The middle name of Professor Kenneth Rowe could be Wesley after John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. Completely captivated and committed to his religious tradition, Rowe devoted his career to documenting and writing about the landscape of Methodism in America.
After completing his ministerial studies at Yale Divinity School (BD, 1962), he was ordained a methodical pastor at a conference in Eastern Pennsylvania. After three years as a pastor and minister on campus, he longed for time, skills, and credentials to delve deeper into the history of his denomination. To that end, he earned a doctorate in American religious history from Drew University (PhD in 1969) and a master’s degree in librarianship (MLS, Rutgers University, 1970). With these double credentials, he won a joint appointment at Drew: professor of American religious history at the School of Theology and methodological librarian at the University Library. He held those positions until his retirement thirty-four years later.
Extremely research-wise, Rowe has written or co-authored 14 books, edited or co-edited seven books, written 36 essays and articles, and founded and edited 4 scientific series. Known for his clear, sharp writing, his extensive publications on American Methodism culminated in two volumes, along with Russell E. Richey and Jean Miller Schmidt, which became leading textbooks in the field: The Methodist Experience in America: History (2010) and his companion, Sourcebook (2000).
Perhaps his significant achievement was persuading the president of Drew University and the university librarian to join forces with him to compete with other universities to secure a new home for the national archives of the United Methodist Church on the Drew campus. At the heart of their proposal was the construction of a state-of-the-art archive, along with underground vaults. Their offer won. Combined with Drew’s significant holdings and special collections that Rowe sought from donors, Drew became one of three major centers for the study of methodology in the world. Rowe liked to call it the “church attic.” Hundreds of dissertations, books and articles originate from these collections. The conference room of the Center bears Rowe’s name.
The genius of Rowe’s perspective of methodology was a view from the bench, not a view from the church hierarchy. As Russell Richey put it: “Rowe drew our attention to the importance of our daily lives as members of the church – Sunday schools, popular songs, church architecture, women’s organizations, MP clubs, protest movements and worship.” He was also the unofficial archivist of the gay movement in the United Methodist Church.
Retired, Rowe continued to write and increasingly found time to participate in regional antique car events, proudly driving his esteemed forest green, white roof, 1964 Chrysler Imperial convertible. Singing in the church choir and gardening as a volunteer at Tryon Palace in New Bern gave him great pleasure.
Rowe died on October 8, 2021 at CarolinaEast Medical Center near his home in New Bern, North Carolina. He was 84 years old.
Rowe was left by husband James Sawyer; daughters Laura Rowe and Jennifer Constant to his first wife Susan Rowe; son-in-law Jon Constant; grandson Jason Constant; sisters Connie Correll and Nan Kunkel; and son-in-law Jerry Kunkel. The commemoration will be held later at Craig Chapel, Drew Theological School, Madison, New Jersey.
Donations in his honor can be donated to: Drew University, 36 Madison Avenue, Madison, New Jersey 07940.
This article was republished with permission from the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference website.