At 17, AACC student has gig as preacher

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At 17, AACC student has gig as preacher

17-year-old Mason Owens is a senior in high school who takes a class at AACC and is also a preacher.

17-year-old Mason Owens is a senior in high school who takes a class at AACC and is also a preacher.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Medley

17-year-old Mason Owens is a senior in high school who takes a class at AACC and is also a preacher.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Medley

Photo courtesy of Joshua Medley

17-year-old Mason Owens is a senior in high school who takes a class at AACC and is also a preacher.

Brad Dress, Associate Editor

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Wearing a white button-up shirt, jeans and grey Polo shoes, 14-year-old Mason Owens takes his chair at the front of the church, shaking. He’s nervous, terrified. He has butterflies in his stomach. He doesn’t know it yet, but this is going to be a day that to him, is as important as his birthday.

Owens watches, still terrified, as the gospel choir commences singing. He knows his part is coming soon. He hears the master of ceremonies introduce him, and his hands stiffen, the sweat drenching his palms. He’s about to do something he has never done before.

He stands up, walking toward the outstretched hand holding the microphone. Owens grabs the mic and looks out onto an audience of 150 people. He knows he can do this. He’s prepared his message for months.
As soon as the words fly out of his mouth, the whole game changes.       
He’s yelling. His words shoot out rapidly as he interprets the previous song into his own meaning, using it to fuel his coming message. He can only see half the audience. He’s getting louder now, picking up his pace—and then he’s done, he stops.

And that was just his warm up.

“The reaction was insane,” he says later. The audience shouts, claps, roars its approval. Owens begins his message now, teaching the audience that when we knock each other down, God can bring us back up.
Owens has just become a preacher.

Three years later, Owens is still preaching. Now 17 years old, Owens attends AACC as a JumpStart student, working his way through college and his senior year of high school simultaneously, while never forgetting that he is a preacher.

Born in Annapolis in 1999, Owens was born into a religious family with two brothers. His mother, Brinette Owens, was a Sunday school teacher, and she brought her family to services every Sunday at the First Christian Community Church of Annapolis, ingraining religion into each child’s head.

His father used to be in the military, so Owens lived in five homes before he turned 17. His parents had had him when they were young, at 17 and 20; as the first-born child of busy parents, Owens was left to the task of teaching things to himself, like riding a bike and swimming.

His mother said it wasn’t surprising he had become a preacher, given how he grew up.

“He always had the gift,” his mother said. “He could preach before he even knew what he was doing.”
His brothers, now 15 and 14, harvested a lot of guidance from Owens because he was their older brother. Owens said he taught them a lot growing up, sometimes with his mother’s disapproval, but he always tried to help them learn how to be independent.

“[My brother] had to go around selling stuff,” Owens said, reflecting on one time he had helped his younger brother. “He’s not comfortable talking to people [but] I am … [so] I tried to teach him a few times.”
His brother, Devon, said he idolizes how unafraid Owens is of speaking in public because he struggles with the skill himself.

“One day, I need to be like that,” his brother said. “How [Mason] is just not afraid to do something in front of anybody.”

A boisterous character, Owens engaged in numerous sports and activities as a child. He played basketball, football and in a band when he was 10. In high school, he was on varsity for football and wrestling, both of which he completed during his senior year.

But the hard part of his high school life, Owens claimed, was the haunting moment of moving to another high school in the middle of his sophomore year. He had been familiar with the community of his peers at Glen Burnie High School, but when he was plucked away from it and moved to Pasadena, he had to resettle himself into a brand-new school, with a fresh wave of peers.

He said it was “hard to find people to connect to,” but he overcame the obstacle, given his outspoken character. His peers at school call him “Rev” now, and often ask him for advice. At his school, Owens’ nickname is almost as real as his actual name.

As a senior, Owens said his greatest delight in school is his job as the morning announcer, a job he also held in middle school, when he beat more than 70 students in a race for the position.

“I’ve come up behind people that were really good; everyone looked up to them,” Owens said about his morning announcer predecessors in high school. “Now that I’m in that position, being looked up to as the guy … [my] personality gets a shine.”

Although he didn’t express hard interest in the church community when he was younger, Owens went to Bible studies and was an usher for the church, helping to seat people at the services every Sunday.

He first expressed interest in preaching when he was 13—in a Marley Middle School math class. The students were joking around, and somewhere, somebody said something about a preacher. Foolishly, Owens stood up and pretended to be the preacher from the comedy movie “Don’t be a Menace.”

Everyone laughed, but for Owens, something clicked. The joke clung on and everyone called him “Pastor Mason” after that.

