by Robert Earl Houston
AUGUST 14, 2013 – Kentucky has suffered a tremendous loss in the homegoing of Dr. Joseph McDowell, pastor of the First Baptist Church Utteringtown in Lesington. Dr. McDowell passed away yesterday, August 13, 2013, following a brief hospitalization.
I met Dr. McDowell shortly after I moved to Kentucky in 2009 during the General Association of Baptists in Kentucky session in Bowling Green. Matter of fact, I just dined with him at our annual session in Louisville. I’ve had the privilege of preaching for him at his church and he preached for us in 2012. My associate ministers were so impressed by his presentation that when they purchased a robe for me it was a duplicate of the robe he adorned in the pulpit (pictured on the left).
He was beloved in the General Association. He came from a generation that produced pastors that are now among the ranks of the senior sages of Kentucky. Dr. McDowell pastored several congregations before coming to FBC Utteringtown, which is the rural part of Lexington, and he was a no-nonsense pastor. He was a trainer of preachers, several of whom are either pastoring or on staff at other congregations.
He was called “Dad” or “Pops” by many of the pastors in the General Association. He was not the type to continually talk publicly. He would sit in a meeting and if he spoke, you had no doubt what was on his mind, and then he would recoil and sit there just as calmly as he had before he stood up. He was Kentucky’s “E.F. Hutton” – when he spoke, you listened.
He had every right after putting in the years that he has to send his money and rest in his hotel room, but Dr. McDowell was at every session. He never sat in the back. He strolled up to the front and took his place. Perhaps that was born from his era – he took his place during the civil rights struggle and told us stories about his part in those marches, struggles and boycotts. He was attuned spiritually, but also socially and he was tireless when it came to the plight of African-Americans.
He was a churchman of the highest order. He loved worship. He loved church. He loved his district work, his state work, and even the national work. He was one of the people that you looked forward to hanging out with at the convention and preachers would crowd around him to hear what he had to say. He went to the Pastors’ Retreat in southern Kentucky and he attended the classes and you could see groups of preachers around him. He had a contagious spirit, a sly smile, and he could always wade through a conversation and get to the main point.
I don’t think there was a young or younger preacher that he didn’t try to help. Even if his assistance was rebuffed or rebuked, you could never say that Dr. McDowell didn’t try to help. His mission was to pass on the legacy of preaching and pastoring to the next generation.
He was a family man and loved his wife, Sandra, and all of his family members. Jokingly, he stood Sandra up at FBC Frankfort and announced “I just wanted you all to know that this pretty woman belongs to me.” We all knew that they loved each other deeply and we love them both.
When I preached for him, I was impressed with his hospitality. He was attentive to every detail and I remember remember walking into the basement for the meal and there were tables of food – enough to feed an army. “Rob, get all you want and if you need to take a plate home, we’ll take care of it.” I remember how loving the church family was and how well my members were treated. It was worth the drive.
At the last session of the Association, Dr. McDowell told some preachers about his experience at FBC. “Man, it was unfair. Houston got up and had all of his young adults to stand, and called them up to the choir stand and they sung that place happy. Then he put me up. It was so unfair.” But what he didn’t tell was that he preached us CRAZY that day and we were so blessed just to be in his presence.
Last night, I called a few pastor friends and one in particular stood out. He had known Rev. McDowell over 20 years and he broke down on the phone and for several moments just cried and cried and cried. That’s symbolic of how we all have reacted to Pops’ homegoing. This, in the words of “The Godfather” movie, is not business, it’s personal. We loved Dr. McDowell.
One of the pastors reminded me of something last night: “Houston, when you get our age (over 70) you realize that you could go home at any moment.” It’s very true. It also means that those who loved you also understand that as much as we’d love to have someone around forever and ever – the Lord always has the final word, and we’re all on His timetable. So, as the old saints used to say, “we bow to the will of our Heavenly Father, who is too wise to make a mistake.”
I’m quite sure, without a doubt, that this will be one of the largest preacher funerals in recent memory in Kentucky. Dr. McDowell didn’t pastor a mega church, but he had a mega personality and presence. He did what most pastors do every week – preach, teach, counsel, and lead his people. FBC Utteringtown loved their pastor and he loved them as well.
Services are pending. When they are announced, I’ll update this blog.