As we close out 2021, it seems appropriate to look at one of its bittersweet conclusions by celebrating the life and mourning the death of a beloved Alabama pastor, Frank Barker.
Frank Morehead Barker Jr. was instrumental in forming the Christian denomination, the Presbyterian Churches of America (PCA). He was the founder and lead pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian Church, which was started in a small storefront in Birmingham with 35 members. In the four decades under Barker, Briarwood grew to a membership of over 4,000, housed in a massive campus in Birmingham. Barker retired as Senior Pastor in 1999, passing the torch to Harry Reeder, who remains the Senior Pastor. Barker lived a life dedicated to evangelism and Kingdom-building that left a mark on the Birmingham area and the state as a whole.
On Dec. 27, 2021, Barker passed away, just one month shy of his 90th birthday. He was laid to rest at The Alabama National Cemetery in Montevallo. Barker leaves behind his wife, three children, 14 grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren.
Barker graduated from Auburn University in 1953 with a degree in engineering. He attended university on a navy scholarship, and he entered the service as a fighter pilot immediately following graduation. By his own account, Barker was something of a party animal in college and the military, but several brushes with death gave him the desire to change his ways. It was in the military that Barker attended seminary in Atlanta.
In 1960, Barker started Briarwood Presbyterian Church in a small storefront in Birmingham. One year later, he married his wife Barbara in the same church.
In 1965, Barker assisted in forming Briarwood Christian School, which today offers K-12 education.
Barker helped start the Birmingham Theological Seminary in 1972, where he served until his passing.
In 1973, Barker was one of 40 elders assembled to define the standards and practices of the newly formed PCA. Briarwood was the location of the first General Assembly of the PCA, which Barker chaired, making it the denomination’s flagship church.
According to the PCA website, it was established after it separated from the Presbyterian Church United States (PCUS) due to the PCUS drifting ever closer to theological liberalism. The denial of the deity of Christ, a capitulation on the authority of Scripture, and the ordination of female presbyters, all led to a split in the Presbyterian denomination and the formation of the PCA.
The PCA sought to uphold the fundamental doctrines of the Calvinistic and Reformed tradition, namely, the Westminster Confession of Faith of 1645. This, combined with the Doctrines of Grace, commonly called Calvinism, were the central points that the PCA sought to maintain.
“Frank loved what has been the DNA of the PCA: depth of Reformed theology, with evangelical breadth of ministry, impact, and influence,” Reeder said. “He was an excellent example of being a true churchman with a kingdom heart.”
After he retired, Barker continued to serve in many capacities for the PCA, serving as Pastor Emeritus at Briarwood until his passing. He also was the head of the Department of Old Testament and Evangelism at Birmingham Theological Seminary and served as the Chairman of the Committee of Mission to the World. Described by Reeder as a “voracious learner” and a “relentless evangelist,” Barker continued to positively impact those around him for the rest of his days.
In an interview with the PCA publication "byFaith," Barker opined his gratitude for what God had done through Briarwood and its numerous ministries and partnerships.
“It has been amazing to see what God has done through our church and the PCA,” Barker said. “He has greatly blessed our stepping out in faith. Our denomination has had a real heart for missionaries and church planting, which is a great way for multiplying the Lord’s work.”
Barker has left behind a considerable legacy. His emphasis on evangelism and Kingdom-building led to starting or assisting in planting hundreds of congregations, helping in several campus-based ministries, and creating a seminary that will train future pastors for years to come. He also authored several books that are still in print. In his time at Briarwood and thereafter, Barker saw millions of dollars given to missionaries worldwide. His life was one marked by a heart for seeing people led to Christ and the furtherance of the church across the world.
“He will most certainly be missed, and not because he was one of these big-time personalities that filled up a room when he walked into it,” Reeder said. “On the contrary, Frank was an understated man, a very truly humble man, an introvert in personality, and a very thoughtful man, utterly devoted to Christ.”