Aberdeen First Pentecostal Church of Aberdeen, Miss. sits on three city blocks and is notably the largest church in the city. Pastor Ricky Bowen’s desire in life was to honor his late father, Bro. William E. Bowen, by endeavoring to make AFPC the greatest and most focal church in Aberdeen. He said, “My dad, who pastored before me, was a prince of a man and the greatest man I have ever known. He was so brilliant and yet so very humble. He faithfully labored in the work of the Lord for 42 years, pastoring and building houses on the side until his death.”
Bro. Ricky Bowen and his wife, Barbara, whom he refers to as Barbie doll, have three children; a daughter, Andrea Cucchiara (35) who teaches at the church school, sons, Brad (31) who plays guitar and bass, and Zach (19) who plays the keyboard and organ. Cody, their adopted son, works in the Media Ministry and sings on the Praise Team. The Bowens have five grandchildren: Abby, Maddie, Ian, Chase and Reid. Their son-in-law, Jim Cucchiara, directs the Media Ministry and their daughter-in-law, Jenna Bowen, teaches at the church school.
Principles of Growth & Revival
“Everything we do is about souls,” said Bishop Bowen. “I believe the most important key to having a growing church is a true passion for souls. Our lighting display during the worship services has powerful visual effects, and our altar services are explosive! We have grown from 40 in attendance to 350 in 13 years. My priority as pastor is to develop great leaders under me. Of all our outreach efforts such as knocking doors and neighborhood events, we have found that personal evangelism brings the greatest results for us in growth.”
Organization & Management
AFPC has a variety of departments and ministries within the church. “Our Youth Ministry is named AMPED,” he said. “We have a Hyphen Ministry, SISTERS in Christ (Ladies Ministry), Men of Honor (Men’s Ministry), Pathfinders is our Young Couples Ministry, Ark Builders (Children’s Ministry), Pentecostal Christian Academy and our Pentecostal Daycare, the oldest privately owned daycare in the state of Mississippi. Our church is largely made up of young couples, who work very hard, and we draw a lot of leaders from this group. The reason why we call the Children’s Ministry Ark Builders is that we believe if they help build the ark, they tend to stay in the ark.
“One of our most effective ministries has been our Martial Arts School at the church. The teacher is Bro. Eric Nabors, who has a Black Belt Master in Aikido. This is a martial art that teaches students discipline, a more evasive mindset, and how to protect themselves, while also protecting their attacker from injury. This ministry attracts a large spectrum of people from our community. The classes are for ages 5 to 12 and 12 to adult.”
Bro. Bowen is very proud of AFPC’s dynamic Music Ministry, led by Sis. Shana Terry. He said, “We hold a music clinic twice a year, taught by Bro. Jeremy and Sis. Barbie Hoffee, which is attended by local churches also. Two of our singers were part of the Mass Choir at 2015 General Conference. Our Media Ministry won the Award of Excellence in 2014 Worship Through Media Conference. The award was presented by Todd Starnes of Fox News, who wrote a book titled Godless America.” Bro. Bowen believes AFPC’s Media Ministry is the best in the world!
“I am a stickler for consistency,” he explained. “I meet with my department heads and ministry leaders bi-monthly. And I meet weekly with all who want to be leaders, doing vision casting and pastoral studies. We utilize our own training and wrote our own syllabus. Every eight weeks we take a two-month break and then begin again. Pastor James Terry and Assistant Pastor Randall Carmeans teach the young ministers.”
Bishop Bowen said that 18 percent of the congregation is involved in some form of ministry. But he hopes to continue to increase that percentage. “Thirty percent of the members are involved in evangelism,” he said. “Pastor Terry, whose greatest passion is for workers to love souls and love God, teaches our Evangelism class. We believe if people see a passion for souls through the classes, they will become passionate. We follow through with Next Step, our ten-week discipleship course for new converts.”
“The greatest miracle in my life was our grandson, Reid,” said Bro. Bowen. “He couldn’t cry or speak when he was born, because his vocal cords weren’t developed, so someone stayed awake at night to watch his facial expressions. I promised God if He would heal him, I would tell everyone I meet. My daughter-in-law brought him to the altar, and God miraculously healed him one night. He cried all night long and has never stopped talking since! And I do tell everyone I meet. We experienced another miracle when we were growing fast and needed a larger building. I had attended school and college with the owner of the shopping center across the street. He is now deceased, but he walked across the street one day and gave us the title to that entire property! The money from the leases of that property comes in every month. And God proved His faithfulness by an astounding miracle when we needed the funds for our Hamilton daughter work. After prayer one morning, the Lord said, ‘You stand still. I pay my bills; you just keep planning.’ Our Sunday offering was $269,000. On my way home in my truck, God spoke this to me, ‘You’ll listen to me from now on. I pay my bills!’”
