffe I had committed with President Truman just a few years before by being too direct about religion. We talked at length about the world situation, and then, as if on cue, the Prime Minister looked me in the eye. “I am a man without hope,” he said somberly. “Do you have any real hope?”
He might have been talking geopolitically, but to me this sounded like a personal plea. In the notes I jotted after the meeting, I recalled he referred to hopelessness no fewer than nine times. His bouts with depression are now well documented, although I was not aware of them at the time.
“Are you without hope for your own soul’s salvation?” “Frankly, I think about that a great deal,” he replied. I had my New Testament with me. Knowing that we had but a few minutes left, I explained the way of salvation. I watched carefully for signs of irritation or offense, but he seemed receptive, if not enthusiastic. I talked about God’s plan for the future. His eyes seemed to light up at the prospect.
At precisely 12:30, Mr. Colville knocked. “Sir Winston, the Duke of Windsor is here for your luncheon,” he said. “Let him wait!” Mr. Churchill growled, waving Mr. Colville off and turning back to me. I went on for about another 15 minutes, then asked if I could pray. “Most certainly,” he said, standing up. “I’d appreciate it.”
I prayed for the difficult situations the Prime Minster faced every day and acknowledged that God was the only hope for the world and for us individually. Mr. Churchill thanked me and walked me out. As we shook hands he leaned toward me. “Our conversations are private, aren’t they?”