A TRIBUTE TO WINNIE ROWEN (20.4.34 - 10.3.23)
I was so sorry to hear of the death of Winnie Rowen. It was just over a year ago that I wrote this now edited tribute to her husband Robert at the time of his death.
Janice and I first met Winnie at a couple of Scripture Union Family Camps that I spoke at at Ovoca Manor in County Wicklow. She was so lovely. So gentle. So loved by all of her children and grandchildren and... Janice and I quickly fell in love with her gentle presence and smile.
Of course I was always in awe of her for other reasons. Winnie lived what seems like a pretty anonymous life in the Dublin suburbs but because she took the Scriptures seriously and loved her neighbour she in many ways blessed the entire world.
Winnie along with Robert had 10 children! As if 10 were not enough, when the wee boy across Cedarwood Road lost his mother, the Rowens took him in.
The wee boy across the road in number 10 was Paul Hewson, later known as Bono. He became best friend with Derek Rowen, better known as Guggi who became the main focus of two U2 songs - One and Cedarwood Road.
Other Rowens became part of the story of the wee boy’s rock band. U2’s first album Boy and indeed their third album War had Peter Rowen's face on the covers. Peter went on to be a photographer himself and the band have used some of his photos.
Guggi wasn't the only brother with two U2 songs written about him. Both Bad and Raised By Wolves were written about Andy Rowen,who got caught up in UVF bombs in Dublin while out delivering with his dad, Robert. Read Andy's amazing story here
Anyway, it was Winnie and Robert who introduced Bono to Christian meetings. The Rowens were from the conservative Brethren and Robert was a stern, at times over stern disciplinarian. Winnie was his quiet, soft hearted yet stoic partner.
The Rowens reminded me of Andrew in the New Testament Gospels. It was Andrew who introduced his brother Peter to Jesus. Peter became the one with the widest influence but Andrew was the “gateway to the sun” as Bono sings of Robert's cherry blossom tree in the song Cedarwood Road!
I am always inspired by the very ordinary but tangible everyday way that Winnie and Robert loved their neighbour has changed millions of lives around the world. Quite an example to us all!
In the sleeve notes to Songs Of Innocence, an album about U2’s childhoods. Bono mentions the Rowens from number 5. He calls them an “Old Testament tribe.” He is so right. I have had the privilege of getting to know some of this family. I think I once made a plea to be adopted as a 60 year old brother! They are Old Testament in size and their deep roots of faith and the drama of their lives.
As well as Guggi’s friendship for life, Bono got so much more from Winnie and Robert. In the liner notes of Songs Of Innocence Bono writes about those Christian meetings with the tribe!
He writes, “In their company I saw some great preachers who opened up these scary black bibles and made the word of God dance for them, and us.” In Cedarwood Road he sings, “Cymbals clashing, Bibles smashing/Paints the world you need to see.”
Brushing Lou Reed and the Rowen family together, Bono concludes, “Lou Reed, God rest his soul, said you need a busload of faith to get by. That bus was full of Rowens and I was on it.”
A few years after the Scripture Union camps I did one of my Gospel According To...U2 nights in Crinken Parish in Bray. A clatter of the Tribe, including Winnie and Robert showed up. Jonny Rowen actually sang for me that evening. I was nervous as I shared about the songs Cedarwood Road and Raised By Wolves. If anyone could shout, “Rubbish, he’s making it up” it was Winnie and Robert.
Afterwards I sat for a time with Winnie before moving on to Robert. We had a good yarn and then he says, “You know I took Bono to Bible Clubs!” Yes I do Robert. You’re the reason so much theology got out across rock music. Even after I’d preached his successful ‘Love thy neighbour’ he was still too humble to let it sink in.
People often ask me what I spoke about the short few minutes that I had with Bono after one of the Belfast gigs on the Songs Of Innocence Tour. The answer is the Rowen family, specifically Robert, Winnie and Andy.
So, once again I send my love to all those wonderful Rowens as you mourn the loss of the matriarch of your family. Janice and I grieve Winnie's loss with you. May Jesus be proved right when he called the Holy Spirit a Comforter.
Winnie, thank you for how kind you were to us and for how kind you were to that boy from across the road. The Lord used you to be the catalyst of so many engaging with Jesus.