“I grew up in the South where we were the obscurity,” said Pastor Bowen. “But we are not a people to be ashamed. We are royalty! I believe our churches should be the very best. I came from the peanut brittle days, and I sincerely believe we should make every effort to move beyond that. One example is the only sports complex in Aberdeen. When I took my five-year-old son to play there, I overhead people in front of us say, ‘The Pentecostals are here, there goes the neighborhood.’ My son is now 19, and AFPC owns the entire 21-acre sports complex, including five ball fields, concessions, the equipment, scoreboards, future walking track and pavilion, all purchased for $75,000. I remind our church all the time that we are the head and not the tail. People really want to be like us, regardless of the fact we dress a certain way or live a certain way.”
Pastor Bowen enjoys teaching from the Torah most of all. He explained, “I love teaching how Judaism is tied into Christianity, because it gives such an in-depth understanding of who we really are and where we come from. One of the most beautiful teachings about an old Jewish doctrine was called The Two Powers In Heaven from John 1:1. People call me, expressing the impact the teachings on Judaism has made upon them.”
He said the focus of his ministry is toward young couples. “I believe they are the lifeline of a church. In fact, eighty percent of our church is youth.”
“We have over 100,000 square feet under roof,” said Bro. Bowen, “including our sanctuary that seats 500, our school, daycare, large gym, large dining hall, Sunday school rooms, administrative offices and two commercial kitchens. Our church is like a campus, with seven large buildings. We just finished the $400,000 gym with bleachers and paid cash for it. God laid part of our property in our lap. We are upgrading our facilities at AFPC with a huge foyer, prayer rooms and a drive-through entrance.
“We have averaged 12-15 new families per year for 13 years, and are working on a project to increase that to 20-25 families per year. Sixty-eight filled with the Holy Ghost and baptized last year are faithful supporters of the church. We have three daughter works.
“Through our Promise Project, at Abundant Life we are building a church of about 10,000 square feet right now in Hamilton, Mississippi on 3½ acres. That church runs 80-85, and the new sanctuary will seat 300. Bro. Joseph Kennedy is the site pastor there. Our daughter work, The Pentecostals of Okolona, will have a new 10,000-square-foot sanctuary in Okolona, Mississippi, and Bro. Jason Salisbury is the site pastor there. Our third daughter work is Thaxton UPC, a 3,000-square-foot sanctuary in Thaxton, Mississippi, and Bro. Billy Foster is the site pastor there. I meet with all three pastors at 1:30 p.m. every Sunday, and they attend our 3 p.m. Sunday services. My dad preached a message about having bread at midnight, and we are planning for the harvest to come for bread in the midnight hour.”
Bro. Bowen grew up in Aberdeen and was raised in the church he currently pastors. He received the Holy Ghost at eight and his calling to preach at 15. “I preached my first sermon October 1975 at a youth service where Sis. Louise Hickman was my youth director, and she impacted my life as a young man,” explained Bro. Bowen. “My greatest influence was my father and Bro. Jerry Jones, a true Pentecostal statesman. Both have had a great impact on my life. My favorite preacher is Bishop Douglas White, who I hold myself accountable to. And my very best friend is Bro. Sam Emory, who has been beside me and is like a brother to me.”
After attending secular college, Bro. Bowen received his Master’s degree at the Omega Bible Institute and Seminary in Louisiana. He attended online classes at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem from 2007-2009.
He recounted the amazing story of becoming pastor at AFPC. “Sis. Louise Hickman, 84 at that time, boarded a plane in Virginia to fly to Aberdeen with a word from the Lord for me. I was recovering from quadruple bypass heart surgery. She said, ‘Bro. Ricky, there are some things in your life you need to work on,’ and I began weeping. Then she said, ‘In two months, you will be doing the will of God. The road you’re about to travel is beautiful and is ordained and destined of God.’ In two months to the day, my father suddenly passed away, and I was voted in as pastor on December 17, 2002. There were 42 people. It was bittersweet, because I never thought I would pastor. My first years as pastor were more evangelistic in nature, and my goal was to honor my father with growth that would make the church great.”
According to Bishop Bowen, AFPC was started in 1929 in an old storefront on Vine Street by Sis. Ruby Bishop, who had eight children and an alcoholic husband, who came to God in later years. The pastors included Bro. Haven, Bro. S.C. McClain (a Pentecostal Pioneer), Bro. E.J. McClintock (former UPCI General Sunday School Director), Bro. J. E. Anderson (former MS District Superintendent), and then William E. Bowen in 1960. Artifacts of the history of the church are stored in glass cases.
Pastor Bowen’s favorite leisure activity is to golf with the men in the church. He said, “As a general contractor, the one thing people would be surprised to learn is that I enjoy building massive churches on the side, and I have six churches to build.
“I cannot stress how important my family is to me, and they are my greatest support,” he said. “I will not offer my children on the altar of convenience. My favorite time is our Thanksgiving family trip each year that the church helps pay for and the times we spend together as a family around the table, talking and laughing. It is God first, family second, and church third.”
His favorite author is John Maxwell. The family has a pet Shih Tzu, named Bandit, who goes to the church with him and runs around the church while he prays.