Taken so suddenly, missed so greatly, but safe with Jesus
Remembering Pastor Harry Reeder of Briarwood Presbyterian Church
John Calvin once remarked that Biblical preaching, clearly based upon the inspired Word of God, was nothing less than “God speaking by the mouth of a man.” For decades of ministry, one of those men was Harry Reeder. Dr. Reeder, senior pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Ala., was killed yesterday in an automobile crash. The news stunned both his congregation and the larger evangelical world.
Harry Reeder was a titanic figure in his denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America, and his influence reached far beyond. As a young man, he became a Christian and soon perceived a call to preach. He attended East Carolina University and graduated from Covenant College. He began his theological education at the independent Tennessee Temple Seminary and later graduated from Westminster Theological Seminary. He would later serve on the seminary’s governing board. In the years ahead, he would add a Doctor of Ministry degree from Reformed Theological Seminary.
His PCA ministry began in Miami, and his early ministry set the pace for what would follow. In 1983, Harry was called as founding pastor of Christ Covenant Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, N.C. The church began with 38 believers. Over the next decade, the congregation would grow to 3,000 in attendance. Our colleague Kevin DeYoung is now that church’s senior pastor.
Harry began his ministry at Briarwood in 1999, following the historic pastorate of Frank Barker, another Presbyterian legend. When I was a college student, Briarwood had a big influence on my life. Later, Frank Barker and Harry Reeder would both become close friends of mine, and I had wonderful opportunities to preach and teach at Briarwood.
Harry was a force of nature with a gregarious personality matched to theological conviction and pastoral courage. He was a man of simple piety matched to great concern about the role of the Christian in a rapidly changing culture.
When I heard about Harry’s sudden death, I thanked God for his friendship and legacy. I then reached out to my friend Dan Roberts, an Alabama state senator and a ruling elder at Briarwood. He had served and led with Harry for two decades. When Dan called me back, the shock of Harry’s death was evident, but there was more to the story.
Yesterday, the very day that Harry Reeder would go to be with his Lord, he had spoken early in the morning to the Alabama Legislative Prayer Caucus, teaching from Hebrews 13:7. Sen. Roberts was with his pastor for that event. To no one’s surprise, Harry Reeder spoke to the legislators on leadership. Dan saw his pastor to his car. At 10:01 a.m., his beloved pastor went to be with his Lord.
I asked Dan, even in his grief, to tell me how he thought Harry Reeder would be remembered. He said, “I would summarize Harry as being a leader who intentionally focused on the development of other leaders. He loved to see the church flourish. His goal was to take churches that were struggling and see them revitalized through the ministry of Embers to a Flame. Harry was passionate about history. He sought to develop and equip young pastors by teaching them the stories of significant men in history.”
Furthermore, Dan remembered his pastor as a churchman: “I would characterize Harry as the ultimate pastor-teacher whose love for the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ was obvious to all who spent time with him. He loved to be a part of the presbytery and to spend time with other pastors at general assembly. Harry was committed to the regulative order of corporate worship. Harry loved the Church as much as any pastor I’ve ever had the privilege to be around. He pastored Briarwood Presbyterian Church and was honored to serve this body of believers. He will be greatly missed by all those he impacted for the Kingdom. My beloved mentor, friend, and pastor is now safely HOME. ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’!”
To know Harry Reeder was to know his infectious love for Christ and his passion to see the Church reach out through evangelism and simultaneously influence the culture.
To know Harry was also to know how much he loved his family. He was devoted to his wife, Cindy, who was Harry’s match in infectious charm and Christian devotion. He loved his three children, Jennifer, Harry IV, and Abigail, and delighted in his grandchildren.
Every age needs heroes and heroines, models and mentors. The Church needs examples of faithful ministry and the encouragement of tested ministry. Christ’s flock must be fed the meat of God’s Word and tended by faithful pastoral shepherds. Dr. Harry Reeder was such an example, a quintessential encourager, and a true pastor. To me, he was a cherished friend. His death is a great loss to Briarwood, to Birmingham, to the PCA, and to the larger evangelical world. We pray for his sweet wife and family and for a grieving congregation.
And yet, Harry would be the first to insist that, by the power of the gospel, we know that all will be well and that Harry is now with the Lord he so faithfully served. All Christians should pause to thank God for the example of a godly pastor. God’s provision of such a pastor is no small thing, and we dare not fail to take note of his passing.
Editor’s note: This column has been corrected to reflect that Harry Reeder graduated from Covenant College and founded Christ Covenant Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, N.C., in 1983.
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