For 50 years William Stowell has ministered to Emmanuel Baptist Church in Shreveport as pastor, counselor and friend. 80 years old, Stowell said he has no plans of retiring just yet.
SHREVEPORT– For 50 years William Stowell has ministered to Emmanuel Baptist Church in Shreveport as pastor, counselor and friend. 80 years old, Stowell said he has no plans of retiring just yet.
“I’ll keep going at Emmanuel as long as they let me,” Stowell said. “I’d go crazy if I couldn’t preach every Sunday. I love the grind during the week, getting sermons ready for the next service.”
Stowell’s journey at Emmanuel began back in 1959. Arthur Howard, Stowell’s friend and then pastor of Summer Grove, recommended him to Emmanuel for the pastorate. Stowell said he doubted he would get the job because of his relatively young age, only 29 at the time.
Emmanuel’s pulpit committee approached him in June, a week before Stowell’s thirtieth birthday. When Stowell took the pastorate, he had no idea the road it would lead him down, he said. He and his wife, Patty, were considering mission work at the time.
“We went to two different mission boards,” Stowell said. “They wanted me to have more preaching experience. I figured I would be at Emmanuel two or three years, then planned on going to Chile.”
But, he said, God had other plans for his family. He gained a long-standing relationship with “a beautiful church family. I’ve married couples, their grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren.”
Over the years Stowell has seen many changes at Emmanuel, he said. He watched the church attendance drop from close to 700, down to 100, and then rise again. He saw a new sanctuary built, and was there when the church moved to a new location on the outskirts of Shreveport.
Stowell said the church suffered from shifts in the community, but the church dealt with the changing demographics and continued reaching out to the surrounding area.
“Lately we’ve really been blessed,” Stowell said. “One year ago a prayer revival broke out. A lot of people don’t like prayer, so we were surprised when over 120 people showed up, and began praying.”
The people who showed up for the revival separated into groups and began praying for the church, the community, and any other issues they felt were needed. Since then the groups continued to meet once a month. Stowell said it has given the church a “renewed vision for the future.”
Throughout the years and the changes, Stowell said he has stayed connected to the church and his members. In fact, the pastor sends a hand-written birthday card to each member of the church, along with cards when people are hurt or sick. Stowell said he writes maybe 1,000 cards a year.
He said he writes whenever he has time. He went to renew his driver’s license and ended up waiting for around two and a half hours. In that time he wrote 15 cards. Stowell said he sometimes uses timeouts on football as well.
He started sending the cards at least 25 years ago, he said.
“It’s a personal, hand-written note,” Stowell said. “This way, everyone gets a card at least once a year. People are really appreciative.”
Like any journey, there had to be a beginning. Stowell was born in Bartlesville, Okla., to two strong Christian parents.
“My mother went to the hospital to give birth, but the delivery room was on the second floor,” Stowell said. “Mom got on the elevator…and I was born on the elevator. Life’s been up and down ever since.”
His father started an independent church in their house, and Stowell was baptized in the river when he was seven years old.
Stowell said he was baptized again at the next church he attended, but it wasn’t until later that he was saved.
At 18 years old, he knelt by his mother’s bed, where she lay recovering from being ill, he said. He asked Christ into his heart.
He said his mother was proud, but he was very confused when she said he had to be baptized. He replied that he had already been baptized, but she shook her head and said, “No, son, you were just a dunked sinner.”
Stowell said when he first told her he knew he was lost, she looked at him and said, “I knew it too.”
Stowell left for college the next week after his salvation.
His plans did not originally include preaching, he said. He attended Oklahoma City University and majored in physical education.
He played basketball for the college, and planned on one day becoming a coach.
“We would come down from Oklahoma City to play Centenary,” he said. “I never dreamed I would live fifty years in Shreveport.
Stowell said the latter part of his last year in college God started calling him.
He enrolled in Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, still unsure, but his first day of class and “all doubts vanished.” He knew that was where he needed to be.
Stowell married his wife Patty in September 1952 in Tulsa, Okla., while he was still in seminary. He said he’s been truly blessed, and they have “had a long and happy life together.”
They’re family grew over the years, now including three children, nine grandchildren, two great-grandchildren and they are expecting a third.
The urge to minister has apparently passed on to his children, Stowell said. His son Mike pastors First Baptist Church in Keithville. His other son, Pascal, is a missionary in Brazil, working as a church planter.
His daughter, Sandy McDowell, found her own way to minister, teaching at Ouachita Baptist University. She now works with her husband at their horse farm.
Stowell repeated that he had been extremely blessed, with his family and his congregation.
“When I reached the age of 65 and was still at Emmanuel, I said I would try to go to 70,” Stowell said. “When I got to 70, I said I’d try 75. Then I said 80, and now I’m aiming for 85.”
Despite three heart bypass surgeries, he is still going, though he has had to manage his responsibilities a little more carefully, he said. He doesn’t go to quite as many Baptist conventions as he used to.
Stowell said he’s enjoyed being allowed to preach all this time.
He’s gotten to see some good guest preachers and people grow and change over the years, but “the greatest thing is being able to preach God’s word.”
“I’m just a Bible preacher,” Stowell said. “I don’t think of myself as a great shepherd. Whether you’re a preacher or not, you have to stay in the word.”
Emmanuel will be honoring Stowell’s service on August 8 and 9. Saturday, August 8, at 5 p.m. is a dinner for church members to come spend time with the pastor. Sunday, August 9 the church will hold a reception from 2-5 for anyone wishing to greet the pastor and wish him well.