Alabama Digital News

Alabama 2021 religion rewind: Frank Barker dies, Highlands College moves, Advent tension rises

The last week of 2021 brought news that touched and saddened Alabama’s religious community.

The Rev. Frank Barker, founding pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian Church, died Dec. 27 at 89. He led that congregation from a startup in a storefront in 1960 to being one of Alabama’s first megachurches, playing a role in founding a new denomination in 1973, the Presbyterian Church in America.

Barker helped launch Briarwood Christian School, Birmingham Theological Seminary and Campus Outreach. His influence was felt nationwide in evangelical church circles.

That was a somber ending note for a year that saw a lot of newsworthy happenings on the religious scene. Here are some of them:

Highlands College, founded by the Church of the Highlands, was in the limelight this year.

Hobby Lobby founder David Green and his family donated $20 million to Highlands College to fund the college’s first residence hall. The college also got a new location: construction on the new campus hit a milestone when staff moved in during December.

The Church of the Highlands celebrated the 20th anniversary of its founding. In two decades, it grew from meeting in a school auditorium to becoming the largest church in the state, with more than 20 branch campuses.

The church also made news for its rehabilitation work with pastors accused of sexual misconduct. The church cut ties with former megachurch pastor Micahn Carter after accusations from his former assistant.

The United Methodist Conference of North Alabama raised some eyebrows this year when it dropped its affiliation with what was once known as State Line Methodist Church, north of Huntsville on the Tennessee line, one of the first Methodist congregations in Alabama.

The Episcopal Diocese of Alabama installed Bishop Glenda Curry in January, and she was involved in high-profile negotiations with the largest congregation in the diocese, the Cathedral Church of the Advent, which had been letting members opt out of giving to the diocese. A deal was signed, Advent’s dean left and started a new church, and then remaining Advent leaders expressed concern over a diocesan ordination service at the cathedral. A former Advent dean who went on to serve as priest to former President George H.W. Bush, the Rev. Larry Gipson, died July 29.

The Southern Baptist Convention elected the Rev. Ed Litton of Mobile as president of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. He was quickly embroiled in controversy after allegations of plagiarism that prompted him to pull some sermons off the internet.

Alabama Baptists shuttered Judson College, a historic school for women. The State Baptist Convention elected the Rev. Buddy Champion, pastor of Trussville First Baptist Church, as president.

The Rev. Mike McClure Jr., pastor of Rock City Church in Birmingham, continued his rise in the music business as “Pastor Mike Jr.” with another number one hit on a Billboard gospel music chart. He was also nominated for a Dove Award and served as a presenter. He won three Stellar Awards including artist of the year.

Shades Mountain Baptist Church in Vestavia Hills hired a new pastor, the Rev. George Wright, after the retirement of longtime Pastor Danny Wood.

Bishop Van Moody, pastor of Worship Center Christian Church, announced the church was going into the restaurant business with its purchase of Kale Me Crazy in Homewood.

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