Canon Peter Sedgwick writes:
THE Revd John Lowen, who died peacefully at his home in Nova Scotia, Canada, on 21 December, aged 70, was a parish priest for more than 30 years, in England and latterly in Alberta, Canada. A passionate and larger-than-life character, he did much to establish lay ministry in his parishes. John was perhaps, one of the last colonials.
Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 1947, his world soon opened up significantly in the 1950s when he was raised in Malaya during the Emergency, while his father served in the Malayan police force. Despite having a tiger as a pet and being locked by his mother in a swimming pool with a snake, he survived, and in the late ’50s he was moved to England, after his father’s illness with malaria. After school, John’s sense of adventure was strong, and he volunteered for overseas service in the Solomon Islands, where he helped to maintain peace between two tribes.
The experiences that he had while in colonial service were for ever etched into his character. In the late ’60s, he read psychology at Dundee University, and he pursued a career in the probation service. He also trained as a psychotherapist, working intensively with child-abusers. This work anticipated much later approaches to the reality of abuse by several decades.
John Michael Lowen trained for ordination at Lincoln Theological College, where Alec Graham was Principal, and attained a first in theology at Nottingham University. He was ordained, aged 30, in Southwell Minster. After he had served two curacies, Alec Graham, now Bishop of Newcastle, asked him in 1982 to come to St Mary’s, Monkseaton. I worked with him as his work consultant during this period.
He did a huge amount to reorder the liturgy, develop lay ministry into teams that focused on particular areas, such as baptism preparation or youth work, developed several buildings in partnership with social services and charities, and played a significant part in developing Brother Harold’s ministry at Shepherd’s Law, in Northumbria, both financially and in terms of organisation. This is noted in the recent book Oneness by Stephen Platten.
After eight years at Monkseaton, and a whirlwind of change, John did the same at Ponteland, which was another large Anglo-Catholic parish, from 1990 to 1995.
John, however, recognised the demands which this incessant change made on him. He spent 12 years in much smaller parishes as part of rural ministry. Five years in the Fens at Long Sutton were followed by his return to Canada, in the far north at Fairview and Grand Prairie, in Alberta.
John had a great love of nature: fishing, the countryside, and, above all, his many dogs of varied size whom he trained beautifully and who accompanied him everywhere. When his health worsened, aged 60, he retired with his wife, Pauline, to the small fishing village of Annapolis Royal, in Nova Scotia, where he lived for ten years. He helped in parishes near by, and was a spiritual director to members of the clergy.
John had a huge influence on many people. He was often consulted by bishops for his wisdom, and his advice was always direct and uncomplicated. His private ministry was one of both spiritual direction and psychotherapy, which he never confused. He maintained a deep spirituality, often hidden but very powerful, rooted in the Orthodox sense of God’s being found in the world as a deep wisdom, which could triumph over evil in spite of everything. He read voraciously: from modern novels to Austin Farrer and medieval spirituality.
The qualities that he possessed made him perfectly suited to training future clergy. John spent much time on selection panels, trained many assistant curates, and gave talks to future clergy in training. He gave a final set of addresses to St Michael’s College, Llandaff, in Lent 2014, which had a great influence.
He was at his best with those who were not churchgoers: his experience of life, strength of character, and knowledge of the countryside meant that he was seen as someone not easily forgotten. He emphasised in his addresses that the task that the Church was called to was incarnational and sacramental. Its vocation was living out God’s presence in the world among ordinary people, and not simply maintaining the Church’s own life.