Sometimes it’s handy to gather up obits and memories in one place — and since I’ve seen less attention to Rowan than I’d have thought fitting for a man who had devoted so long and distinguished a life of service to his students, his colleagues, and his church, I wanted to make sure that the Web reserved a little corner for somebody I remember very fondly, very respectfully.
I didn’t know Rowan as well as a good many other people did; I was not a star student in Patristics, nor was I on the staff at Christ Church very long. When he invited Margaret and me home to dinner one night, I’m sure it was more because he appreciated Margaret’s work for Berkeley Divinity School than for my (unremarkable) essays in Church History I or the Anglican Ethos class. I must say, though, that he helped my academic writing considerably; he helped me understand that it was my job as a writer to make myself clear to my reader, rather than his job as my examiner to put the best construction on the overly vague points I was trying to make. He helped me take life at Christ Church less seriously, which was good for my sanity and for my relationship with Fr Miner. Margaret and I did attend the Daily Office and Eucharist regularly during our time at Berkeley, so we were accustomed to seeing him sitting in the back corner, reading along in Syriac to the New Testament lessons. In the sacristy, he would recount droll stories of Christ Church’s history. Over coffee, he would fill in blanks in my understanding of the New Testament, or early Church history, or the Church of England. And wherever there was Rowan, there was also his companion MacGregor (we also knew Rowan as custodian of another Golden, Papageno, whose regular guardians left him with Rowan for a long stint), and his pipe.
Part of formation in training for ministry involves observing the priests whom you admire and those you do not, and piecing together a clerical identity by assimilating, differentiating, and synthesising the bits of of the people you see into a liveable sense of what it means to serve God and God’s people through the Church. While I can’t imagine that anyone who knows me as a priest thinks of Rowan, I have to say that he was in many regards a model for me — even more, now that as I have occasion to look back at those days, than I’d have thought at the time.
Yale Divinity School posted an obituary, and of course the Register did as well. His colleagues are quoted there saying true things about Rowan’s stature in his fields, and his importance to generations of students, but Steve Cook’s more personal recollection rings truer to me. Perhaps this is simply my own recollection, but I have the sense that modern academia did not accord to him the fullest measure of recognition for all that he did. I thought that I remembered that his book Broken Lights and Mended Lives won an award, but the web conceals from me the name of that award; maybe the prize-winning book was Fear of Freedom, but I don’t see anything listed for that, either. At the same time, I never knew Rowan to court acclaim, so perhaps this is more appropriate to Rowan. Whatever the case — I wish the theological academy had more scholars like him.