“I have some sad news to share,” a subdued voice told me over the phone. “Harry Reeder died in a car accident this morning.”
That was the call I got from my friend yesterday afternoon. I couldn’t believe it. I’d just seen Harry two weeks ago at the Gospel Reformation Network conference here in Charlotte, North Carolina. I was going to see Harry again in a few weeks, if I didn’t talk to him before then, at the PCA General Assembly. How could this be true? Did this really happen? Is Harry really gone? That was my response, and it was the same response I got from members of my congregation as I shared with them the tragic news that their beloved former pastor had passed on to glory.
I suppose everyone is unique, but Harry truly was unlike anyone I’ve ever met. He was a powerful preacher—authoritative and gregarious, big in personality and passionate about the gospel, funny and blood earnest all at the same time. But he wasn’t just a gifted preacher and teacher. He was also an amazingly conscientious pastor—never forgetting a name, learning all he could about his flock, and constantly following up on church members. As everyone who knew Harry can attest, he seemed to possess indefatigable energy, not to mention a filing cabinet in his brain that could produce sermon outlines, the movements of Civil War regiments, and alliterative insights seemingly at will.
In many ways, Harry was a man’s man: strong, athletic, and confident. But he was also a family man. We should pray for his wife, Cindy, along with their three children—Jennifer, Ike, and Abby—and their many grandchildren. Harry will be greatly missed by thousands, but especially by his family. I’ll miss him as a Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) founding father, as a ministerial example, and as a friend.
Harry’s Pastoral Imprint
Hardly a week goes by that I don’t hear firsthand about Harry Reeder’s ministry. Though Harry left Christ Covenant, where I now serve as senior pastor, almost 25 years ago, the church still bears his imprint. Under the Lord Jesus, it’s Harry Reeder’s church.
When Christ Covenant particularized as a congregation on December 5, 1981, the church had fewer than 40 members and no pastor. At the time, Harry was leading a flourishing work at Pinelands Presbyterian Church in Miami, Florida. The PCA—less than a decade old—wanted to establish a flagship church in Charlotte. The aim was to plant a church that would plant a presbytery. Not surprisingly, the denomination wanted Harry to return to his hometown and plant this kind of church.
Harry will be greatly missed by thousands, but especially by his family. I’ll miss him as a PCA founding father, as a ministerial example, and as a friend.
Harry was interested, but he soon discovered there was already a small PCA church in Charlotte, and Harry didn’t want to plant a rival church to one that already existed. This humble hesitancy was all the encouragement Christ Covenant needed to aggressively pursue Harry to become its senior pastor. In February 1983, Harry and Cindy moved to Charlotte and began their ministry at Christ Covenant.
Harry left a thriving church of 400 for a church plant in a trailer. But almost immediately, the church began to grow—tripling in the first three months, outgrowing their facilities the same year, adding a second service in 1987, moving into their first owned building in 1988, doubling again three years later, starting a Christian school in 1989, and then breaking ground in 1994 on the worship center where I now have the privilege of preaching each Sunday. By the time Christ Covenant moved into its permanent home in 1997, the church had swelled to 3,000 members, almost half of whom were children.
In 1999, Harry left Christ Covenant to become the senior pastor at Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Alabama. It may have been the only church that could’ve lured Harry away from the congregation and the city he dearly loved. Briarwood isn’t only a very large and generous church—it’s also the mothership of the PCA, the place where the denomination began on December 4, 1973. Following Frank Barker at Briarwood was no small task, but Harry and Frank supported and encouraged each other admirably during the transition and over their many years together in Birmingham. For almost a quarter century, Harry preached the Bible—faithfully, fruitfully, forcefully—in what is one of our denomination’s most important and influential congregations.
Harry’s Faithful Mentorship
For many ministers my age and younger, Harry became an implicit, and sometimes explicit, mentor. Like hundreds of others over the years, I traipsed across Civil War battlefields with Harry as he passed along the stories and leadership lessons he loved to share. He wasn’t shy about stating his opinions, but he also was generous in passing out encouragement. Many pastors looked up to him for his theological clarity, his moral courage, and his resolute commitment to the “old paths” of preaching, sacraments, and prayer.
Many pastors looked up to him for his theological clarity, his moral courage, and his resolute commitment to the ‘old paths’ of preaching, sacraments, and prayer.
The PCA will celebrate its 50th anniversary in Memphis next month as commissioners from all over the country gather for General Assembly. I can hardly believe we won’t see Harry there.
As well as anyone I’ve known, Harry embodied the motto of the PCA: “Faithful to the Scriptures, true to the Reformed Faith, obedient to the Great Commission.” That was Harry—all of him and all of it. He loved to teach the faith, he loved to defend the faith, and he loved to share his faith. I’m sure I wasn’t the only person to see Harry witness to the restaurant server or ask perfect strangers how he could pray for them.
Above all, Harry’s legacy is the gospel he preached so effectively and shared so frequently. For Harry, all is glory and gladness now and forever. For those he knew here on earth, there’ll be grief and sadness. But if Harry’s word can be believed—no, if God’s Word can be believed—then we don’t mourn as those who have no hope. We have heard the joyful sound: Jesus saves! Jesus saves!