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Presbyterian pastor, songwriter Richard Avery dies

He formed half of Avery and Marsh, which produced more than 150 ‘hymns hot and carols cool’

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Richard Avery

LOUISVILLE — The Rev. Richard Avery, half of the Avery and Marsh songwriting duo along with his longtime collaborator Don Marsh, died March 15 in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He was 85.

Marsh, a longtime church musician and arts director, died on April 10, 2010.

For more than four decades, Avery was pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Port Jervis, New York, about 80 miles northwest of Manhattan. Marsh served the same church. Together they composed more than 150 published hymns, carols and anthems.

“I know how many lives (Avery) touched while he was your pastor,” said the Rev. Ann Akers, the current pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Port Jervis, in a Facebook post. “Although he has been gone from Port Jervis for many years, his impact on your lives and your connection to him has not wavered.”

“He was the consummate pastor,” she told the congregation, “and helped you grow as persons and in faith.”

According to Avery’s obituary, he’d been a resident of Santa Fe since his retirement in 2000.

The two began their collaboration with a small songbook called “Hymns Hot and Carols Cool,” published in 1967 — the same year they founded the publishing company Proclamation Productions. Hope Publishing Company took over the sales of their works in later years. Among their most well-known are “We Are the Church” and “Every Morning is Easter Morning.”

At the Port Jervis church, Avery founded a ministry to poor people called Hope Center. Decades later, in 2003, he founded a small magazine, Santa Fe Theologians, and was editor and later manager of Santa Fe Theologian Institutes, public forums on contemporary issues.

Avery was born in California’s Central Valley in 1934, the son of Chester and Rose Bradford Avery. He attended schools in Exeter, California, where he and his family were active at First Presbyterian Church. He was a graduate of the University of Redlands in California and Union Theological Seminary in New York City.

During the late 1960s and over the ensuing decades, Avery and Marsh began sharing their music and creative ideas for worship at church conferences and regional and national assemblies, including 30 summers leading contemporary religious music seminars at Ghost Ranch Education & Retreat Center in Abiquiu, New Mexico.

He is survived by close friends Clyde Tomlin, Cindy Piatt, Betty Collins and other friends and neighbors in Santa Fe and Port Jervis; his nephew Brad Wilcox and wife Tricia and their son Sam Wilcox of Fresno, California; son Kevin Dunn, his wife Taylor and daughter Kendahl of Woodland, California; and his niece Carol Wilcox Bazemore and her husband Ed Bazemore of Raleigh, North Carolina.

In his memory, contributions may be made to Ghost Ranch Education and Retreat Center in Abiquiu, New Mexico; to the First Presbyterian Church of Port Jervis, New York; to Westminster Presbyterian Church of Santa Fe, New Mexico; or to Amnesty International.

In light of the current pandemic, a memorial service is pending.

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