There was a time when Christopher Barfield only viewed things in black and white.
The former law enforcement officer – he was a juvenile investigator with the Cramerton Police Department for six years – approached his investigations, which always involved minors as either the victims or perpetrators, with a guilty or innocent outlook.
When he began attending services at The Furnace, now known as The Refuge church, in Lake Wylie, Mr. Barfield instantaneously knew that he could no longer ignore his calling to serve God. He immediately switched gears and, in his mid-20s, became a youth minister.
That all-or-nothing approach dictated and decided most aspects of his life until May 21, 2008 – the day he lost his 30-year-old wife, Haley, in a tragic head-on collision less than a half-mile from their home.
“It was a defining moment in that it redefined my faith,” said Mr. Barfield, who has served on the Harrisburg Town Council since 2016. “It redefined how I approached ministry, how I approached people.”
He would go on to be ordained in 2010, earn his bachelor’s degree in pastoral ministry from Lee University in Tennessee, and now serves as the adult ministries pastor at Union Road Church in Gastonia.
A Redefining Moment
It easily could have gone a different way if not for his unmovable faith, and the incredible support system it provided him in his darkest of hours.
Still reeling from his spouse’s sudden death, and while grasping to make sense of the tragedy – the low-impact crash had broken several of Haley’s ribs, puncturing her heart – Mr. Barfield returned to his mother-in-law’s house that night, and was met by an unexpected friend: Pastor Troy Beaver of The Refuge.
Only hours earlier, Pastor Beaver had been vacationing with his family at Walt Disney World in Florida, but had dropped everything to comfort and support his friend.
“He put me on the back of the truck, and he said, ‘Are you OK? It’s just me and you,’” Mr. Barfield recalled. “And I said, ‘Troy, either take me to a church, or take me to a bar, ‘cause that’s where I’m at.’”
They went to The Refuge and sat together in the last row. Mr. Barfield would end up leading the service that night.
“What I saw that night was the incredible power of God to do healing,” he said. “But I also saw what it took to be a real pastor,” he added, specifically pointing to Pastor Beaver’s devotion.
“I learned to be a pastor that day,” Mr. Barfield continued. “And I know that sounds really crazy, but on that day, when the world seemed to be falling apart, my pastor, my mentor … dropped everything to help me.”
A Return To Public Service
That indescribable loss also taught Mr. Barfield another valuable quality, and something that was absent for much of his earlier life: empathy.
“Everyone has some sort of brokenness, everyone has some issue,” Mr. Barfield said. “We all wrestle with something. And it’s not as black and white as I thought it was.
“When I was in law enforcement, you either broke the law or you didn’t,” he added. “I see things different now.”
It is a quality that continues to serve him well as a minister – Mr. Barfield also runs the grief ministry at Union Road Church – and as a member of the Harrisburg Town Council for the past three-and-a-half years.
Unlike when he was younger, the 39-year-old says he can relate to and understand both sides of arguments and applications that come before the board. He says he weighs the pros and cons of every resolution, and always tries to do what’s right and follow his heart.
Still, he is well-aware of the shortcomings of public service.
“I have the distinct ability to make both sides mad, and yet be 100 percent content with where I vote,” Mr. Barfield said. “Every project gets fairly evaluated. I’ve approved stuff, and not approved stuff.”
He acknowledges that many had him pegged as the “no-growth candidate” when he first ran for office in 2015, a statement that he says is not entirely accurate. At the same time, he admits that he might have inadvertently contributed to earning that inaccurate label.
“Maybe I pitched myself wrong … and if I did, it wasn’t intentional,” Mr. Barfield said. “My thought process was slow growth, not stop growth. I never used the words ‘stop growth.’ It often gets put on me that I’m the ‘anti-growth candidate.’”
More recently, he has had to withstand calls of being a “flip-flopper,” announcing in December that he would not seek reelection to the board this November, only to reverse course a few months later. He says he decided to seek a second four-year term so he could see several ongoing projects to completion, and points to the emergence of several “one-issue” candidates looking to take his seat on the dais.
“I get told that I’m a flip-flopper, and I’m OK with that,” Mr. Barfield said. “If you asked me in December, I was done and had no plans to run again.”
The Beauty of Gray
In addition to his law enforcement career, Mr. Barfield served as a volunteer firefighter in his former hometown of Cramerton for seven years. He decided to run for the Harrisburg Town Council a few years after he and his second wife, Carrie, moved to her hometown.
They now live on the same street on which his wife grew up, in a house that was built next door to her childhood home, which has since been razed. They have two children – a 5-year-old daughter, whom he calls “The Munchkin,” and a 2-year-old son, known affectionately as “The Boy.” Mr. Barfield said he loves his family, as well as his adopted hometown.
He’s also continuing to grow, pointing to his decision last year to earn his real estate license. He’s been working for Sellstate Premier, based out of Huntersville, since February, and has found some early success.
Though always busy with his town and real estate responsibilities, Mr. Barfield still leads services about once every two months back at the Union Avenue Church, on top of his day-to-day duties at the Gastonia house of worship.
In addition to God, he credits Carrie – whom he describes as a “Godsend” and a “blessing” – for helping heal a man who was a widower before turning 30. She also assisted him in realizing his missteps, especially when interacting with others.
“If I’m 100-percent honest, I was very arrogant before – extremely arrogant,” Mr. Barfield said, referring to his first wife’s death. “It was a humbling moment. It was a broken moment that God took the pieces to and reassembled.
“And it changed how I approached people,” he added. “It made me not see the world so black and white.”