Dorothy Anderson Barker: Writer

Ann H. Hart

Dorothy Anderson Barker recalled the first time she was contacted about working for the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC). She was a recent college grad, teaching at a Christian school north of Boston.

“I received a letter that began: ‘You have been chosen …’ It had a nice Presbyterian ring to it,” she added wryly.

She accepted the volunteer writing assignment, believing that she could draw on her own Christian education growing up in the church. Over time, her writing labors proved among the most widely read Sunday school materials in the OPC. At retirement in 1987, Dorothy had worked for 33 years for the Committee on Christian Education (CCE), and was curriculum project editor with Great Commission Publications—the joint initiative with the Presbyterian Church in America.

The daughter of Hillis and Florence Partington, Dorothy grew up with her sister in Westfield, New Jersey. Mr. Partington served as an elder in the mainline Presbyterian church in Westfield. However, he and his wife grew increasingly dissatisfied with some of the denomination’s decisions. Dorothy remembers they objected to the denomination’s liberal tendencies and were disheartened by the direction of foreign missions and of Pearl Buck’s writings on missions.

And so it was that Dorothy found herself helping her parents set up rows of chairs at the local Masonic Temple for a special event featuring speaker J. Gresham Machen. Looking back on the event decades later, Dorothy found it ironic that she was exhausted that night and fell asleep on one of the back rows.

Her parents, however, were awake to Machen’s message. The Partingtons became charter members of Grace OPC in Westfield, founded in 1936. Providentially, the OPC was destined to be central to this pre-teen’s life in ways she could not have imagined.

In 1940, Rev. John Galbraith was called as pastor of Grace OPC. He remembers Dorothy fondly. “She was a smart young woman, serious about her studies and the things of the Lord. If the church was open, Dorothy was there,” he recalls. The young people of the church, he recounted, were passionate about their faith. “They would take the train up to New York City to serve at a mission in the Bowery,” he said.

Dorothy excelled in school and entered Wheaton College at age 15. After her freshman year, she moved home for two years and then transferred to Barnard College, where she earned a BA in English. After college, she taught in a Christian school in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In her spare time, she also completed a master’s in education at Harvard University.

When Rev. Edmund Clowney was called as pastor at Grace OPC in Westfield in 1950, he recognized Dorothy as a gifted writer and editor. Clowney then enlisted her to help him write Sunday school curriculum for the CCE. In 1954, under his supervision, she produced a study of the Shorter Catechism for junior high school students. The original two-volume Bible Doctrine: A Workbook Based on the Westminster Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Assembly was compiled in a modest, spiral-bound notebook, selling for $1.25 each. And yet the content was rich. The series divided the catechism into four parts: first, God and man; second, Christ; third, the law; and fourth, the means of grace. Never forgetting her young teen audience, Dorothy skillfully translated complicated material into concepts that teenagers could begin to grasp. The first printing of Bible Doctrine quickly sold out.

Undoubtedly, Dorothy drew on her skills as a teacher to communicate effectively. Consider her introduction to the workbook: “Nothing in life can be separated from God and His revelation of Himself.” With this in mind, she married artwork from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Yale University Art Gallery, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art with her copy to express the creativity of God and the creative gifts he has bestowed on man.

She also was alert to the needs of teachers: “The danger in using workbooks is that the child will merely complete exercises in mechanical fashion and never see the lesson in its total message. The teacher’s job is to keep the students from getting lost in the details.”

In 1954 she also worked on a vacation Bible school course junior workbook called Our Bible, with lesson titles like “Moses the Prophet,” “David the Psalmist,” “Isaiah and Immanuel,” “Jeremiah,” and “Daniel.” Moving to the New Testament, she wrote on “The Apostle Paul and Dr. Luke,” on “Peter,” and a review of the New Testament books.

While Dorothy believed that some materials already published by evangelical presses were appropriate, she was especially motivated to write catechetical materials on the riches of the Reformed faith. If she had a question or needed to know more, she visited Dr. Clowney’s office and listened to “an hour lecture on biblical theology,” she recalled.

Outside of work, Dorothy met Robert W. Anderson, a graduate of both Wheaton College and Westminster Seminary. They shared many interests, as well as a love of the gospel. On October 1, 1955, the couple were married, and Bob was ordained the next year. They soon were blessed with two sons, Jonathan and Peter.

After years of struggling with sermons, Bob left the pastoral ministry in 1968. The Andersons moved back to the greater Philadelphia area, where Bob served faithfully as an elder at Trinity OPC in Hatboro, Pennsylvania, and Dorothy played the organ for worship services.

Linda Posthuma, a friend who taught the Anderson sons at Philadelphia-Montgomery Christian Academy, recalls this period. “Bob Anderson was quiet and studious. The family lived in an older home in suburban Jenkintown. Dorothy was always a gracious hostess, a good cook, and a great conversationalist.” Sadly, Robert died suddenly on April 4, 1977, at age 49.

In 1984, Dorothy married widower Richard Barker, the clerk of session at Grace OPC in Westfield. She had known Richard since their days as classmates at Westfield High School, where they both were members of the chess club. Mr. Galbraith commented that “Dorothy’s father and Richard’s father were elders together on the Westfield session when I was pastor.”

In 2009, the Barkers moved from Westfield, New Jersey, and moved into the Quarryville Presbyterian Retirement Community. Richard died in 2012, leaving Dorothy a widow for a second time.

Friends who visit Dorothy these days say she welcomes them warmly. Although clearly slowing down at age 89, Dorothy still has a love of words and the Word, as well as an interest in others—qualities which have characterized her long, well-lived life.

The author is a member of Hillsdale OPC in Hillsdale, Mich. This article is adapted from Choosing the Good Portion: Women of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (forthcoming).