June 22, 2019—What a joy it was to chat with Dr. Harry Barrow, Columbia Seminary graduate, former CTS staff member and retired PC(USA) pastor. Dr. Barrow has led a life dedicated to service for the church and the world. I was treated to stories about his time at Columbia — both as a student and later as a staff member — and his pastorate experience, especially at Newnan Presbyterian Church.
Dr. Barrow grew up in Louisiana and studied zoology at Louisiana State University. His plans to go into medicine were changed after a mission trip to Mexico during his junior year. A call to ministry was now directing his future. Reflecting on the trip, Dr. Barrow shared, “I never had done anything like that, the mission trip let me see faith in a new light and made me ask a bunch of questions.”
The questions led Dr. Barrow to an MDiv degree at Columbia Theological Seminary with 33 classmates — only two or three of whom were women. He graduated in 1974.
Dr. Barrow’s first call was to a PC(USA) church in Memphis, Tennessee. Several years into this pastorate, he received an invitation to return to Columbia Seminary to serve as the Director of Admissions and Associate Director of Seminary Relations. From 1977-1984, Dr. Barrow faithfully and joyfully served in these roles, helping to deepen relationships with churches and bring new students to the seminary.
Dr. Barrow recalls that when he returned to campus in 1977, “things were beginning to pick up, we had good full classes… It was a thrill to be back on campus with people like Charlie Cousar and Shirley Guthrie.” Dr. Barrow loved travelling for the seminary and engaging with prospective students. “I loved talking with young people about the possibilities of continuing in theological education. I also loved talking with people who were thinking about a vocation change and helping them to discern their call.”
Peggy Rowland, a former staff member who served the seminary for twenty years under the leadership of presidents Dr. Douglas Oldenburg and Dr. J. Davison Phillips, and an active member of the Columbia Friendship Circle, remembers Dr. Barrow with deep fondness, “Harry is just a wonderful man! He’s fun, he’s got a great sense of humor. Everybody loved him. One my favorite memories was of Harry dressed up each year as Santa Claus at Christmas time.”
After seven years back at the seminary, Dr. Barrow began to notice that “I missed the pastoral responsibilities and was spurred to think about moving back to the pastorate. While I enjoyed working with other staff members, faculty members, and students at Columbia, I found myself missing long-term relationships with parishioners of different ages and different vocations, being closely involved in concerns in the community, planning worship services, and preaching regularly.”
In 1984, Dr. Barrow accepted a call to Newnan Presbyterian Church. “Moving to a small town was a challenge. There is little anonymity. But, on the flip side, it is good to be known and people care. My children enjoyed being part of a small community.”
Dr. Barrow faithfully served Newnan Presbyterian Church for 31 years before retiring in 2016. Newnan, located in Coweta County, changed a great deal in that time. Dr. Barrow was instrumental in many outreach efforts to meet the needs of underserved residents of the county. He also contributed greatly to the ecumenical spirit in the community.
Dr. Barrow was especially proud of bringing Higher Ground to Newnan Presbyterian’s sanctuary and inviting the public. Formed in 2010, Higher Ground was born of a unique relationship between four long-time Atlanta faith leaders – two Christian pastors, a Jewish rabbi and a Muslim imam. “I think it helped us to know more clearly who we are and to accept them as who they are,” Barrow said to the Newnan Times-Herald.
A highlight of Dr. Barrow’s time at Newnan Presbyterian Church began about six months after he began his call. The church agreed to become a teaching congregation for Columbia Seminary. This led to many years of interns from the seminary. “The internship program somehow has made us all better and has become ingrained into the culture of the church.”
The first woman to ever preach at Newnan Presbyterian was a Columbia intern.
Dr. Barrow was a beloved pastor who nurtured the faith of so many at Newnan Presbyterian Church. To express their deep gratitude for Dr. Barrow and his legacy at the church, the session and congregants of the church established an endowed scholarship fund at Columbia Seminary in his name. This fund, the Dr. Harry H. Barrow Legacy Fund, provides much-needed tuition assistance to students preparing for Christian ministry. The fund is now valued at more than $58,000.
Katherine “Kitty” Lambert, a member who played a role in establishing the fund shared, “Harry meant so much, not only to the church but to the entire community. He was instrumental in beginning many programs that involved different denominations working together. Harry has a gift for relating to all people — young, old, rich, poor, black, white, or any group. He finds a way to connect with each person on a personal level. He doesn’t forget you and you don’t forget him.”
Since retiring, Dr. Barrow occasionally preaches both at Newnan Presbyterian Church and at other churches. For the most part, however, Dr. Barrow loves to spend time with his wife, Madeline, children, and four grandchildren who are in Athens and Atlanta. Dr. Barrow and Madeline now have time to travel as well. Their most recent trip was a National Geographic Alaskan tour.
Dr. Barrow serves on the board of the Carnegie Library Foundation and enjoys his book club. If you are looking for a book recommendation for the summer, Dr. Barrow recommends Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World by Eric Weiner, Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved by Kate Bowler, and for those seeking inspiration as they consider retirement, Falling Upward by Richard Rohr.
If you or your congregation would like to consider establishing a fund–like Newnan Presbyterian church did for Harry Barrow–to honor a beloved pastor, or member of your church staff, please contact Charles Wiley, Director of Major Gifts, at Columbia Seminary. He can be reached at 404-687-4671 or WileyC@CTSnet.edu
“Since I’ve been at Columbia, I’ve been impressed that so many of our supporters seek no recognition for themselves, instead wanting the honor to go to their pastor,” says Wiley. “This reinforces how important pastors are to communities who gather around Word, sacrament, and mission.”