Kenneth E. Rowe, prominent Methodist historian with strong commitment to preserving LGBTQ history, was born in 1937 in the mining community of Coaldale, Pennsylvania. He was raised in a Methodist family and enrolled in Drew University where he received his B.A. degree in 1959. He went on to earn a B.D. degree at Yale Divinity School in 1962. He was ordained in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of the Methodist Church and served three years as pastor of Gethsemane Methodist Church. He went on to study and earn a Ph.D. in History from Drew in 1969. Then he received an M.L.S. degree from Rutgers in 1970. Then he was appointed as professor of religious history at the Drew Theological School and the Methodist librarian at the University Library where he served until he retired in 2002.
Rowe was a passionate scholar of Methodist history and Drew became known as a center for study of Methodist history. In what Rowe describes as his crowning achievement he convinced the president of Drew University to offer to build a center for the United Methodist Archives there. With competing offers from Drew and Duke Universities, the United Methodist General Conference selected Drew as the site for the Archives as the preferred option. The United Methodist Archives and History Center opened at Drew in 1982. Rowe played a major role in shaping scholarship in United Methodist History through his research and writing (published fourteen books) and through mentoring many students who went on to become United Methodist historians.
Rowe decided to embrace his gay identity—which he had known about since his youth--in the late 1970s and divorced his wife. In January 1983, he met James Sawyer, at a New York dinner party hosted by a mutual friend. Sawyer worked in information technology for a law firm in New York City. They began dating and entered a relationship that lasted the rest of their lives. Rowe continually reminded the early leaders of Affirmation, the LGBTQ caucus in The United Methodist Church, to save their papers and records and donate them to the Archives. Because of Ken’s persistent efforts, the United Methodist Archives has one of the largest LGBTQ collections of any religious archives.
In 2001, Rowe joined the advisory team for the fledgling LGBTQ Religious Archives Network and played an important role in shaping that unique project to preserve the history of LGBTQ+ religious movements around the world. He provided access to numerous records, articles and accounts from LGBTQ religious activists and groups. He collected extensive information on LGBTQ history in the United Methodist Church and had plans to write this historical account, but did not complete that.
In retirement Ken and James settled in New Bern, North Carolina. There Ken enjoyed gardening, choral singing, biking excursions and cruising in his 1964 Chrysler Imperial convertible. Ken and James were legally married in 2014, one of the first same-sex couples to be married in North Carolina. Rowe died on October 8, 2021 at the age of 84.
(This biographical statement written by Mark Bowman with information from sources below.)
Biography Date: October 2021
United Methodist News Service published this obituary:
The United Methodist Commission on Archives and History published this memorial:
Rowe posted his recollection to the Yale Divinity School alumni class notes in March 2016:
Methodist (UMC, United Methodist Church) | Author/editor | Madison | New Jersey
“Kenneth Rowe | Profile”, LGBTQ Religious Archives Network, accessed December 01, 2023, https://lgbtqreligiousarchives.org/profiles/kenneth-rowe.