Pastor Who Helped Found the Presbyterian Church in America Dies

By Alejandra Molina
Frank Barker Presbyterian PCA
The Rev. Frank Barker, who helped found the Presbyterian Church in America or PCA. (Photo courtesy of Haddon Smith)

The Rev. Frank Barker, whose 4,000-member Briarwood Presbyterian Church grew from a Birmingham, Alabama, storefront before he helped found the conservative Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), has died. He was 89.

Barker died Monday (Dec. 27), his daughter, Peggy Barker Townes, confirmed to the news site AL.com. He would have turned 90 in January.

“He was faithful to the last breath,” Townes told AL.com. “We have been as blessed as we can be.”

Barker led Briarwood Presbyterian Church from its founding in 1960 until his retirement in 1999. The church lasted only three years in its shopping center location. In 1988, Barker oversaw the construction of a $32 million hilltop campus, adding a $5.5 million expansion 10 years later.

In 1973, Barker hosted the founding meeting of the Presbyterian Church in America, the second-largest Presbyterian denomination in the United States and, according to its website, “the largest Calvinist denomination in the United States.” 

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The PCA was formed in response to what was seen as a liberal shift within the Presbyterian Church. Specifically, PCA leaders sought to affirm the inerrancy of Scripture, virgin birth and bodily resurrection of Jesus, and an orthodox Christian sexual ethic. PCA leaders also opposed the ordination of women.

The Rev. Harry Reeder, who replaced Barker as senior pastor at Briarwood Presbyterian after his retirement, remembered Barker in a Facebook post on Monday as a “mentor in Gospel ministry” and as a “humble, godly, visionary friend and pastor.”

“He loved His Word, His Church, the lost and he loved living the Great Commandment and fulfilling the Great Commission,” Reeder wrote.

During his time at Briarwood, Barker led the church to create Briarwood Christian School in 1965 and the Birmingham Theological Seminary in 1972.

In 1978, Barker also helped found Campus Outreach, a network of interdenominational ministries targeting college students without faith in the U.S. and across the world, especially at schools too small to support their own ministries. Campus Outreach today has 122 chapters from Minneapolis to Washington, D.C., and from New Zealand to Peru.

Barker, unlike many other megachurch pastors, was not a “dynamic orator,” his daughter recalled in a 2018 news story on The Gospel Coalition. “I had to train myself” to evangelize, he told the publication.

Though retired, Barker continued to serve Briarwood and Christians in Alabama until recently. “I was blessed to be in the last small group Bible Study he conducted which concluded just a couple of months ago,” said Bill Armistead, former chairman of the Alabama Republican Party, who described Barker as a mentor in a Facebook post Monday. “Rev. Barker was truly faithful to the end and he was anxiously anticipating the day he would be face to face with his Savior.”

Alejandra MolinaAlejandra Molina is a national reporter for Religion News Service.

Julie Roys also contributed to this report.

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5 thoughts on “Pastor Who Helped Found the Presbyterian Church in America Dies”

  1. I met Frank in the middle 1970s, went to his church for quite a few years, took seminary course from him, served as a missionary sent by Briarwood, and lived down the street from him. As I’ve listened to your reports on lavish ministerial lifestyles lately, I’ve often thought of how Frank was the opposite. In spite of the wealth of many in his congregation, and being urged to “upgrade” to a more expensive home, he lived in humility in the same house in a middle class neighborhood until well after his retirement, when he and Barbara needed to move because of their health. He was an object lesson in humility. I didn’t always agree with him, but I always admired him. There is no question that he walked humbly with his God. This is a pastor that young pastors should emulate.

    1. Sallie, thanks for sharing these details. Such a contrast with Kenneth Copeland article posted yesterday on this website.

  2. How wonderful to read the legacy of Pastor Frank Barker amidst all the scandals reported on today.
    There are many faithful men out there, and He was surely one of them. Thank you for sharing his story.

  3. Thank you so much for a positive report. We would love to hear of uplifting things in the Church like this from the Roys Report more often.

  4. If you think or feel that God is calling you and your family to live out a shielded life where there is one skin color – in church, education, social life, and politics – then the Briarwood Church and related denomination birthed by Frank Barker will likely serve you well. But if you seek a church scene and life that aspires to look like the people presence of the first Pentecost that God describes, you should look elsewhere.

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Give a gift of $25 or more to The Roys Report this month, and you will receive a copy of “Untwisting Scriptures: Wolves, Hypocrisy, Sin Leveling and Righteousness” by Rebecca Davis.