The Rev. Cynthia Johnson Ward died on May 9, 2017 at the age of 88.
Cynthia was born to parents Charles and Alice Johnson on August 11, 1928 in Auburndale, MA. She was raised in the Congregationalist faith, and would later reflect that she felt a call toward ministry as early as childhood: Her mother died when Cynthia was only five, raising “existential questions” that she believed faith could help her answer. In 1950 Cynthia earned a Bachelor of Arts from Douglass College (now Douglass Residential College) in New Brunswick, NJ. A year later she married her beloved husband Jack Ward, beginning a marriage that would last over 50 years.
Before her children were born, Cynthia worked as a journalist and editor; later she taught high school English, and earned a Master of Arts in Teaching from Trenton State College in 1975. Having transitioned with Jack away from the faith traditions of their childhoods and finding a spiritual home in Unitarian Universalism, Cynthia served as a religious educator at her congregations throughout the 60s and 70s. In 1975 she became the RE Coordinator at the Unitarian Church of Princeton (now the UU Congregation of Princeton), NJ, a position she would hold for seven years. After a time, however, Cynthia began to pursue her call toward ministry in earnest. She carried out her ministerial internship at the First UU Church of Essex County, N.J. from 1983 to 1984, and received a Master of Divinity from New Brunswick Theological Seminary in 1984. Finally on November 17, 1985 Rev. Ward was ordained by the Princeton congregation.
After ordination, Rev. Ward first spent a year as the Interim Minister at the First Unitarian Society of Westchester in Hastings-On-Hudson, NY, after which she served the First Unitarian Congregational Society of Brooklyn, NY as their Minister of Religious Education. Rev. Ward then returned to the Westchester congregation, ministering there from 1989 to 1992. Finally in 1994 she returned to the First UU Church of Essex County in Orange, NJ, serving the congregation for three years. Rev. Ward retired in 2000, but remained active in her congregations, most recently at the UU Congregation of Asheville, NC.
Outside of her ministry, Cynthia was a great appreciator of the arts: She enjoyed attending concerts and the theatre, as well as visiting art museums, galleries, and shows. She also took great pleasure in walking and biking, gourmet cooking, reading, and writing poetry. Additionally, Cynthia was a mentor to many women seeking professions in ministry and religious education at a time when many women met resistance entering these roles and being taken seriously. But by far her greatest joy was found in spending time with her loving family, who note that it is probably no coincidence that Cynthia’s five children found their own lives’ callings in ministry, education, and the arts.
In reflecting on her denomination and ministry, Cynthia once offered the following:
I believe the challenge of being a Unitarian Universalist is the challenge of discovering just what it is you do believe and how that belief/beliefs can be alive in your life. As a minister I believe in the challenge of creating a community of faith, hope, justice, and love… As a minister I believe in enabling persons to that challenge, that grows and changes in the life of the community and in the lives of the persons involved with that community. We come together today to make our visions into tomorrow’s reality.
Cynthia’s daughter, Rev. Lisa Ward, had these lovely words to say about her mother:
A lover of learning, mom remained curious in and embracing of life throughout her years. She drank in poetry, and wrote it well. She loved art and deeply engaging conversations. Ever searching spiritually, she expressed her findings to the delight of others. I learned many things from my mother. I will ever hold her in my heart.
Cynthia is survived by children Mark, Keith, Terry, Lisa, and Scott Ward, as well as by seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. She was predeceased by her husband Jack Ward.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the UU Congregation of Asheville, 1 Edwin Place, Asheville, NC 28801; and to the Brooks-Howell Home, 266 Merrimon Ave., Asheville, NC 28801.
A memorial service will take place at 3pm on Saturday, July 22, in the chapel at the Brooks-Howell Home (address just above).
Notes of condolence can be sent to Mark Ward at 60 Elk Mt. Scenic Highway, Asheville, NC 28804.