John Rowland was born in Bodmin, Cornwall, in 1918, and was brought up as a Methodist. He was, however, rather a rebellious Methodist, and quickly became interested in science.
He attended Bodmin Grammar School and Plymouth College, then the University of Bristol, where he studied physics and chemistry, receiving a BSc in 1929. He then earned a diploma in education and taught science in a Protestant grammar school in County Donegal. He disliked teaching, however, and became a freelance writer in London, as there were not enough opportunities in Bristol for him to earn a living.
He became an editorial assistant for C Frederick Watts, a London publisher closely associated with the Rationalist Press Association, and became editor of The Free Thinker's Digest. He was a rationalist who attacked conventional theology, but felt reverence towards a universal mystery, and felt that rationalism ought to appeal to the emotions as well as to reason.
He married in 1937 and moved to Leeds, where he first came into contact with Unitarianism.
During the Second World War, he was a technician in the scientific civil service. The war caused a crisis in his thinking, and he began to feel that there needed to be a synthesis between science and religion. After the war, he left the employment of Frederick Watts and continued with his freelance writing career.
In the early 1950s, he began writing articles for The Inquirer
. In 1952, he became Lay Pastor at Brighton and Ditchling, and began studying for the ministry at Manchester College, Oxford. He was minister at Tenterden and Northiam from 1965 to 1973, and at Trowbridge from 1973 to 1976. He then retired to Bristol.
He was editor of The Unitarian
magazine from 1975 until his death in 1984. He was also Publications Officer for the Lindsey Press
from 1966 to 1977.
His first wife died in 1965, and he later married Marguerite Millen.