The Duncan Banner


February 4, 2011

50 years of preaching across the world

DUNCAN — Kicking off his 50th year of preaching, Pastor James McDowell of Sovereign Grace Baptist Church has been preaching across the world, from his homeland of Northern Ireland, to England, Canada and the United States. McDowell has been serving as pastor of Sovereign Grace since August of 2009.

McDowell was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland. It was there he went to school, eventually dropping out at the age of 14. After that, he decided to pursue his interest of working on a ship, into the field of marine engineering.

“Things were different in the system I was working in back then,” McDowell said. “We had apprenticeships positions and journeyman positions we worked in. I wanted to work on a boat.”

He was four years into his apprenticeship, working in the same shipyard where the Titanic was constructed, when he felt something change inside of him. It was a metamorphism, deep inside himself, enlightening his heart and spirit.

“Something changed inside of me, I felt it in my heart,” McDowell said. “It was the call of God.”

After realizing the change within, McDowell relocated to England, to learn about the ministry at Payton College and the University of Noddingham. Although he had doubts, he felt that God wanted him to do it, which helped him overcome his fear of his academic shortcomings, having not been in school since he was 14-years-old.

After four years of education, he graduated to a congregational church near London. McDowell appreciated the congregational style of preaching, allowing each church to operate as a individual entity, free to preach as they pleased.

It was during that time that he met his wife Jane and decided to move to Toronto, Canada. James was able to continue learning about the Scriptures and the literal translation of the word of God.

“During this time, I became more interested in the Baptist school of thought,” McDowell said. “In their way of thinking and practices.”

McDowell spent two years learning in Toronto, from 1968 to 1970, and then took up an offer to become an associate pastor at a church in Newport News, Va.

“I had a professor that flew to Toronto from Virginia every two weeks to teach,” McDowell said. “He informed of a position open and I discussed it with my wife. We thought it was the right move for us.”

After spending a year in Virginia, McDowell decided to move on, after having differing thoughts about the teaching and practices of the church.

From there, the McDowells moved to a city in Ohio, a city where he has trouble remembering where it is.

“It was a place somewhere near Akron, in a little town near Canton,” McDowell said.

In 1973, the McDowells moved to California, where they lived for the next 26 years. They relocated to Redding initially, then settling in to Stockton in 1979, where they lived until August 2009.

“I would go around to churches in Stockton, Oak Grove and other churches in the Sacramento area and preach,” McDowell said.

During his time in California, he enjoyed teaching world and U.S. history, preferring higher grade classes where he could have discussions with the students. McDowell also served as athletic director and soccer coach for a number of schools in California.

“I love playing and coaching soccer,” McDowell said.

“I remember playing in tournaments in my youth in Northern Ireland. That would inform my coaching later on.”

McDowell started to see the Midwestern part of the United States during the mid-2000s, guest preaching in Arkansas, eventually moving into Oklahoma.

“I started to receive more invitations over time that brought me out to this neck of the woods,” McDowell said. “I started coming in to Oklahoma and the Oklahoma City area around two, three times a year.”

The idea of moving was something that McDowell was real hesitant about, even resistant to. So relocating was something not in mind when he first visited Duncan to guest preach.

“In my age, I was not thinking about moving,” McDowell said. “We loved living in California near our daughter Rachel, and our son-in-law, Dexter, and our six grandchildren. My wife and I pondered if the move was a good thing at our age.”

It was the attitude and beliefs of the congregation that led McDowell to accept the invitation to become pastor, ending a two year period for Sovereign Grace in which they were pastor-less.

James moved out at the end of August 2009, with his wife staying in California, until the end of the year, to properly retire from her job.

“It was easy to get used to this church,” McDowell said. “I didn’t know what to expect moving out here, it was a definite change from California.”

Looking back at his 50 years of preaching, McDowell does not see much he would change.

“I do what I believe I was called to do,” McDowell said.

“God called me, each place I have lived is always different. But I have a sense of what God wants me to do.”

— Joshua Kellogg is a reporter for The Duncan Banner. He can be reached at 580-255-5354, Ext. 147, or via e-mail at

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