On the morning of Sunday, Aug. 1, the Rev. Warren Owens preached a sermon from his pulpit about the blessing of life given by the Lord. He then presided over the celebration of Holy Communion at his church, First United Methodist of Marion.
“God is involved in our lives and his instructions – yeah he might test us a little bit – but they are life giving instructions,” Owens said in his sermon. “He wants us to be dependent upon Him. He wants to shower blessings upon us day by day, each day. And He wants us looking toward heaven for that gift.”
What Pastor Owens and no one else knew was it would be his last sermon and his last Holy Communion service on Earth. After the Sunday service, he went home where he passed away unexpectedly and peacefully in his sleep. He was just 61 years old.
Now, the members of First United Methodist of Marion and the local community are dealing with the sudden and shocking loss of their beloved pastor and friend. As far as anyone knows, he died of a heart attack in his sleep, church members say.
They are remembering his heartfelt sermons and prayers, his humor and his dedication to their church and the surrounding community.
Born in Rutherford County, Owens graduated from High Point University in 1982 and from the Institute of Textile Technology in 1984. He worked in the carpet industry for years before realizing he was called to be a pastor, like his father the Rev. Ned Owens, according to his obituary.
In 2003, Owens received his Master of Divinity degree from Duke University. He pastored several Methodist churches in western North Carolina before coming in 2015 to First United Methodist of Marion, one of the largest and most prominent congregations in McDowell County.
“Warren was more than a minister and a pastor; he was a friend,” said long-time church member Ramsey Grant.
Owens was so devoted to Grant and his wife Mary as her health declined. “I will never forget how he treated Mary and (son) Mark and me,” Grant said to The McDowell News. “He had the most appropriate prayers. He was everybody’s minister.”
Grant added he appreciated that Owens had worked in the business sector before becoming a minister. “Coming from the business world, he knew both sides,” said Grant. “He had a good worldly connection being in the business world.”
Sharon Rayburn, business manager for First Methodist, said Owens set up the Bed in a Bag program two years ago. It is a program for the homeless, especially the McKinney-Vento students in the school system. This program ensures that wherever homeless people go – whether it is in a vehicle or a place in the woods—they have a bed in which to sleep. Leaders in other counties called him for advice on setting up that program in their communities, said Rayburn.
Owens started programs at other churches before he came to Marion. One of them was a home for unwed mothers and another is a special worship program for young people with autism. He was proud of these programs and the positive impact they had on the youth.
Shannon Clontz is the director of First Methodist’s Early Childhood Enrichment Center. “He will be greatly missed,” she said to The McDowell News. “If I had a problem with the childhood center, I would speak to him. He always had a story and the answer was in that story. He was a preacher without preaching.”
Owens was involved in the Unity services in Marion which brought people of different races and economic backgrounds together in the spirit of peace, understanding and unity.
“If you asked him to pray with you, he would drop everything, stop right there and start praying from his heart,” said church member and volunteer Kathy Roberts.
Rayburn said she never left a sermon of his where she didn’t learn something new. “I got a blessing out of his sermons,” she added.
“Our church has lost a great leader,” said church member Jeff Bryan to The McDowell News. “I believe it was his years in the textile industry that made him able to relate to the members of our congregation. His education at Duke Divinity School only fueled his love for spreading the Bible’s teachings in an interesting, and often humorous, way. We have not only lost our pastor, but I lost a true and caring friend.”
Bryan added Owens came to the church at just the right time. “I’m also glad I was able to visit with him two Sundays ago,” he said. “I had just returned from a deployment to Saudi Arabia and got to spend a few moments with him before the service. Literally and figuratively, he has left some big shoes to fill.”
Pastor Owens was able to stay at First United Methodist of Marion longer than other Methodist ministers, who usually are moved around to the other churches.
The Rev. Dr. Mark Ralls, district superintendent, will conduct services at First United Methodist of Marion for the foreseeable future.
Ralls will officiate at the memorial service for Pastor Owens. It will be held on Thursday, Aug. 5 at 11 a.m. at the church. Rev. Ned Owens will also officiate at the service for his late son. The family will receive friends afterwards in the fellowship hall. The committal service will take place at Tabernacle United Methodist Church in Greensboro. That is the church where Rev. Owens and his wife Tracey were married.
In addition, First United Methodist of Marion will hold a prayer vigil in remembrance of Rev. Warren Owens on Wednesday from 5:30 to 7 p.m. in the FUMC Chapel.
“Warren was not only an exceptional pastor; he was an exceptional friend,” said Jerri Young, youth and children’s director at FUMC. “He was full of great stories and was always eager to share them, especially with children and youth. I’ve often thought he could find a sermon in any situation. Warren had an indescribable way of knowing who, not just what he should focus on. He could tell if a person was in need of comfort, or support in some way just by looking in their eyes, or reading an expression on their face. This is a quality that is hard to come by naturally.
“We have been so thankful for having the Owens family in our congregation. Tracey, and Sam have also been a great addition in the ways they have served our church. They are truly our family. Warren was definitely anointed in his role as a pastor, but even more so in being the pastor of First United Methodist. Our church will be healing from this loss for quite a while, and his presence will be forever in our hearts.”
To see and hear Pastor Warren Owens’ final service, follow this link: https://www.facebook.com/141628939198902/videos/332791421872972