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Remembering Al Barry

March 23rd, 2010
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It was my privilege to serve with Rev. Alvin Barry, during his years in office as the president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Today is the ninth anniversary of his death. Previous to my time of serving with him in Saint Louis, I served as a pastor in the Iowa District East where he was my district president. He was the pastor’s friend. We younger pastors in Iowa affectionately referred to him as “Uncle Al.” So many of us remember fondly receiving from Dr. Barry a hand-written note of encouragement and support, remembering our birthdays, or the anniversaries of our wedding, or birth of our children, or any significant event in the life of our congregation. He liked to use for his notepaper a photocopy of the Te Deum and write in a personal note with it.

During the nearly thirteen years I was privileged to know him and work with him, what I most remember about him him is his deep trust in Christ and love for our Lord and a deep and abiding concern for the people of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod: both pastors, church workers, people and congregations. The other thing I remember most about him was his eternal optimism and his cheery and joyful disposition. Always quick with a smile and a laugh, Dr. Barry was truly a “Barnabas” — son of encouragement. President Barry had a real knack for keeping close to his heart pure doctrine and a passion for outreach. Never once did Dr. Barry ever put forward any kind of “either/or” when it came to these two points, but was always pressing for the blessed both/and that they are. The other day, I ran across a copy of a book from his library, a copy of Walther’s Law and Gospel. In the front, President Barry jotted his summary reaction after reading it, something he liked to do with his books. Here is what Dr. Barry had to say:

My observations based on a reading of this book:

(1) Regarding our Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod: We have been moving away from a strong emphasis on doctrine, on knowing that which the Scriptures teach, into a Reformed mode of church growth, based on books our pastors are reading from the local religious bookstore. (Touchy/feely theology).

(2) Repeatedly, Walther emphasizes he importance of a pastor first and foremost having a strong personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. If a pastor neglects this or does not have this, he will not be a blessing to his congregation.

(3) Walther’s comments repeatedly reflect a strong personal concern in those students he is teaching and in their own personal faith life in the Lord. Very important. He does not just want to turn out theological “intelligencia,” but pastors who personally knwo and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.

(4) The second reason #3 above is so important to him is his pastoral concern for the congregations of Synod that these men will be serving.

(5) The last chapter is an absolute jewel. In it Walther emphasizes the need for a strong/dominant emphasis on the Gospel in one’s preaching and teaching. An excellent capstone to this book.

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Categories: Lutheranism
  1. Terry
    March 23rd, 2010 at 07:24 | #1

    His articles in the Lutheran Witness were so very pastoral and a blessing to the church.

  2. Rev. Allen Bergstrazer
    March 23rd, 2010 at 08:18 | #2

    I remember Dr. Barry coming to visit us at the Sem not long after his beloved wife died, and he too was struggling with cancer. Yet there he was in Wyneken hall fielding questions, telling stories and as you said, encouraging us.

  3. Helen
    March 23rd, 2010 at 10:04 | #3

    Were he around today (probably retired?) I wonder what he would say to our current
    synodical leadership?

  4. Monte Meyer
    March 23rd, 2010 at 11:18 | #4

    I miss Dr. Barry. Thanks for posting this! The Synod seemed to become more cynical since he passed away. He had a calming, pastoral presence!

  5. Paul
    March 23rd, 2010 at 22:15 | #5

    While it is always Christ who should be our focus, as it surely was with Barry, there are some men we meet in this life who stand out from others as a positive example. Al Barry was one of those men for me.

  6. Don
    March 25th, 2010 at 08:21 | #6


    Yes, I remember that visit. I also remember the more intimate venue when he visited with our graduation class in Wartburg Hall, encouraging us as we were tograduate and be sent out on our first calls.

    I also remember a guy coming to speak to a small group of us about the pastoral ministry. He handed out a paper on the issue of communion if I recall correctly. He also shared some of his experiences from his pastoral ministry in Iowa. A very nice presentation. That was the first time I met Paul McCain. In fact, I think that was the only time I met him face-to-face. :-)

    What great Sem memories! Hanging out with Pastor Walter Obare, traveling with him from St. Louis to Minnesota in my old Ranger pickup during a class break, listening to stories about lions and Masai warriors and the Lutheran Church in Kenya. Studying theology from some of the world’s best theologians. Learning about the church from my field church supervisor, Dr. Lee Maxwell.

    What a wonderful time!

  7. Elaine Weiss
    March 25th, 2010 at 11:08 | #7

    I enjoyed reading his “What About” series a real blessing to the church and anyone who studies them.

  8. Lana
    March 29th, 2010 at 13:08 | #8

    Did Dr. Barry write any books?

    • March 29th, 2010 at 15:38 | #9

      As he would say, yes, a “goodly number” including books on worship, prayer, devotional life, catechesis, etc. I think the bookstore at the seminary in Fort Wayne carries many of them.

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