Obituary: Robert Owen / Welsh-born minister spent 72 years preaching gospel
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The Rev. Robert Cynddylan Owen talked about heaven in what turned out to be his final sermon on Nov. 18.
The next day, Rev. Owen died at his home in Penn Township, Westmoreland County. He was 88 and had been preaching since he was a teenaged coal miner in South Wales.
"He was sitting on the couch, went off to sleep and woke up in the presence of the Lord," his daughter, Christine Van Luven of Harrison City, said.
Her father had been suffering from an upper respiratory infection that had curtailed his habit of taking 2-mile daily walks, but he had felt well enough to serve as guest preacher at First Assembly of God Church in Coraopolis that Sunday. "But he couldn't seem to get his energy back," she said.
Energetic was a word friends and family members used to describe him.
"He was a Type A personality," said his son-in-law and Ms. Van Luven's husband, Carson Van Luven. "He had to be doing something; he had to be going somewhere. It was a sin to waste a minute."
Rev. Owen was born and reared in the village of Bedlinog in South Wales. He was one of nine children born to William and Sarah Owen.
He left school at age 14 to work in local coal mines. Two years later, while still employed underground, he had begun his career as a lay preacher, following in the footsteps of his father.
He was ordained and took up full-time ministry in the Assemblies of God in Great Britain when he turned 21. That same year he wed the former Miriam Phillips, also of Bedlinog. They were married for 67 years.
In 1959, Rev. Owen and his family came to the United States, where he worked as a pastor at churches in Oshkosh and Green Bay, Wis. In 1973, he relocated to Bethel Park, where he served as senior pastor at South Hills Assembly of God. He retired from that church in 1990.
Although he ended his career as a pastor, he served as an itinerant minister, delivering sermons almost every Sunday for the past 22 years at worship services around the world. He had spoken at churches in Kenya, Israel, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Australia and across the United States, his grandson, Aaron Van Luven, said.
"He had a story for any situation," his grandson said. "He took every opportunity to share Jesus with anyone he came into contact with -- from the greeter at Sam's Club to the stranger on the bench at the mall."
"He was a mentor for me and many other people," said the Rev. Bill Ellis, pastor of Riverside Community Church, which holds services in Oakmont and at Pittsburgh Mills in Frazer. "He wasn't afraid to speak the truth, even when it was a hard truth," Rev. Ellis said of Rev. Owen's sermons. "He was Welsh and had a great accent ... in the middle of his message, he might break into a hymn or quote a poem."
As a pastor, Rev. Owen defined his flock widely. Rev. Ellis recalled when one of his college classmates became ill while traveling through Pittsburgh. Although she was not a member of his church, Rev. Owen visited her daily in the hospital. "He was a people's pastor," Rev. Ellis said.
Carson Van Luven said one of his father-in-law's neighbors told him how pleased they had been to have had him living nearby. "They said he had been known around the world and delivered sermons around the world, but 'he also preached to us in our backyard,' " Mr. Van Luven said.
In addition to his daughter, son-in-law and grandson, he is survived by his wife, Miriam; two sons, Gerald of Lincoln, Neb., and Cledwyn, of De Pere, Wis.; a sister, Magdalene Greening, of Treharris, South Wales; five other grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.
A memorial celebration will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Calvary Assembly of God, 8653 Pennsylvania Ave., Irwin. Memorial contributions may be made to the Robert C. Owen Memorial Scholarship Fund at owenfund.org.
The William Snyder Funeral Home, Irwin, is handling arrangements.
An excerpt from Rev. Owen's final sermon at First Assembly of God can be viewed at vimeo.com/53980716.
First Published November 26, 2012 12:00 am