Friends of the late Presbyterian pastor and songwriter Richard Avery create a touching and loving online tribute
March 12, 2021
Presbyterians of a certain age can still sing — still do sing — the songs of Richard Avery and Don Marsh: “Every Morning is Easter Morning,” “Hey! Hey! Anybody Listening?” “We’re Here to be Happy,” “We are the Church,” and so many other songs, memorable for their catchy tunes and their lyrics embracing an authentic faith and calling for justice for all God’s children.
The Rev. Richard Avery, a pastor and half of the prolific songwriting duo Avery & Marsh, died March 15, 2020, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Marsh, who for decades was Avery’s collaborator at First Presbyterian Church in Port Jervis, New York, died April 10, 2010.
One Sunday, many of the people touched and blessed by Avery’s long and productive years of musical and parish ministry aired an hourlong remembrance of their friend and pastor, who lived to be 85. View their work, housed on the website of the Presbytery of Santa Fe, by clicking here.
A number of choirs lent their voices as part of the virtual service. One was a virtual choir from Ghost Ranch Education and Retreat Center in Abiquiu, New Mexico, where Avery and Marsh put on workshops for three decades. Avery himself conducted the choir during at least one song.
Avery selected not only the songs he wanted sung at his service of witness to the resurrection, but the Scriptures he wanted to be read. Included were Isaiah 6:1-8 (“Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” “Here am I; send me!”) and words from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5:13-16 (“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.)”
“He was the consummate preacher,” said Cindy Piatt, the organizing force behind Avery’s remembrance. He left behind “boxes of sermons” and “he spoke directly to people,” Piatt said. “I can attest they were thoughtful, provocative and challenging sermons.”
“Dick and Don were far ahead of their time writing songs for the ages,” Piatt said, adding, “they can be sung today.”
“We are the Church,” for example, could easily be sung during the current pandemic: “The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church is a people.”
One of Avery’s friends, the Rev. Chester Topple, recalled the day he met Avery in Santa Fe. Avery had offered his services to Topple and his congregation, and when the church’s choir director moved, Topple called the retired pastor wondering if the offer still stood.
It did, and soon Avery’s enthusiasm and ability doubled the size of the church choir. “He led people in the worship of God until he could no longer dance like David,” Topple said.
Avery and Marsh’s four decades serving the Port Jervis church — Topple called it “a Benedictine-type vow for stability” — helped the church become “a place for creative forms of worship for community concerts and theatrical events,” a church “ready to feed God’s lambs and give them comfort.”
“Dick loved the church, which as we all know is not a building and not a steeple,” Topple said. “It’s a place with doors open wide, banners unfurled and everyone is welcome. It’s a place where people are met by God and shown their sacred worth.”
“If we would honor and celebrate Dick’s life,” Topple said, “let us commit our hearts, our souls and our minds to the continuing journey to dismantle the wrongs in our midst and to allow the space for the new Earth and the new heaven to emerge.”
“Sing love songs to a lonely world/Sing honest love songs by the score/Real love songs so all the lonely world/Knows why the church is here and what the church is for … Bring laughter to a somber world/Bring joy and laughter loud and clear
Make laughter that fills the whole wide world
Our message to the stars that true love has been here.”
Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service
Today’s Focus: Richard Avery of Songwriting Duo Avery & Marsh
Let us join in prayer for:
Let us pray:
Dear Lord, we give thanks that you have gifted each of us for your purpose. May our hearts be open to your purpose. May our hearts be hope to your leading that we may use those gifts to your glory. We give thanks that we are part of a great family. May we always encourage and support one another in your work in your world. Amen.