By John D. Pierce
A tiny black-and-white image of Jack Harwell — in his younger, bespectacled days — was a weekly visitor to my family’s home in northwest Georgia. It was set within his allotted words on the editorial page of The Christian Index.
Even many years later, as a young campus minister who got know Jack personally, I could not have imagined how closely my vocational path would follow his as destiny delivered.
Yet I ended up at the same two publications — at different times from Jack — that he served as editor.
Editor William Neal, who had been Jack’s associate, recruited me to be managing editor of the Index in 1994. Then I became executive editor of Baptists Today (now Nurturing Faith Journal) in 2000 — where Jack had been the second and longest tenured editor at the time.
Through the years and varied experiences, Jack was a constant source of affirmation and encouragement. He and his wife, Teliea, a photographer, would even contribute feature stories and provide leads to me.
Many pastors of my generation will tell you their first church call came with the good recommendation of the influential editor. This Saturday (Jan. 26) we will celebrate the enriching and impactful life of Jack Harwell.
Following his recent death, my mind traced many conversations and experiences related to Jack. One story he told me once stood out from the others.
Jack was chosen as publicity chairman for the 1973 Billy Graham crusade in Atlanta. Such events were extremely well planned and prayed over — from securing the biggest venue to the smallest organizational detail. Nothing was left to chance.
When the successful services concluded, the famed evangelist stopped by Jack’s office to debrief the publicity aspects of the revival to see if anything could be learned for upcoming mass meetings.
During their conversation, Jack recalled making a passing reference to the “glory days.” Graham laughed heartily, Jack said, and then got serious.
“You know when the glory days were, Jack?” he asked, before answering his own question.
It’s different for each person, Graham explained with much insight. The glory days, or good ol’ times, he said, were whenever someone was at his or her peak, physically and vocationally.
Graham’s words, made a lot of sense, Jack recalled. Our tendency is to view history from our own perspectives of influence and strength.
Each time someone speaks of society’s present decline and yearns for the “good ol’ days” or the “glory years,” I think of what Jack Harwell told me Billy Graham told him. The lens through which we evaluate history is a very personal one that recalls the era of our own vigor, comfort and sway.
Of course, we also tend to remember the “good” and the “glorious” aspects of such times, rather than the hardships that were present. Being a nostalgic person, I enjoy taking pleasant memory trips. But I’m glad to live in this moment in time — with air conditioning, seat warmers, GPS technology and other good things.
But I’m also grateful for those who’ve gone before me to pave the way with creativity, competence and courage. People like Jack U. Harwell, who added some goodness and glory to those who knew him in various seasons of life.
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