Former ABHMS staff member, beloved champion of environmental causes and social justice Rev. Dr. Owen Owens dies

VALLEY FORGE, PA (ABNS 01/29/2024)—The Rev. Dr. Owen D. Owens, 89, former director of ecology and racial justice at American Baptist Home Mission Societies (ABHMS), died January 20, 2024, in Kennett Square, Pa. He was born September 25, 1934, in Fort Atkinson, Wis.

An ordained Methodist minister, Owens dedicated much of his career, from 1968 to 2000, to the home mission work of American Baptists, focusing on programs of research and planning, evangelism, church renewal, and ecology and racial justice.

Owens once said of this work, “God’s kingdom goal of peace on Earth—where ecological wholeness and social justice come together in reverence for life, interdependence with life and stewardship of life—was the light guiding ABHMS in my 30 years of ministry with American Baptists.”

“The Reverend Owen Owens embodied the highest American Baptist values and ideals,” said Dr. Jeffrey Haggray, ABHMS executive director and CEO of Judson Press. “A deeply spiritual and committed Christian, Owen translated his convictions into his writings, peaching and actions. He cared deeply about God’s call to all of us to be stewards of the earth.”

Haggray went on to say that Owens “mentored countless American Baptist leaders and national staff across several decades,” doing so “with a pastor’s heart.” Among the highlights of Owens’ career:

  • He was an active member of the evangelism staff of the Rev. Jitsuo Morikawa, which was instrumental in a four-year strategic planning process from which connections of ecology to justice emerged.
  • He organized the 1984 Baptist Prayer Conference, in collaboration with Church and Community Development staff under Dr. Ernestine Galloway, that convened more than 500 leaders of groups across a racial and ethnic spectrum.
  • Following the Baptist Prayer Conference, he launched decade-long series of summer prayer conferences at the American Baptist Churches Green Lake Conference Center in Wisconsin.
  • In addition, he served as a planning consultant to the Baptist Indian Caucus for a decade and helped create the Seeds of Renewal Program for smaller American Baptist congregations.

Owens was also a prolific writer, having authored or co-authored numerous books, including “American Baptist Evangelistic Life Style and Church Renewal Resources,” “Healing the Coyote in Me: The Navajo Coyote Blessing Ceremony,” “Spiritual Help in Hard Times,” “The Bible’s Hope for Life on Earth,” “Living Waters: How to Save Your Local Stream,” “Growing Churches for a New Age,” “Stones into Bread,” and his final book, “Rescue the Perishing,” completed a week before his passing,

In December 2023, Owens addressed his ABHMS friends and colleagues in a brief video played during an organization-wide in-service gathering. He expressed heartfelt and unflagging gratitude for his decades-long association with ABHMS, and he also proffered a challenge to his audience—to keep ABHMS at the forefront of Christian mission in America.

From an early age, Owens excelled academically earning a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology/Sociology from Beloit College, a Bachelor of Arts in Divinity from Union Theological Seminary, a Master of Arts in History and Literature of Religion from Northwestern University, and a Doctor of Philosophy from Graduate Theological Union/University of California, Berkeley.

Owens is survived by his wife, Irene; a brother, John; children Andrew, Elizabeth, Martin and Amy; and five grandchildren.

American Baptist Home Mission Societies partners with American Baptists to promote Christian faith, cultivate Christ-centered leaders and disciples, and bring healing and transformation to communities across the United States and Puerto Rico.

American Baptist Churches USA is one of the most diverse Christian denominations today, with approximately 5,000 congregations comprised of 1.3 million members, across the United States and Puerto Rico, all engaged in God’s mission around the world.