Milum Oswell “M.O.” Owens Jr., 105, died May 20 after years of service to North Carolina Baptists.
BR file photo by K. Allan Blume
M.O. Owens, who died May 20, poses next to the statue of him at Gaston Christian School. The Dr. M.O. Owens Jr. Worship and Fine Arts Center was dedicated in November 2018.
“His life may have ended on earth when he was welcomed into heaven, but the influence of his life will live on through those who came to know Christ through his witness and those who were discipled through his Bible teaching,” said Milton A. Hollifield Jr., executive director-treasurer of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC), in a statement to the Biblical Recorder.
A retired church pastor and founder of Gaston Christian School, Owens was born in New Holland, S.C., Sept. 4, 1913, and graduated from Furman University in 1933. He later finished with honors at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., in 1939. He pastored churches in Myrtle Beach, S.C., Palmetto, Fla., Marion, N.C., and Lenoir, N.C., before accepting the call to East Baptist Church in Gastonia.
Owens led the church that eventually became Parkwood Baptist in 1964 and was the first pastor until his retirement in 1980. He then ministered in 15 churches as an interim pastor and wrote a book on prayer, God, Can You Hear Me?.
Owens, who was influential in the early Conservative Resurgence movement, and Home Mission Board employee Bill Powell first started rattling Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) cages about 1973 when they formed the Baptist Faith and Message Fellowship and later, the Baptist Literature Board that offered Bible study materials as an alternative to those sold by the Convention’s own publishing house.
Owens returned to Parkwood as pastor emeritus and retired again from the pulpit in 2015.
Twice president of the N.C. Baptist Pastors’ Conference, Owens was elected to the BSC General Board and a number of committees.
He served as a trustee of the Sunday School Board (now LifeWay Christian Resources) and the Home Mission Board (now North American Mission Board). Owens was on Gardner-Webb University's Board of Trustees for 14 years; several years, he served as chairman. He also helped form the Crisis Pregnancy Center and was a member of the Kiwanis and Rotary clubs.
A 2013 Baptist Press story recounted Owens, at age 11, being at the May 13, 1925, SBC annual meeting, the day the Cooperative Program (CP) was birthed.
“I remember very vividly how excited my dad was, how delighted he was, and I do remember so well he was concerned about enlisting the other pastors,” Owens said of his father, the late Milum Oswell Owens Sr., who pastored two churches. “He was the only pastor from that association [Orangeburg County, S.C.] who attended that convention.”
At that time the meeting was five days, but Owens was only allowed to attend that particular day.
“Before that day [of the CP vote] there were very few Sundays there wouldn’t be someone appealing for an offering,” Owens said. “I remember my parents talking about it, Dad saying we needed to figure out a way to lump some of these appeals together – foreign missions, home missions, Indian missions, orphanages and more. And then he heard about [what is known today as the Cooperative Program] and he was tickled pink when it happened.”
Owens said he watched for years the strength of the CP his father was so pleased to help pass.
“It is a beautiful arrangement,” Owens said. “The churches are not plagued by appeals for money. Each church can choose to participate – or not. Each agency and institution can feel fairly secure in anticipating its designated share.”
Hollifield described Owens as a “living legend” in 2013 when he presented Owens with a lifetime achievement award during a special time of recognition during the BSC annual meeting in Greensboro.
“M.O. Owens Jr. is one of my great heroes. I have respected and appreciated him through the years,” Hollifield said at the time. “I am grateful for what he has meant to us as North Carolina Baptists and to the Southern Baptist Convention.”
Don Warren, a member of Parkwood, called Owens a man of integrity. “When I think of M.O. Owens I think of a man who lives his Christian life by not compromising before God and man. People see that in him and recognize that he is a follower of Jesus Christ.”
Warren is grateful for the dedicated, visionary leadership of Owens. “Every church M.O. has ever pastored has grown, and every church he pastored exceeded its budget,” he said.
Jeff Long, senior pastor of Parkwood, said leaders such as Owens paved the way for the current generation, taking risks for the sake of the gospel.
“The way he treats people, the way he preaches the Word, the way he approaches life with grace and dignity – he truly is a godly man,” he said. “If you ever interact with him it’s evident from the very beginning. And it’s not age; it’s having spent a life walking with God.”
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest endowed the Dr. M.O. Owens Jr. Chair of New Testament Studies in April 26, 2012. Daniel Akin, SEBTS president, announced David Alan Black, professor of New Testament and Greek, was the first recipient of the chair.
The BSC had previously honored Owens at the 2011 Heritage Awards.
Throughout his ministry, Owens never strayed from his commitment and passion to tell people about the life-transforming message of the gospel.
“Just preach the gospel,” Owens said in a 2013 story. “That’s all that matters.”
In November 2018, Owens attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony for a building with his name attached to it at Gaston Christian School (GCS) in Gastonia.
The Dr. M.O. Owens Worship and Fine Arts Center is a $4 million, 26,000-square-foot facility at the school he helped found. The facility gives Gaston County’s largest private school a 520-seat auditorium, art classrooms, band and choral classrooms, a dance studio, wood shop and costuming classroom. GCS has 920 students enrolled.
A life-size bronze statue of Owens was unveiled on the building’s front porch. Owens’ body was electronically scanned and the data was delivered to China where the statue was built.
GCS originally met on the campuses of Parkwood and Catawba Heights Baptist Church before the current property was purchased and the school constructed in 2002.
He was widowed three times – Ruby Bridges Owens and Ola Carothers Owens and most recently, Margaret Williford Brown Owens, who died in 2012. He is survived by his three daughters: Celia Alexander of Suffolk, Va., Linda Russ of Greenville, S.C., and Mary Lancaster of Vass, N.C.; foster daughter, Deborah Ko of Girard, Ohio; eight grandchildren; two foster grandchildren; 13 great-grandchildren; three foster great-grandchildren; five step-children and many step-granchildren.
The GCS Class of 2019 will graduate Fri., May 24. Owens rarely missed a commencement. One student will be awarded the M.O. Owens Honor for exhibiting Christian character, servanthood and scholarship.
The family will receive friends from 2-4 p.m. Thurs., May 23 at Covenant Village in Gastonia and again Mon., May 27 from 6-8 p.m. at the M.O. Owens Center at GCS.
The funeral is planned for May 28 at 11 a.m. at Parkwood Baptist Church, 1729 E. Garrison St., Gastonia, NC 28054; Akin is scheduled to speak. Burial will follow at 3:30 p.m. at Woodlawn Memorial Park, 1 Pine Knoll Dr., Greenville, S.C.
Memorials to: Crisis Pregnancy Center, 700 Robinson Road, Gastonia, NC 28056; Parkwood Baptist Church, Owens Mission Fund, 1729 Garrison Blvd., Gastonia, NC 28054; Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, M.O. Owens Chair, 222 N. Wingate St., Wake Forest, NC 27587; and Gaston Christian School, 1625 Lowell Bethesda Road, Gastonia, NC 28056.
Arrangements are being handled by Woodlawn Funeral Home: woodlawnfuneral.org/notices/DrMilum-Owens.