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The Rev. Grace Elizabeth Bowen dies at age 69

Gifts in her memory can be made to the PC(USA)’s Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries

by Gail Strange | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Grace Bowen was known for her warm and welcoming personality. (Contributed photo)

LOUISVILLE — The Rev. Grace Bowen, interim pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Newtown in Elmhurst, New York since September 2019, has died at age 69.

The minister and member of the Presbytery of New York City succumbed to COVID-19 on April 20, 2020.

Described as a joyous, warm and welcoming person, Bowen would often invite children up during worship services to sing at the last minute. Or she’d replace the sermon she’d prepared with a different message she felt needed to be shared.

She was known for her warm and welcoming personality and the way she treated everyone like a special guest. Parishioners said she was always ready with a hug and a smile.

Bowen received her bachelor’s degree from Northeastern University in Boston, a Master of Education from Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and a Master of Divinity from United Lutheran Seminary in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. She was licensed to preach the gospel by the Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church of Milwaukee and was ordained by the National Baptist Convention on March 28, 1987.

Bowen served in the Presbytery of Detroit as an associate pastor at Calvin East Presbyterian Church, interim associate pastor at Westminster Church of Detroit, pastor of the Gratiot Avenue Presbyterian Church and as a member of the presbytery’s program staff before joining  the Presbytery of New York City.

“I remember when I met Rev. Grace Bowen many years ago in Detroit,” said the Rev. Dr. Rhashell Hunter, director of Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries in the Presbyterian Mission Agency. “What I loved about Grace is that she was straightforward and wise. We saw each other at church events and talked about a number of things when she was in Detroit and in New York. I always loved seeing, talking, and laughing with her.”

“In the Presbyterian Mission Agency, we pray for the family of Rev. Bowen,” Hunter said. “Gratitude abounds for the family’s request that donations be made in her name to Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries for Leadership Development for Leaders of Color.

“Grace exemplified good pastoral leadership, and she was a true friend,” Hunter said. “She has fought the good fight, she has finished the race and she has kept the faith. O God, receive our sister Grace Elizabeth Bowen into the glorious company of the saints in light.”

“To have walked — or, more accurately, to have danced — alongside Grace was to have served Christ’s church with joy and a proverbial spring in my step,” said the Rev. Emily Enders Odom, mission interpretation strategist for the Presbyterian Mission Agency and a co-worker with Bowen at the Presbytery of New York City.

“When Grace preached her sermon titled ‘Dancing with the Spirit’ at my ordination in April 1991, not only was she charging me, she was also powerfully embodying her own call to ministry.”

Bowen was received as a minister member of the Presbytery of New York City on Jan. 1, 1990, with a call as the associate executive presbyter for Educational Ministries. Following this service, she became co-pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Staten Island, served as part-time pastor at Mount Morris-Ascension Presbyterian Church, and most recently was thrilled to begin her interim service at the First Presbyterian Church of Newtown, one of the oldest continuously worshiping congregations in the Presbytery of New York City.

The most recent call for the Rev. Grace Bowen was at the First Presbyterian Church of Newtown in Elmhurst, New York. (Contributed photo)

“Rev. Bowen was so influential in a quiet way within the PC(USA),” said the Rev. Dr. Derrick W. McQueen, pastor of the St. James Presbyterian Church in New York City. St. James is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year and is the oldest African American Presbyterian church in the city. Its mother church, Shiloh Presbyterian Church, established for freed African Americans and an icon of the abolitionist Presbyterian movement, was founded in 1822.

“Rev. Grace E. Bowen was an African American woman minister of Word and Sacrament, a teaching elder in the PC(USA) for 40 years,” McQueen said. “She was about honoring women of color ─ making sure their voices were heard and that they would forge ahead for racial justice. Having started her career called to serve in congregational life, it is a blessing that after many years of serving in several levels of church councils, she ended her career excited for her call at the congregation of the First Presbyterian Church of Newtown.

“She spent several years commuting each week from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to New York, New York, on the bus labeled ‘the Chinese Bus,’” McQueen said. “Although it may seem insensitive to call this bus this, Rev. Grace lifted up the historical notion of the precursor of the ‘MegaBus’ phenomenon as a cultural process by which a community enabled its economically disenfranchised peoples to earn a living and maintain community with family.”

“She was able to do that with many issues of racial reconciliation, uplifting the historical and community pride of a people, class and gender,” McQueen said. “She literally enjoyed a traveling ministry in these trips knowing the drivers and community of travelers and helping to guide them on their way, whether home, visit, family reconciliation, broken hearts … She shared the grace of Christ healing hearts through prayer for the long haul.”

McQueen says Bowen truly owned her first name in bringing light to the disenfranchised such as churches without ordained ministers by serving as moderator to a plethora of churches, preparing them for leadership.

“She believed in a trained body of ruling elders and deacons and was a sought-after trainer to uplift the gifts and talents of those called to do the work in the church,” McQueen said.

“Grace had a smooth calming tone to her voice that allowed her to have conversations about God in a simple way; sharing deep theological thoughts and concepts while proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” said the Rev. Althelia H. Pond, pastor of Mount Morris Ascension Presbyterian Church in Harlem in New York City. “She lived out her name to the fullest.  Grace was ‘grace,’ demonstrating the compassionate response of one who is able to help another person in need.  She loved God and she loved all of humanity.  I watched her turn the other cheek and keep pressing towards the higher goal in Christ Jesus; always listening to what God was calling her to do.”

“Grace’s words of wisdom to me are priceless and deeply missed,” Pond said. “I am truly blessed and thankful to God that she was in my life.”

Gifts in memory of Bowen can be made online or by mail. Those wishing to donate to Leadership Development for Leaders of Color should click here to donate online. To send a check, make it payable to “Presbyterian Mission Agency” and write  “In memory of Rev. Grace Elizabeth Bowen – E051484” on the memo line. Gifts can be mailed to: Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), PO Box 643700, Pittsburgh, PA 15264-3700.

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