posted in: Woman to Woman Newsletter | 0

By Maggie Rowe

Lucinda Secrest McDowell
Beloved New England Author, Speaker, and Leader

In January, Lucinda Secrest McDowell co-directed an annual five-day event in Texas focusing on wellness for writers while finalizing plans for reNEW – the spiritual retreat for New England writers and speakers she co-founded 10 years ago.

In February, Lucinda arranged to have a shy Southern humorist named Sean Dietrich perform in Mark Twain’s home in Connecticut – a dream come true for a high school dropout turned Grand Old Opry star.

In mid-March, Lucinda – “Cindy” to her family and friends – entered hospice care after having been diagnosed with metastatic cancer only weeks before.

On March 25, Cindy Secrest McDowell met the Lord she loved, face to face.

When asked to pen a tribute to the woman who was my best friend for over 30 years, I knew these words would be baptized in tears. How could a gifted women’s leader who was vital to ministry not only in New England but throughout the country be taken from us so quickly? Her family needed her. Her friends were left reeling in shock.

 As women of faith, how do we cope with such profound loss?

Lucinda Secrest was born in Thomasville, Georgia, nearly 70 years ago. The name chosen by her parents means Bringer of Light. While Cindy never lost her love for her native South – or her propensity to call everyone “honey,” Cindy’s passion to know and serve God took her throughout the world.

A graduate of Furman University and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Cindy served in both obscure and highly visible places – ministering to the rural poor of Appalachia and helping to staff the international Lausanne conference for evangelism in Switzerland. When employed as missions pastor for Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in California, Cindy met and married the love of her life, the Reverend Michael McDowell, and adopted his three young children. A fourth child, Maggie, joined the family a few years later.

While raising her family and championing the needs of oldest son Justin, who was born with intellectual disabilities, Cindy became acquainted with Joni Eareckson Tada. She often spoke at Joni & Friends events and volunteered for the Special Olympics, becoming a lifelong advocate for those with special needs.

Cindy did all this while penning hundreds of magazine articles, keynoting countless retreats and conferences, contributing to over 30 books, and authoring 16 award-winning books of her own, including her legacy title Soul Strong: 7 Keys to a Vibrant Life. A final book of blessings, as yet untitled, is due to be published posthumously by Christian Art Gifts.

If anyone knew what it meant to live vibrantly in both serenity and strength, it was Cindy.

Although Cindy attended Gordon-Conwell Seminary in the late ’70s with my husband, Mike, we did not meet again until I accepted a position in 1991 at what was later called Vision New England as director of women’s ministries, the precursor to by design. Having just begun a new ministry to women at our 150-year-old church on Cape Cod, I felt inadequate to helm a regional ministry. Quite frankly, I was extremely anxious about my new responsibilities. The position demanded everything I had and – more to the point – everything I did not.

Exceptionally gifted at organizing events and people, Cindy wrote to offer her assistance. I gratefully accepted. We both loved Jesus, the Light of the world. But when it came to letting our individual lights shine? I was a 40-watt bulb. Cindy was a chandelier. A deep friendship launched that was to have lasted a lifetime.

Or should have.

Over the next 30-plus years, Cindy and I accepted joint speaking engagements and collaborated on writing projects. We administered conferences together and cheered each other on through serious family crises. Even after a new pastorate took my husband and me to the Midwest in 2002 and then into retirement in North Carolina in 2018, Cindy and I remained besties. She was the same-age “twin” I never thought to have – a kindred spirit in lifelong ministry to women, a sister of the heart.

On her ministry website earlier this year, Cindy posted these words:

“My purpose in life – to glorify God – remains firm, but the actual ‘marching orders’ are constantly unfolding in new scenarios and new seasons. I am so utterly grateful for every moment God allows me to live authentically and love extravagantly!”

On March 25, 2023, God changed those marching orders. His faithful servant, Lucinda Secrest McDowell, bringer of light, passed through the door of mortality into eternity.

It’s said there are some who bring a light so great to the world that even after they have gone, the light remains.

Her light remains.

– Maggie Wallem Rowe

Were you one of the many women impacted by Lucinda’s life during her 30+ years of regional ministry in New England? If you wish to honor her memory, a scholarship fund has been established to enable others to attend reNEW, the spiritual retreat for New England writers and speakers that Lucinda co-founded:

Maggie Wallem Rowe is a national speaker and dramatist who writes from Peace Ridge, her home in the mountains of North Carolina. Maggie and her husband Mike served three churches during 42 years of full-time ministry, two of those in New England. Mother of three and grandmother to six, Maggie is the author of This Life We Share and Life is Sweet, Y’all. Visit her at

Maggie is also one of our featured speakers in the by design Speakers Directory. If you are looking for a Christian speaker for your special event, please visit our online directory or contact us to request a hard copy.