Billy Sunday grew up in a single parent home, before being sent to an orphanage at twelve years old. Billy ran away from the orphanage two years later and worked as a stable boy looking after Shetland ponies.
Baseball fascinated Billy. Despite his being struck out the first thirteen times at bat, Billy played professional baseball for eight years for Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia. His remarkable speed in running the bases was his trademark.
One evening, after a night of drinking with his baseball teammates, Billy attended a renewal service. Billy’s life was powerfully transformed, so much so that he became a full-time worker in 1891 for the YMCA. Love broke through. An ordained Presbyterian minister, Billy was one of the first clergy to make use of this amazing ‘new’ medium of radio.
Billy would sometimes have a baseball game with those attending before proceeding to hold a renewal service. Sometimes during a sermon he would dive across the stage and visually slide into home plate. Then he might stand up and challenge men to ‘come up to the plate’, to stand up for their wives, children, church and country. Billy broke the stereotype that church is only for women and children. He strongly challenged men to play their part, to be part of God’s team, to get involved. Love broke through for many families attending Billy Sunday’s meetings.
During Billy’s lifetime, over one hundred million people heard him speak, more than any other preacher to that point. Billy often spoke without any PA system. Over 1.25 million people publicly responded to Billy’s challenge to dedicate their lives to Christ, to ‘come up to the plate’ and stand up for their families and God. Historians describe Billy Sunday as an early 20th Century Billy Graham. Billy Graham just turned 90 years old. My hunch is that most of us have heard Billy Graham, either in person or by TV. Ironically Billy Graham gave his life to Christ at a meeting that had been originally founded by Billy Sunday.
Through Billy Graham and Billy Sunday, love has broken through for countless ten of millions of families. This Christmas, as you think about the simplicity of Christ in the manger, may love break through for you and your family members.
The Reverend Ed Hird
Rector, St. Simon’s Church North Vancouver, BC
Anglican Coalition in Canada