Rev. Avant leaves behind legacy in church and community

DOVER — Even though the Rev. Dr. Richard M. Avant, longtime pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, is no longer with the community physically, his spirit and legacy will be embedded in it forever.

“Heaven is a richer place with Rev. Avant up there,” said Carlos Holmes, spokesman for Delaware State University.

Mr. Avant, 85, passed away Friday.

The Rev. Dr. Warren A. Rhodes, director of the Fine Arts Department for FrontLine Ministries in Dover, said he was a great man of faith who truly will be missed.

“He was a God-ordained leader,” Mr. Rhodes said. “He had the ability to relate personally and spiritually to all people.”

Mr. Rhodes believes Mr. Avant’s great ability to connect with people is why he was so beloved by the community and the congregation.

“Ministry is all about demonstrating the love of God, plain and simple — no matter what the individual’s circumstances,” he said.

Betty Garrett, who has been a member of the congregation for 16 years, agreed.

“He was an incredible person,” Ms. Garrett said. “He was always there to support everyone in any way that he could.”

A minister’s call

Mr. Avant, who served the community for more than 30 years, was elevated from pastor to apostle in his church in 2014, and as such was seen as an overseer who guides and directs all churches from all religions and spiritually aids pastors and bishops.

A Philadelphia native, Mr. Avant once said he accepted Christ when he was 11 and was called to become a minister in 1977.

“Growing up, we never went to church before, and one night my mother took us to church on Watch Night, which is going to church the night before New Year’s Eve,” Mr. Avant said in an 2014 interview.

“I was around 10 at the time and that night I watched my oldest brother get up and accept Christ and once I saw that, I knew I wanted to accept Christ as well.”

“It was the first time I ever heard the Gospel. It was the first time that I heard you could accept Christ and my mother decided to go on that night and we’ve been going ever since,” he said.

Mr. Avant described how he was asked to preach at a junior usher anniversary while living in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, in the early 1980s. After he preached the sermon, he was approached by a young woman who asked him to preach at Calvary Baptist Church in Dover.

He was pastor of the church since 1982.

“I had the privilege of serving under him for over 30 years,” Mr. Rhodes said. “From a deacon, then as ordained minister, Sunday School superintendent, and then the leader of the Drama Ministry.

“Apostle Avant greatly encouraged my personal and spiritual growth throughout the years. I would not be the man I am today without the leadership of this great man of faith,” he said.

“My wife and I praise God for the blessing Pastor Avant was to our lives; his counsel, godly wisdom, and mentorship over the years have been invaluable to us in our Christian walk.”

Calvary Baptist’s growth

Calvary Baptist Church grew tremendously under his leadership, and especially after Mr. Avant instituted the tithing program, according to the church’s website.

The church expanded to two facilities, one of which houses the Youth Church. The church meets in two locations, on Fulton Street and on Del. 8 west of Dover.

The present membership totals about 550.

“He was my first pastor here in 1984,” Mr. Holmes said. “I was there and then I left the church for personal reasons, but I came back in 2000 and I was a member there for a few years.

“I’ve known him through that context and what impressed me the most is how much the church grew when he was there.

“He was such a positive individual and had a great impact on the church community and in Central Delaware,” Mr. Holmes said.

Mr. Avant founded the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of Dover and Vicinity in 1982, which is a Central Delaware organization of pastors, ministers and evangelists. It holds joints worship services during Thanksgiving and the Lenten season.

The money collected from those services is used to help people in need in the Kent County community as well as to support other nonprofit organizations.

Mr. Avant stepped down as president of the alliance in 2010. The Rev. Michael B. Rogers, pastor of Central Baptist Church of Dover, currently holds the position.

Mr. Holmes said the reverend’s leadership was unmatched.

“You don’t have that church growth without leadership,” he said. “So many ministers have come from under him and that was due to his powerful leadership.”

Ms. Garrett said Mr. Avant will never be forgotten.

“He was a father, friend and supportive to all of us,” she said. “He loved us all like we were the only members he had.

“We’re going to miss him, but we know we can go on because of what he instilled in us,” Ms. Garrett said.

“We’re going to continue to carry out his legacy.”

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