Bishop Ray Owen, 78, the first president of the General Commission on United Methodist Men (1997-2000), died Saturday, May 15.
Bishop Owen was born April 21, 1932 in Gleason, Tenn. He served in the United States Army for 12 years. He was elected bishop in 1992, and he was appointed to the San Antonio Area where he served the Southwest Texas and Rio Grande Annual Conferences until his retirement in 2000.
Tributes from former and current top executives
“Bishop Owen served as the first president of the General Commission of United Methodist Men,” said Dr. Joseph Harris, first top staff executive of the agency. “His leadership helped the infant general agency confront all the challenges and opportunities a newly created agency of the UMC brings.
“He helped the commission build a solid foundation on which to provided resources, training and ministry to all the men of the UMC,” said Harris. “I am deeply appreciative of his support and help in guiding a new general secretary to maximize the potential of the commission. We are grateful that he chose this agency to lead and guide in its early years.”
Gil Hanke, now serving as top executive of the commission, said he was a delegate to the 1996 General Conference which created the agency. “When it passed, I was told immediately that Bishop Owen had already requested to serve on this agency,” said Hanke. “His desire to serve as a leader in men's ministry can be traced throughout his ministry.”
“Bishop Owen was the epitome of having the 'right person in place at the right time,’” said Larry Coppock, one of the original staff members of the commission. “He was a prince of a man. I feel blessed to have known him. What a faithful and dedicated servant leader.”
Advocate for men’s ministry
Asked in 1998 why he was such an outspoken advocate for men’s ministry, Bishop Owen replied, “It has been my experience that when men come alive, the church comes alive. Stewardship increases. The discipleship of others becomes noticeable. Leaderships overall is enhanced, and more effective.”
In every pastoral appointment over a 40-year period, Owen said he was “deliberate in encouraging men to play their essential role in the ministry and mission of the local congregation. In most instances, my effort required unflagging determination. At other times, it called for me to take the initiative to organize a new unit.”
The bishop is survived by Lavelle Owen, his wife of 57 years; two sons, the Rev. Darryl R. Owen and the Rev. Dr. Dyton L. Owen, and four grandchildren.
“My dad was always the one who was passionate about helping God to build God’s kingdom,” said Darryl Owen. “He was very evangelism-oriented, mission-oriented and construction-oriented.”
Raymond Owen led building projects in every place he ministered, his son recalled, ranging from educational wings for local churches to a new conference center in San Antonio. He also founded Southern Hills United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City.
“I remember he asked my brother and me, as young kids, to pull the nails out of old boards so they could reuse the nails” for a church’s construction project, said Darryl. The church “didn’t have enough money, so we were saving everything we could.”
"He never told us what to do once we became adults," said Darryl. "Without a doubt, while he did not expect us to go into the ministry, his life witness surely made an impact on Dyton and me.
"He was a man with a well-polished sense of grace toward others. He was a man of great integrity.," said Darryl. "He had a clear vision of what the church could be, all the time working with the resources at hand to improve the church in the present moment"
Owen had a bachelor’s degree and doctorate of divinity from Oklahoma City University and master’s degrees from Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University, Dallas, and Scarritt College, Nashville, Tenn. He held the distinguished alumnus award from both Perkins and Oklahoma City University, where he was a trustee.
Owen began his career in the ministry in 1959 at Highland Park United Methodist Church, Lawton, Okla. He was the Bartlesville District superintendent, 1976-81, and served other local churches, including First United Methodist Church in Bartlesville, where he had been for 10 years when elected to the episcopacy.
Owen was a delegate to every General Conference, beginning in 1980, until his election to the episcopacy. He also served on the World Methodist Council.