Two Decades of TV Progress

NEVER had I been so downright scared I as when those lights glared at me for the first time on that eventful night of May 21, 1950, when I looked into the eyes of a camera without benefit of script or experience," Pastor William A. Fagal, director of Faith for Today, confessed to me the other day. He added, "I said Hello to an unseen audience I hoped, but wasn't sure, was out there."

NEVER had I been so downright scared I as when those lights glared at me for the first time on that eventful night of May 21, 1950, when I looked into the eyes of a camera without benefit of script or experience," Pastor William A. Fagal, director of Faith for Today, confessed to me the other day. He added, "I said Hello to an unseen audience I hoped, but wasn't sure, was out there."

I couldn't blame him. I knew just how he felt because I was one of the amateur performers who volunteered when he pleaded for actors from his congregation in those early days of TV.

My lines must have gone off satisfactorily during the performance even though the perspiration oozed from my body either from fright or from the heat of the bright lights shining on me. Afterward I was so unnerved from the experience I frantically hunted, and had everyone else search, for my wrist watch. Hours later I found it above my elbow!

Pastor Fagal's budget was so meager that it did not provide for professional actors and script writers. So he appealed to his church members. "I need actors, musicians, and most of all your prayers." During the first three months following the initial telecast Pastor Fagal lost forty pounds; his wife, twenty, from the hectic pace and strain of their new way of life. Scripts were written each week to fit certain members of his congregation, then memorized and rehearsed hours each day for a week be fore the live program went on the air.

To most of the tyro performers the job was a grueling experience. One woman fainted during rehearsal, only to be the outstanding performer once the show went on the air. Others who had been perfect in practice flubbed their lines and had to be prompted by the script writer hiding behind a stage prop.

Volunteers were needed each week to answer viewers' telephone calls and letters. One housewife volunteered to baby-sit while mothers were in the cast.

Despite mistakes, poor casting, and myriads of problems, Pastor and Mrs. Fagal were heartened when one viewer expressed the sentiment of most of the sixty-six who responded to the first program on that memorable day, "You have shown me how to draw help from the Bible for my problems."

In those uneasy first few months when Faith for Today was a one-station program Pastor Fagal was able to carry on the duties of telecasting, answering mail, and planning for new programs, as well as those of pastor of the large Washington Avenue Seventh-day Adventist church in Brooklyn, New York.

But as the burdens of the television program mounted it soon became evident that he couldn't be church pastor and also handle the TV program. There just weren't enough hours in a day for both. Answering the mounting volume of mail from viewers alone was more than a full-time job.

After considerable discussion with the brethren of the General Conference the denomination decided it would underwrite an experimental program to be transmitted from a New York City station for six months, with Pastor Fagal devoting full time to this project.

On December 3, 1950, television history was made when Faith for Today presented the first regularly scheduled television pro gram sponsored by a religious denomination. This telecast originated in New York's American Broadcasting Company's studios.

At the end of the trial period the operating board of the General Conference concluded that television was here to stay. It determined that Faith for Today should continue as a live program with kinescope recordings used to cover distant areas.

"Preaching is the least of a successful minister's duties," declared Pastor Fagal, "and a minister's real value is determined by the extent of practical application of Bible principles seen in the lives of his hearers. Therefore, our TV program was planned around a dramatic problem discussion sketch, a male quartet to sing favorite hymns, and closing with a short direct into the camera sermon that would summarize the points that had been discussed."

This formula has proved successful, be cause Faith for Today has come a long way since the birth of that first telecast in a tiny basement studio of the American Broadcasting headquarters in New York. Today the programs are seen on 285 stations in North America and ten overseas countries Australia, Bermuda, Guam, Korea, Liberia, Nigeria, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Trinidad, and the Virgin Is lands.

One reason for the popularity of the program has been the variety of formats used. These include the interview feature, highlighting prominent personalities such as a United States Congressman, an over seas missionary, or an archeologist; the dramatic life situations that simply teach a basic object lesson in modern parable form; the song program that has gospel music interspersed with narration; the travelogue that takes the viewers overseas to the ruins of Tyre and Sidon or to a mission launch in Brazil; and the illustrated sermon which keynotes a message while graphically illustrating it.

TV Focuses Eyes of Millions on Adventists

As a result of this telecast Seventh-day Adventists stand in the full glare of the TV spotlight. New York's station ABC reaches a potential audience of 9 million. Yes, millions are able to learn of the message of salvation in the comfort of their homes. Rich and poor alike may see and hear the story of what Adventism in action has to offer to a perplexed world.

Political leaders salute Faith for Today's part in presenting Christian ideals in every day situations. President Richard M. Nixon wrote, "For the past two decades your family-religious telecast has been a vital factor in the progress and growth of our nation . . ."

"It gives me great pleasure to extend my best wishes to Faith for Today on the occasion of its twentieth anniversary as the oldest continuous religious television pro gram," said Walter Hickel, Secretary of the Interior.

John W. McCormack, Speaker of the House of Representatives, concluded a lengthy letter of commendation: "During its twenty-year history, Faith for Today has been cited for its commendable contributions to building healthy family life, combatting the tragedy of juvenile delinquency and stimulating a better under standing of American ideals, especially among our youth, who constitute the future of this nation."

From the few letters received following the first telecast, a mail-opening department now processes several thousands of letters that flood its office each day. The free Bible correspondence courses alone have more than 35,000 active students. A dozen competent instructors personally process all test sheets and answers. Perplexing questions pertaining to the Scriptures are referred to a special department of Bible counselors, whose personnel consists of ordained ministers and Bible instructors.

What Can You Do as a Pastor?

As Faith for Today celebrates its twentieth birthday you can render service to this telecast by urging your church members to write letters of congratulation to their local TV station that carries this pro gram. It will strengthen the relationship between the station and Faith for Today for a continuance of this telecast.

As an example, Pastor Franklin W. Hudgins, stations relations director for this program, said, "A few months ago in Zanesville, Ohio, station officials discussed plans for dropping Faith for Today. But as they sat around the conference table they recalled having received many telephone calls from viewers who had enjoyed the telecast. Because of this they voted to continue the program."

Another method of promoting the pro gram is by having a birthday cake delivered to your local station with a card, "Congratulations to Faith for Today on its twentieth birthday on TV." You may be sure that those who eat the cake will relish it (especially if it's homemade) and will always have a good taste for Faith for Today.

Also encourage your members to be certain to view this program and to invite their friends and neighbors to tune in from week to week.

During the past twenty years many have struggled, toiled, and sacrificed to televise the gospel tidings through this program. Sustained by the gifts and prayers of thou sands of friends and viewers, the telecast continues its expansion into all the world. At the beginning of this year more than 16,000 had been baptized into the Seventh-day Adventist Church because of this telecast ministry.

But these results are diminutive when compared with the vast hordes of earth's population who have not yet heard of the gospel commission.

Since its beginning, evangelizing the world has been a great challenge. It means reaching earth's remotest bounds and crossing national boundaries. Through the centuries it has meant arduous treks over rugged jungle and barren wasteland. Preaching the gospel, at best, has always been a hard job.

But television is a twentieth-century communication medium which surmounts these barriers with a simple flick of the dial. What an effective avenue of Christian witness it provides!

The time has come for every follower of the Lord Jesus to enter into a sacred covenant with Him to employ all the available methods to spread the gospel message as earth's history rapidly recedes.

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May 1970

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