By Stan Friedman
CHICAGO, IL (January 29, 2014) — Robert Owens, the superintendent of the Southeast Conference, barely made it to the Midwinter Conference evening reception honoring him as the first recipient of the North Park Theological Seminary Alumni Award for Distinguished Service on Tuesday.
He had been at the event on Sunday but flew to Nashville to perform a funeral service on Monday for retired Covenant pastor Robert Dawson, who died January 19, and Dawson’s wife, Rachael, who died three days later. Robert Dawson had been Owens’s close friend and “spiritual father in ministry.”
Most of the flights from Nashville had been cancelled or delayed. Owens’s flight was one of those delayed, but he ultimately arrived at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare less than an hour before the presentation.
That selfless commitment to serving others was just another example of why Owens was chosen to be the first recipient of the award, Dave Kersten, dean of North Park Theological Seminary, told the gathering.
Kersten enumerated the other reasons—a bachelor of arts in psychology from Cal-State University, a master’s degree in public administration from Pepperdine University, a master of divinity from NPTS, and a doctor of ministry in new church development from Columbia Theological Seminary.
But the academic achievements actually were among the lesser reasons, Kersten said. It was Owens’s service to people in and outside the church that made it easy for the selection committee to choose Owens, who also received the Irving C. Lambert Award at the denomination’s Annual Meeting in 2011. That award honors excellence in urban ministry
Owens served Grace Covenant Church in Compton, California from 1984 to 1991, planted and served New Life Covenant Church in Atlanta from 1992 to 2001, and has since then led the Southeast Conference as associate superintendent and superintendent.
“He is a pastor’s pastor, he is a preacher’s preacher, he’s a mentor of young pastors, he is a bishop of souls,” said Kersten.
In accepting the honor, Owens first thanked his wife of 38 years, Mary Ann, and said the award belongs to her as well. He quipped, “She is the butter pecan of my Häagen-Dazs ice cream.”
Owens told the gathering that marrying her was one of the four most-important decisions he has made in his life. The others were committing his life to Jesus, join together with the Covenant, and then deciding to enroll at NPTS.
“These four decisions have helped to shape who I am today,” Owens said.
His strong commitment to mentoring young people developed at North Park, he said. There were few African Americans attending the school when he started there, and he discussed the issue with then school-president David Horner. The president asked him to mentor the African American students on campus.
Owens also celebrated the work of the denomination. “We got something that can help to shape the kingdom of God,” he said.