Here is a short excerpt from a longer article in today’s Washington Post, which is available by clicking here:
LYNCHBURG, Va. — The Rev. Jerry Falwell’s conservative politics have earned him both friends and enemies in a long public career– but there’s no denying he’s been a successful pastor.
Joined by thousands of supporters, Falwell will mark the half-century anniversary of Thomas Road Baptist Church tomorrow with a daylong celebration that begins with a service in a new, 6,000-seat sanctuary.
The sanctuary is just a small part of a 1 million-square-foot complex for the Falwell empire’s administrative offices, Liberty University recreational facilities and classrooms and Liberty Christian Academy, which has students from preschool through high school.
Days before the opening ceremony, workmen hustled to install the raised choir loft, lay carpet around the dark gray upholstered seats and put wall coverings over insulation.
Even unfinished, the setting bore no reminder of the church’s beginnings.
Fresh out of Baptist Bible College in Sprigfield, Mo., a 22-year-old Falwell returned to his home town and started his church with 35 members in an old Donald Duck soft-drink bottling plant.
“We scraped syrup off the floors and walls,” he said during a recent interview.
Falwell, whose countenance is jovial even when talking about serious subjects, built his congregation with knuckles and shoe leather. “I began knocking on 100 doors a day, six days a week,” he said. He would invite people to church and leave them with his phone number in case they needed his help.
One year later, Thomas Road Church had 864 members. It has continued to grow dramatically. Today, the rolls number 24,000, with several hundred evangelists going door-to-door in central Virginia.