Walter Edwin Own was a British Anglican missionary and archdeacon in Kenya and Uganda. Born in Birmingham, England, the son of a British army warrant officer, the family soon settled in Belfast, and Owen was educated in Ulster. In 1930 he joined the Church Missionary Society (CMS) and went to their training institution in Islington, London. Ordained deacon in 1904, he sailed for Uganda, where he was ordained priest in 1905. In 1907 Owen married Isobel Barnes, who died in England in 1910. From 1904 to 1918 he worked in several parts of the British East Africa protectorate. In 1911 he married Lucy Olive Walton, a missionary colleague (d. 1953). In 1918 Owen was appointed Anglican archdeacon of Kavirondo (western Kenya), which was then part of the diocese of Uganda, with responsibility for organizing the new, rapidly expanding church among the Luo, Luyia, and Kalenjin peoples. Kenya having been declared a British colony in 1920, Owen founded the Kavirondo Taxpayers’ Welfare Association (1922) to teach Africans how to run their own affairs. Teaching how economic development actually takes place, he introduced ploughs, watermills, new crops, and bookkeeping as the secret of planned development. Over the years he educated many Luo and Luyia civic and political leaders. From the 1920s onward, he was outspoken in opposition to colonial legislation discriminating against Africans, such as forced labor and the hut tax. He asserted the right of missionaries to take part in local politics; but after 1935 he came to be regarded as politically suspect and was no longer trusted by radical Africans in western Kenya.
Beginning in 1940, he worked on a revision of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer (Luo version) until his death in Limuru, near Nairobi.
David B. Barrett
Owen’s own writings include “The Missionary in Politics,” Church Missionary Review (1921); “Empire and Church in Uganda and Kenya,” Edinburgh Review (1927); “The Relationship of Missionary and African in East Africa,” Church Missionary Review (1927); “Some Thoughts on Native Development in East Africa,” Journal of the African Society (1931); and a typescript at CMS headquarters (London) written with Alfred Stanway, The CMS in Kenya, (book 3) Nyanza Province. Charles G. Richards, Archdeacon Owen of Kavirondo: A Memoir (1947) covers most of Owen’s period.
This article is reproduced, with permission, from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, copyright © 1998, by Gerald H. Anderson, W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.