Mark Bowman, co-founder and long-time leader of the Reconciling Congregation Program (now Reconciling Ministries Network) in the United Methodist Church, was born in December 1951, in Mt. Vernon, Ohio. He earned a B.A. degree in social service from Cleveland State University in 1974 and worked in Cleveland, Ohio, in social work and urban ministry. He entered Boston University School of Theology in September, 1978, and earned an M.Div. degree in 1982. Bowman "came out" while in seminary and participated in the second Gay and Lesbian Seminarians' Conference at Harvard Divinity School in November, 1979, and worked with Affirmation: United Methodists for Gay and Lesbian Concerns at the United Methodist General Conference in Indianapolis in May 1980. Bowman served on Affirmation's Coordinating Committee from 1981-82.
Bowman was ordained a deacon by the East Ohio Conference in June, 1980. His public involvement with Affirmation and gay/lesbian concerns led to an official church inquiry that resulted in the Conference voting to "discontinue" his probationary membership in June, 1981.
Bowman moved to Washington, D.C., in September 1981 where he continued his involvement and leadership with Affirmation and its Mid-Atlantic chapter. He was one of Affirmation's delegates to the May 1982 interdenominational lesbian/gay conference that resulted in the formation of the short-lived Lesbian/Gay Interfaith Alliance. He also coordinated Affirmation's witness to the U.M. General Conference in Baltimore in 1984.
Bowman served on an Affirmation task force to plan the launching of a congregational-based organizing project modeled after the Presbyterian More Light Program. The plan for the Reconciling Congregation Program (RCP) was adopted by Affirmation in 1983 and officially launched at the U.M. General Conference in Baltimore in May 1984. Bowman served as volunteer co-coordinator of the RCP from its inception and was instrumental in the founding and publishing of the quarterly magazine Manna for the Journey in 1985 (renamed Open Hands in 1986 due to a trademark dispute).
The continued growth of the RCP led Bowman to leave his employment with Bread for the World in 1987 and become part-time coordinator of the RCP. During this time he was also employed part-time with the National Task Force on AIDS Prevention and the Gay & Lesbian Pride Committee of Washington, D.C. Trained in keyboard performance and choral directing and having worked as a church musician in Cleveland and D.C., Bowman became musical director of the fledgling Lesbian & Gay Chorus of Washington, D.C. in 1985. The LGCW grew from 12 to 60 singers during his seven years there.
Bowman moved to Chicago in 1992 where the RCP opened its national office and Mark became full-time executive director. In September 1992 Bowman convened the first gathering of the leaders of the "welcoming church" programs in mainline Protestant denominations. Bowman facilitated annual meetings of this body in succeeding years and cooperative ventures that included ecumenical sponsorship of Open Hands magazine and a ground-breaking Bible study curriculum, Claiming the Promise.
For the 10th anniversary of the RCP in 1994, Bowman oversaw the commissioning of an original musical drama, HOME: The Parable of Beatrice and Neal, that toured 15 Midwestern cities. In 1996 Bowman coordinated the momentous "Open the Doors" campaign at the U.M. General Conference in Denver.
Upon his retirement from the RCP in the summer of 1999, Mark became the coordinator of the first ecumenical Witness Our Welcome (WOW) Conference that brought together 1,000 LGBT Christians and allies in August, 2000. He continued as staff coordinator for the second WOW Conference in August 2003 in Philadelphia.
Bowman's interest in the history of LGBT religious movements led to the founding of the LGBT Religious Archives Network at Chicago Theological Seminary in the spring of 2002. This unique information clearinghouse on LGBTQ history around the world became a program of the Center for LGBTQ & Gender Studies in Religion at the Pacific School of Religion in 2008 and Bowman continued as project coordinator. He guided the LGBTQ Religious Archives Network to become an independent non-for-profit corporation with its own board of directors in 2020 and became its executive director.
Bowman continued his work as church musician and worship leader in Chicago. He trained with the United Methodist Global Praise program and the Iona Community (Scotland) as enlivener of congregational song and led singing and worship in numerous local, regional and national gatherings. He served as minister of music at the United Church of Rogers Park (Chicago) from 2001 to 2012; then at Grace Lutheran Church in Evanston from 2012 through 2021. His innovative music and worship leadership was the subject of a feature article, "New Harmonies," in the Christian Century (November 2011).
Bowman was honored by the Methodist Federation for Social Action with its Lee and Mae Ball Award for "outstanding Christian social witness" in May, 2000. He received the Moderator's Award for Partnership from the Metropolitan Community Churches in 2019. Boston University School of Theology recognized Bowman as a Distinguished Alumnus in September 2021.
He lives in Chicago where he enjoys biking, gardening and hanging out with his two daughters and three grandchildren.
(This biographical statement provided by Mark Bowman.)
Biography Date: February 2003; rev. February 2022
Methodist (UMC, United Methodist Church) | Affirmation (United Methodist) | Reconciling Ministries Network (formerly Reconciling Congregation Program) | Author/editor | Online activist | Chicago | Illinois | Bowman, Mark
“Mark Bowman | Profile”, LGBTQ Religious Archives Network, accessed January 30, 2023, https://lgbtqreligiousarchives.org/profiles/mark-bowman.