Remembering Frank Baker

I talked with Karen Whitaker, pastor of Soapstone UMC, today about the video project. She told me about her childhood neighbor Frank Baker. When she was growing up in Durham, her family lived near the Duke Divinity School professor and Wesley expert. Baker died in 1999. His 30 books and more than 200 articles included John Wesley and the Church of England and an original collection of children’s stories. I recently bought a copy of Baker’s 1964 Charles Wesley’s Verse: An Introduction.

Baker served on the Duke faculty for 20 years, taking a lead in founding the Center for Studies in the Wesleyan Tradition. The Frank Baker Collection of Wesley and Methodist materials, in the special collections of the Perkins Library, is the heart of Duke University’s Wesleyan research collection. This collection contains the second largest number of Wesley publications in the world and has more than 50 titles representing the only known copies.

Here is the Duke News Service obituary for Baker from 1999:

Church Historian And Wesley Scholar Frank Baker Dies

From the Duke News Service

October 11, 1999

Rev. Frank BakerThe Rev. Frank Baker, an internationally renowned authority on Methodism founder John Wesley and a Duke University professor emeritus, died in his sleep Monday at the Durham Regent Retirement Home. He was 89.

Born in Kingston-upon-Hull, England, in 1910, Baker earned his bachelor of arts degree from the University of London in 1931 and his bachelor of divinity degree three years later from Manchester University. He continued his education at University of Nottingham, earning his Ph.D. in 1952.

Ordained as a Methodist minister in 1937, Baker served pastorates throughout central and northern England until 1959. He joined the Duke Divinity School faculty in 1960, also teaching in the department of religion, before retiring in 1980 as professor emeritus of English church history.

“Frank Baker was, without question, the leading authority on the history of the Wesleys and early Methodism,” Divinity School Dean L. Gregory Jones said. “His academic zeal, along with his gracious hospitality, made a profound impression on generations of Methodist ministers and Wesley scholars here at Duke and throughout the world. We will miss his presence among us and his friendship.”

Baker’s 30 books and more than 200 articles ranged from scholarly volumes, such as John Wesley and the Church of England and From Wesley to Asbury: Studies in Early American Methodism, to an original collection of children’s stories.

“It is right to identify Dr. Baker as the preeminent Wesley historian who took Wesley scholarship to a higher level,” said Richard Heitzenrater, William Kellon Quick professor of church history and Wesley studies at Duke. “But what is not as well known is that he was a gentleman. A warm and friendly person, he was willing to help anyone who needed assistance with scholarship, and that ranged from undergraduate basketball players to doctoral students in religion.”

During his career at Duke and after his retirement, Baker was closely associated with a project to publish the definitive edition of John Wesley’s writings. Baker served as editor for the 36-volume Bicentennial Edition of the Works of John Wesley, which is being published by Abingdon Press.

“He determined what John Wesley says today,” said Russell E. Richey, professor of church history at the divinity school. “That series is and will be a monument to Frank Baker, signaling a lasting contribution to scholarship. Through his teaching he inspired many to interest in Wesley and Methodist history and trained the leadership of the next generation of Methodist scholars.”

An avid collector of books and writings on Methodism, Baker began his collection in the mid-1930s after winning an essay prize on Wesley’s library. “I came to believe that it was important as far as possible to secure not simply the first, but every edition of the writings of the two brothers and the members of their immediate families,” Baker wrote in 1962.

His collection of Wesleyana and Methodistica grew in excess of 15,000 items and four tons before Baker started donating it, over a period of more than two decades, to the Perkins and Divinity School libraries at Duke. The collection contains the second largest number of Wesley publications in the world and has more than 50 titles representing the only known copies.

A recipient of the St. George’s Gold Medal for distinguished service to the United Methodist Church, Baker was presented in 1994 the distinguished service award by the General Commission on Archives and History of the United Methodist Church. In September 1999, the Baker Methodist Research Center was established at Duke Divinity School to serve as a focal point for future Wesley scholarship.

Baker is survived by his wife of 63 years, Nellie; his daughter, Margaret Whitehead, of Irving, Texas; his daughter, Enid Hickingbotham, of Stouchsburg, Pa.; his son, Peter Baker, of Tampa, Fla.; and six grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday in the Duke University Chapel. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Frank and Nellie Baker Methodist Research Center, c/o the Duke University Divinity School, P.O. Box 90968, Durham, N.C. 27708.

http://giving.duke.edu/development/campaign/news/1999/baker.html

A Duke Divinity School news article highlighted the Baker collection in 2011.

The collection represented more than 20 years of Baker’s life as a fulltime British Methodist pastor in central and northern England, where he built his library of Charles and John Wesley works and established himself as the pre-eminent Wesley scholar of his generation.

https://divinity.duke.edu/news-media/news/20110426bakercollection

Amazon listing of Frank Baker books.

June 19 Update: I received a message from Rev. Whitaker. She wrote: Frank and his family attended Lakewood UMC in Durham, a church my father pastored when I was in middle school.  It was during that time that I visited him in his home.  We didn’t actually live in the same neighborhood.  Frank was a wonderful man and superb scholar!

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