Southeastern remembers M.O. Owens

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Milum Oswell “M.O.” Owens Jr., longtime donor and friend of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS), passed away in his Gastonia home on Monday, May 20. He was 105.

“M.O. Owens was a hero to Southern and North Carolina Baptists,” said SEBTS President Danny Akin. “He also was a personal hero to me. He was both a consistent role model as a pastor/theologian and a constant encouragement to me in my 15 years at Southeastern Seminary.” 

Owens, who was born in New Holland, South Carolina in 1913, exemplified godly Christian leadership through his service to Southern Baptists both locally and nationally.   owens giving a speech

Owens participated as a Southeastern Society member, giving faithfully to the school for a number of years. On April 26, 2012, SEBTS honored Owens’ legacy by installing the M.O. Owens Chair of New Testament Studies. David Alan Black, senior professor of New Testament and Greek was the first to be installed in this chair. During that particular chapel service, Owens, who was 99 at the time, delivered a sermon on 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5, which can be found here

Don Warren, longtime SEBTS donor and former trustee, told the Biblical Recorder of the legacy Owens left. 

“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,” said Warren. 

Owens is well-remembered throughout Southern Baptist life, serving in capacities within the Gaston County Association, the North Carolina Baptist State Convention (BSC) and the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). He received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the BSC, serving both on the BSC General Board and as president of the BSC Pastors’ Conference. Graduating from Furman University in 1933 and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) in 1939, Owens went on to pastor churches in Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina. 

He pastored First Baptist Church in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina after completing his degree at SBTS and also pastored churches in Palmetto, Florida; Marion, North Carolina; and Lenior, North Carolina. After leaving Lenior, Owens went on to pastor East Baptist Church in Gastonia, North Carolina. In 1964, Owens became pastor of Parkwood Baptist Church in Gastonia, North Carolina, where he served until retiring in 1980. He later returned as pastor emeritus until 2015.  While serving as pastor of Parkwood the first time, Owens co-founded the Gaston County Crisis Pregnancy Center. Owens also went on to serve in interim pastor roles at 15 churches after his 1980 retirement and also wrote a book on prayer titled, “God, Can You Hear Me?” 

In the 1980s, Owens founded Gaston Christian School (GCS), a non-denominational Christian school in Gastonia. The school now has approximately 1,000 students enrolled and recently honored Owens in November 2018 with the dedication of the newly constructed, $4 million, 26,000-square-foot Dr. M.O. Owens Jr. Worship and Fine Arts Center. A bronze statue was also erected in his honor, which was also unveiled at the building’s dedication. 

Owens will also be remembered for his significant influence on Southern Baptist life through his establishment of the Baptist Faith and Message Fellowship in 1964 along with Home Mission Board employee Bill Powell. Owens also had the opportunity to witness the initiation of the Cooperative Program at age 11 during the 1925 SBC annual meeting along with his father Milum Oswell Owens Sr. 

“Between M.O. and his father you have right at 150 years of faithful gospel preaching,” said Akin. “What a legacy he has given us. My prayer is the graduates of our school will follow in his footsteps.”  

Owens is survived by his three daughters, Celia Alexander, Linda Russ and Mary Landcaster; his foster daughter, Deborah Ko; eight grandchildren; two foster grandchildren; 13 great-grandchildren; three foster great-grandchildren; five step-children; and many step-grandchildren. Owens was preceded in death by his three wives, Ruby Bridges Owens, Ola Carothers Owens and Margaret Williford Brown Owens. 

Two visitation services will be held in Gastonia for Owens: one on May 23 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Covenant Village 1351 Robinwood Rd., and another on May 27 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at GCS 1625 Lowell Bethesda Rd. 

Akin will be speaking at the funeral, which will be Tuesday, May 28 at Parkwood Baptist Church at 1729 E. Garrison St., Gastonia, NC 28054. Arrangements for the funeral are being handled by Woodlawn Funeral Home. 

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