Newsline Remembrance: S. Loren Bowman

“Remember the long way that the Lord your God has led you…” (Deuteronomy 8:2a).

S. Loren Bowman served as general secretary of the Church of the Brethren from July 15, 1968, through his retirement on Dec. 31, 1977. He passed away on June 17 at the age of 98. (Photo from Messenger files)

S. Loren Bowman, 98, former general secretary of the Church of the Brethren, passed away on June 17. He was general secretary of the denomination for almost a decade, from July 15, 1968, until his retirement Dec. 31, 1977. At the time of his death he was living in La Verne, Calif.

“Please remember in your prayers at this time of loss, the Bowman family and all who mourn his passing,” said a prayer request from the Church of the Brethren general offices in Elgin, Ill.

In total Bowman spent 19 years in church administration, having been executive secretary of the Christian Education Commission for 10 years until his appointment as general secretary. During that time he led development of group life programs, and curriculum planning built on a congregation defining its own educational goals. He worked with college administrators to establish Brethren Colleges Abroad. He also served on various units of the National Council of Churches, including the Division of Christian Education, Department of Educational Development, and Division of Christian Unity.

He was named acting general secretary for four months in early 1968, during the illness and subsequent death of the previous general secretary Norman J. Baugher.

Bowman was born Oct. 7, 1912, in Franklin County, Va., to Cornelius D. and Ellen Bowman. He was a graduate of Bridgewater (Va.) College, earned bachelor and doctor of divinity degrees from Bethany Theological Seminary (then Bethany Biblical Seminary), and did graduate work in religious education at the University of Pittsburgh. In 1935 he married Claire M. Andrews.

He served in eight pastorates over the course of his career, and prior to his employment on the denominational staff was a member and chair of the former General Brotherhood Board, elected at the 1952 Annual Conference. He was licensed to the ministry in 1932, ordained in 1933, and made an elder in 1942.

He was author of the book, “Power and Polity Among the Brethren: A Study of Church Governance,” and wrote a membership study book, “Choosing the Christian Way.” He served on the editorial board of “Brethren Life and Thought” and was on the committee that produced “The Brethren Hymnal.” In 1969 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Bridgewater, and in 1977 received the college’s Distinguished Alumnus Award.

On retirement as general secretary, his citation noted the “key frontiers” of his administration: “One was to regard diversity or pluralism within the church as a source of enrichment. Another was to seek to consolidate established programs in order that new priorities could be addressed. A third was to structure the general secretariat so that power would be shared and authority delegated in a team approach.”

In his work as general secretary, he was remembered for the question, “Is the usual enough?” He oversaw a major reorganization of the former General Board, which included a large turnover of staff, putting an emphasis on a team approach to administration, greater flexibility in program, closer coordinator of overseas ministries, and heightened response to mission in the world.

He was quoted in a 1977 newspaper article, during his last year as general secretary, as saying to the Annual Conference that new understandings of how the planet and its people are tied together inseparably in creation, and finding a new way of life on this planet, is a foremost task of the church.

In retirement, he continued to advocate creative thinking in the church. He wrote occasional pieces for “Messenger” magazine including an Aug. 1984 column on “Looking Beyond the Usual” calling the church to search for a more holistic approach to life, and an opinion piece in Oct. 1993 advising, “We should be talking about the nature of our diversity.”

A memorial service is planned for Friday, June 24, at 2 p.m. at La Verne (Calif.) Church of the Brethren (2425 “E” Street, La Verne, CA 91750-4912; 909-593-1364). Memorial gifts are received to La Verne Church of the Brethren.