Owens, however, started to take it much more seriously.

Six months later, at an award speech at school, Owens had to talk about what he wanted to do in life. He had to answer the ever-roving question, “Who do you want to be?”

Owens said he started by saying he was a leader, a winner, and everyone roared “amen.” After he saw the way the crowd reacted, Owens knew he had “preacher written all over” him.

“When I said, ‘Who do I want to be?’ I sort of incorporated the [Pastor Mason joke] into it,” Owens said. “And people just loved it, and I was like, ‘Yeah, this is it.’”

Owens had come into the speech not fully knowing what he wanted to do. But by the end of the speech, he knew that answer.

He had found himself.

“With the power of what I was saying and what I felt,” Owens said, “[I thought], this is amazing, this is where I have to be.”

After that, Owens began to crack the books. He said he studied the Bible and speaking skills, and he watched numerous preachers online. He was relentless in his pursuit of knowledge.

His family was somewhat surprised by his new calling, but recognized his gift.

His father said he was shocked because Owens was quiet as a kid, but he recognized that “he knows the word” and the sky is the limit for him.

His grandmother, Troy Wallace, said Owens is a blessing to the family.

“Oh my goodness, that is like the biggest blessing of the family,” Wallace said about Owens. “It’s his calling. … Wherever he speaks, he affects the whole congregation [because] he really has the spoken word.”
Owens said he has preached at more than seven churches or events since the dawn of his career. He said the leaders of the churches or events dig him up on either social media or by phone number, and ask him to come preach, usually looking for a fresh new voice to spice up the ceremony or service.

If Owens accepts, he seeks approval from his home pastor and mentors at his church.

Owens explained he can sometimes get paid—but if he does, it’s “pocket change.” He said a lot of preachers get so entangled and obsessed with the money, they lose sight of what they are doing. But for him, he knows this is something special, something he could never lose sight of.

Usually a couple of months before he preaches, Owens gears up, starting to think about what he wants to say, drawing inspiration from life and the Bible, which he then transforms into his sermon.

“Once you have a relationship [with God] you can hear God more,” Owens explained. “You can decipher what he is saying.”

Owens added that when taking stories from the Bible, he must interpret them in a positive way so people can benefit.

Owens has two mentors at his church whom he pulls inspiration and guidance from, Pastor Richard Johnson and another minister. They both examine his sermons and messages before he preaches, and offer guidance on his path to reaching his pinnacle and becoming a leader in the religious community.

“One thing about [Owens] is he is at his heart an encourager; always encouraging people to do better or be better,” Johnson said. “He is a real person that you are talking to. … You want to listen to him preach because you are listening to a good person.”

Owens is an active member of his church outside of preaching. He sings in the gospel choir and acts in the Christmas and Easter plays the church holds.

Owens said even though life can get frustrating, he knows a relationship with God answers it all. He’s young, not even an adult, but he knows he wants to help people and aid them in their everyday lives.
“I like the feeling I get, knowing I have the power … to speak life into someone,” Owens said. “I know I can change people’s lives with something I say or something I do.”

In the future, Owens is going to become a minister, which will take four to five years at his church. He is going to attend Morgan State University for broadcast journalism, and with that degree he hopes to become an anchor on the news. He also plans to evangelize around the world.

On March 11, 2017, three years after the first time he spoke the word of God in front of an audience, Owens is getting ready to preach again. He’s quiet most of the time leading up to the event.

An hour before his presentation, he’s prancing back and forth on the stage, listening to a recording of his practice sermon. He’s muttering the words under his breath, making sure he has it right. When he sits back down, he looks at his notes scribbled on a piece of paper, rehearsing the message in his head one final time.

It’s a youth event this time, hosted by The Mid-Atlantic Hunger Games Youth Movement, an organization dedicated to “feed[ing] youth spiritual, emotional and practical needs,” and to “help[ing] youth develop a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ” through activities and shows.

Owens is humble, quiet, as dancers and singers perform their pieces. He sings with the chorus of gospel music, claps enthusiastically when the dancer finishes and joins in with the laughter from the host.
Now, it’s his turn. Owens ascends the stage. He wishes he had more time for his sermon—he’s had to cut a lot out. But he knows what to say. He knows what the people will want to hear. Like before, he’s prepared this sermon for months.

He starts with a joke. A subtle one, but it makes the audience laugh. As he transitions to preaching, he becomes a new man. He’s loud, he’s metaphorical, he walks back and forth rapidly and he gesticulates wildly.

When he’s finished, he’s almost breathless.

The reaction is insane.

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