Stroke Did Not Stop Easter Guest Preacher

Most people would have expected Anthony Campolo to cancel his week-long preaching engagement at Memorial Church after he suffered a stroke en route to Boston.

He didn’t.

And few in Campolo’s audience last week during Harvard’s inaugural Easter Mission were aware of his health problems—the news was only publicly released this weekend after Campolo had left.

“He gets so animated that it’d be tough to tell [he was sick],” said graduate student Nick Maynard, who helped plan the event as a leader in the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. “It was not something you would have guessed readily.”

According to Jeffrey Barneson, a chaplain with the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, Campolo—an evangelical Baptist preacher and professor of sociology—suffered a stroke on Saturday, April 6 while travelling from Honolulu, Hawaii, and spent the night in an area hospital.

The next morning, accompanied by a physician, he checked himself out and delivered a sermon at the Memorial Church’s 11 o’clock service to kick off the Easter Mission.

“He thought he should do what he’d come here to do,” Barneson said.

Campolo’s role as Easter Missioner, which he shared with his wife Peggy, involved preaching at a host of different worship events at Memorial Church, including daily morning prayer services, three evening worship services and several talks at the graduate schools.

“He didn’t miss a single [event],” said Mark D.W. Edington, an assistant minister at Memorial Church who helped plan the week-long mission.

In between Campolo’s engagements, the preacher—who was driven to and from his room at the Charles Hotel—rested and consulted with doctors, Barneson said.

Over the weekend, Benjamin D. Grizzle ’03, who only learned of the preacher’s health problems after his final Memorial Church appearance last Thursday night, sent an e-mail to the Christian Impact mailing list asking people to pray for Campolo’s health.

Barneson said Campolo is currently in stable condition back home in Pennsylvania. He canceled two engagements over the weekend but has no plans to modify his rigorous schedule—which includes almost constant engagements through June 2005.

The idea for Harvard’s first-ever Easter Mission came to Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church Rev. Peter J. Gomes, after he served as Easter Missioner at Oxford University’s annual mission last spring.

According to Edington, Gomes hoped that the mission would unfold as a collaboration between the more mainstream Memorial Church and other Christian groups at Harvard, particularly those in the evangelical tradition.

“The example of all of us working together was the first and most important success of this mission,” Edington said.

Barneson said that both he and Gomes felt Campolo could “bridge the gap” in terms of the different Christian traditions. His general appeal combined with his powerful preaching made him ideal for the job, he said.

Lara D. Tully ’05, who identified herself as an evangelical Christian, said she had initial concerns about the reception Campolo would receive.

“To be honest, I was afraid that he would come across as way too evangelical for our very ‘PC’ campus,” she said. “But I think he was able to strike a good balance between being sincere and honest in an inoffensive way.”