Closer Look

Billy Graham once visited The Friendship Tabernacle

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Robert Shook

It was called The Friendship Tabernacle for many years. The structure was built on Wayah Street by Rev. Allen Archie Angel in 1936. Rev. Angel was a Methodist preacher and a resident of Franklin. He wanted to build an auditorium larger than any church in the county to accommodate large crowds of people from all over Western North Carolina. 

The large, rustic building could seat 2,000 people. Sawdust floors, wooden benches, and a crude pulpit made up the interior. Sawmill boards were used for siding, and tin covered the roof. The project was funded by Rev. Angel. Money was hard to come by during those Depression-era years. Rev. Angel, along with help from some volunteers, did the labor.

ROBERT SHOOK is the curator at the Macon County Historical Museum on West Main Street.

Countywide revivals were held each summer, usually lasting two weeks or more, attracting hundreds of people of all denominations and Christian faiths. Albert Angel, son of Rev. Angel, quoted his father as saying, “If they can’t get along here, how are they going to get along in heaven?” Albert said he remembers times when there were no seats left and the overflow of people would gather around the windows and doors to hear the preacher. 

In July 1950, a tall, handsome, young North Carolinian by the name of Billy Graham came to The Friendship Tabernacle to preach. Headlines from The Franklin Pressread, “Billy Graham, Famed Evangelist, Grips Macon Audience of 2,000.” He spoke to an audience the likes of which had never gathered in Macon County before. The building was packed, as well as the parking lot. 

Albert was parking cars and said he had to turn away 50-75 cars. Rev. Graham preached Saturday and Sunday night a message that had some comparing him with an Old Testament prophet. His sermon, based on the first chapter of Isaiah, was only 20 minutes long. But it was a message that all those present never did or will forget. 

Rev. Angel died only three years after that great Macon County revival. Rev. Graham died in 2018, just nine months shy of his 100th birthday. And, all that is left of The Friendship Tabernacle is an old Shipman pump organ, on display here – at the Macon County Historical Museum. It was donated by a member of the Angel family. 

WHEN EVANGELIST Billy Graham visited Macon County in 1950 to speak at The Friendship Tabernacle, music was played on the organ which is on display at the Historical Museum of Macon County.

Many old hymns were sung to the music of that old organ. George Beverly Shea, gospel singer and hymn composer for Graham’s crusades, even sung during the Macon County revival to hymns played on that organ. 

Little did anyone know that Graham’s ministry would live on, even after his death – that he would preach to millions of people around the world – more people, in fact than have ever been preached to before or since. 

Little did those who visited The Friendship Tabernacle know what Rev. Angel’s impact would be on the community and the region. He died at age 48 after a long illness, but the establishment of The Friendship Tabernacle benefitted Macon County after his death. In fact, many other individuals would preach in The Friendship Tabernacle over its 25-plus-year lifespan, including Rev. Grady Wilson, Gypsy Smith, Dr. Frankl Lauback, Dr. J. Lem Stokes, Rev. Fred Sorrells, and many more. 

The Friendship Tabernacle on Bonny Crest is gone, but certainly not forgotten. 

Macon County Historical Museum Curator Robert Shook is a bearer of interesting and little-known stories about the area’s history that he will periodically share with Macon Sense readers in History From the Source.