The red and green lights of the electronic scoreboard at RFK Stadium spelled out a Bible verse yesterday afternoon: "Jesus said I am the way, the truth and the light." It was redemption, not the Redskins, that excited the crowd in the stands.
On the 50-yard line, evangelist Billy Graham preached the closing sermon of his eight-day crusade to an appreciative crowd of 36,000, which interrupted him repeatedly with applause.
In his first crusade here in 25 years, Graham spoke to a total of 150,550 people, including crowds at the Washington Convention Center. He persuaded more than 8,000 of them to commit or rededicate their lives to Christ and collected 15,000 pounds of nonperishable foodstuffs to be distributed to area programs for the hungry.
Thousands of volunteers from 630 churches in the city and the surrounding suburbs served as ushers, choir members and counselors in the effort, which drew wide praise for the cooperation it engendered among the churches.
"It's been exceedingly good -- beyond our fondest dreams," said the Rev. Samuel Hines, pastor of the Third Street Church of God in Northwest Washington and a cochairman of one of the crusade's numerous committees.
Out of yesterday's final session there emerged the determination, voiced by many, to transform the multiple-church effort that pro- duced the crusade into a continuing force in the area.
"The crusade will be over," said the Rev. Ernest R. Gibson, head of the Washington Area Council of Churches and vice chairman of the organizing committee, at the outset of yesterday's session, "but the movement of our churches toward Christian unity and oneness in Christ will continue."
Graham, before launching into his sermon, told the crowd that "this is only the beginning." He proposed that individual suburban and inner-city churches develop one-on-one ties.
"I think it would be a wonderful thing if you would adopt a church," he said, adding, "These suburban churches need your help . . . . That could be one of the things that could come out of this crusade."
Attendance, which began at 21,000 at the April 27 opening service, dropped sharply to a low of 12,800 on Tuesday when a youth service was scheduled, before it started back up. "That's the usual thing," Hines explained. "You start with a big night, then you have a slump, then by Wednesday it picks up again. Wednesday night in most churches is church night.
"The crowd has been good every night," said Hines, who is pastor of one of the city's leading black churches. "The response has been good. And the coming together of the churches" from the inner city to the suburbs is "the important thing."
One of the key questions for the crusade had been the involvement of black churches. Efforts to organize a crusade about 12 years ago foundered because black pastors were left out of the planning.
This time blacks were involved in planning the crusade and appeared to be involved in most areas of the crusade throughout the week -- including those drawn from local churches as well as participants from Graham's permanent organization. Blacks were well represented in all of the audiences.
Black soloists were featured regularly each night, and many of the platform guests at the meetings were area black ministers.
A count of the volunteer choir on opening night found 400 blacks participating and 611 whites participating, a Graham organization spokesman said.
In a statement summarizing the crusade, Graham said that "an average of over 30 percent of the audience has been black at each of our services."
Support for the crusade among black churches ran from ministers actively involved in the organizing, who encouraged their congregations to participate, to indifference or outright hostility.
The Rev. Henry Gregory of Shiloh Baptist Church in Northwest Washington, a black minister who has supported and worked with the crusade, said the organizing produced "interfacing that would not have occurred without this . . . . Part of my participation has been to see that the needs of the inner city are addressed in the crusade, concern for the poor, the hungry and the ill-housed . . . . "
In a radio commentary during the week, the Rev. Willie Wilson, pastor of Union Temple Baptist Church in Anacostia, called Graham's crusade "a poor example for the black masses to follow. The timbre of the times demand that we be given strong example of the power available to us [blacks] to rise above our downtrodden state."
Graham's only public appearance during the week, outside of the crusade, was Wednesday morning when he was the keynote speaker at the Mayor's 12th Annual Prayer Breakfast at the Washington Hilton. An audience of 2,100 city employes and business leaders listened as a parade of city officials invoked the name of the Lord and that of Mayor Marion Barry in prayer after prayer.
Barry traced both his and Graham's journeys from country boys in the South to public figures, recalling that when Graham was starting his ministry, Barry was a boy in Memphis, where blacks and whites were segregated.
"Now here we are together," said Barry, adding, "The Lord works in mysterious ways." The audience applauded.
In contrast to some television evangelists, whom Graham has sometimes gently criticized, appeals for money were muted at the Graham crusade, although an offering was taken at each session. A financial statement of the crusade will be published in about two months, a spokesman said