Earlier this week, George Beverly Shea, the longtime soloist for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, turned 103 years old.
Graham, himself, will turn 94 in November.
Cliff Barrow, the longtime music and program director for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, will be 89 early this spring.
On Facebook earlier this week, someone wondered if God was going to let the three of them live until he returns.
The working relationship of the trio, said Earl Freudenberg, who was spinning Shea’s rendition of hymns on WDYN radio, is “definitely God’s calling.”
“With all the dissension in the American church today,” he said, “I don’t see how three people could stay together for any length of time unless it was of the Lord.”
Shea, according to Guinness World Records, has sung before more people than anyone else, an estimated combined live audience of 220 million people.
Freudenberg, who will be in the radio business for 50 years is June, said he’d rather interview the bass-baritone singer than any other celebrity.
A Canadian by birth, Shea is the son of a Methodist minister and once worked as a clerk in the medical department for Mutual Life Insurance of New York before pursuing music full-time.
Graham first heard him sing in 1943. He sang at his first Billy Graham Crusade in 1947 and joined Graham’s “Hour of Decision” radio broadcast in 1950.
Barrows, ordained as a Baptist minister in 1944, joined Graham at a rally in Asheville, N.C., in 1945 and has remained with him ever since.
“I don’t know if there will be another evangelistic team with three people [like them],” Freudenberg said.
Indeed, there are probably few members of the silent generation, Americans born between 1925 and 1945, during the Great Depression and World War II, who don’t know of Graham, Barrows and Shea.
Most people in my generation, the baby boomers, also are likely familiar with their names and revere them as being at the forefront of American Christian leaders.
“They are all spiritual icons,” said Scott Medley, a younger baby boomer who is now organist/music associate at St. Elmo United Methodist Church, “and I personally refer to them as the televangelist team that kept it clean all of these years. They certainly have not given Christianity a bad name like a lot of other money-grabbing ... evangelists.”
But who are the Billy Grahams, the Cliff Barrows and the Bev Sheas for Generation X and Generation Y? While there are plenty of Christian singers, bands and evangelists, there is no trio, or even group of three individuals, who have the universal respect of Graham, Barrows and Shea.
That’s too bad in an era when such examples are sorely needed and when media outlets duel to be the first to reveal the least bit of dirt on any celebrity.
So what is the secret of their longevity?
On that, Barrows has said of Graham, “The secret is the hand of God and God’s choosing to bless Billy Graham and then men whose hearts were knit together with his for the calling of evangelism.”
Shea on the Christian Broadcasting Network said of himself, the secret to a long life is “the Lord, a good wife [he’s married to his second] and coffee.”
Barrows, meanwhile, said of himself in a Billy Graham Evangelistic Association interview, the key to sustenance is knowledge of the Scriptures.
I like what was disclosed of Shea’s 103rd birthday the other day, though. The report said he had a quiet celebration at home with friends and family.
It also mentioned the singer said his “heart feels as joyful as that of a child.”
Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...