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Frank Barker, “Founding Father” of Presbyterian Church in America, is Dead at 89

The Rev. Frank Barker, whose 4,000-member Briarwood Presbyterian Church grew from a Birmingham, Alabama, storefront before he helped found a conservative branch of Presbyterianism, 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.

Barker led the church through the creation of Briarwood Christian School in 1965 and the Birmingham Theological Seminary in 1972.

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.

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. 

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.” 

Five years later Barker 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.

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 Molina

Alejandra is a national reporter for Religion News Service where she covers Latinos and religion. Her work has appeared in the AP, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Press-Enterprise, and Orange County Register.