The Reverend Dr. Gilbert Bowen, minister emeritus at Kenilworth Union Church, died June 5, 2023 in Evanston, Illinois at the age of 91. Preceded in death by his wife of 63 years, Marlene M. Bowen, he is survived by his children, Kathryn (Robert) Irvin, Mark (Margot) Bowen and Stephen (Marnie) Bowen, sister Marilyn Borgeson, seven grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
Dr. Bowen served Kenilworth Union Church as senior minister from 1970–2007. His ministry saw the flourishing of Kenilworth Union from a small village church to a congregation that serves Chicago’s North Shore and beyond.
A Presbyterian (P.C.U.S.A.) by training, Bowen’s sermons and sermonettes for youth continue to be read and quoted by congregation members who felt like each sermon was crafted with their exact life situation in mind: he spoke from the heart to the heart, his gentle deep voice balancing everyday wisdom with freedom of thought and the inclusive love of Jesus.
Dr. Bowen had an impact on the music ministry at Kenilworth Union. He frequently sang with the choir at Thursday evening rehearsals, and his Christmas Eve rendition of “O Thou Joyful Day” (O du fröhliche) sung from the pulpit in English and German was much beloved. Marlene, ever a partner in ministry, routinely played piano for the Children’s Ministry. Their love of music together made way for the Spirit of God.
Dr. Bowen’s legacy can be seen in the vibrant youth ministry that thrives today. Early in his ministry, a handful of families asked if he might take their high school students to visit East and West Germany where he had previously served as a pastor on a pulpit exchange between his congregation in Blue Earth, Minnesota and a congregation in Neuwied, Germany. He said “yes,” and then “yes,” many more times, taking two decades worth of groups of high school students to Europe during the tense Cold War years, before (and once after) the fall of the Berlin Wall. His travel ministry was not just for the young, but for hundreds of parishioners of all ages. Dr. Bowen’s footprints can be found all over Europe and the Middle East, where he led spiritual and educational trips to sacred places like Israel, Egypt, Italy, Greece, and Turkey.
In retirement, in addition to maintaining an active faith-based travel ministry, he continued to preach at the summer chapel on White Lake in Whitehall, Michigan and at Presbyterian Homes’ Westminster Place in Evanston, presiding over many baptisms, weddings, and funerals. Together with his wife, Marlene, they oversaw the Gil and Marlene Bowen Christian Outreach Fund at Kenilworth Union Church, endowed by the members of the church to honor his long tenure, giving out meaningful grants to ministries that aligned with his Christian faith. Most recently, the fund gave a one-million-dollar grant to By the Hand to alleviate food scarcity in Chicago’s Altgeld-Murray neighborhood—the number one food desert in the nation.
The Bowen family held a private memorial service in the Bowen Memorial Garden in July. Remembrances and condolences can be mailed to the church or to family members.