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His name is not the only unique thing about Hilary Marckx.

For the past 25 years, he has been pastor of Geyserville’s only church, the 134-year-old Geyserville Christian Church that stands in the heart of town.

At the same time, he has also been an old-time rockabilly and honky-tonk singer/songwriter, performing in nightclubs, bars and festivals all over the Bay Area.

Neither of these careers were something Marckx, 75, anticipated.

When he was in the fifth grade, his mother encouraged him to play the clarinet, but he says he had absolutely no sense of rhythm or timing.

“Despite this, she had me move on to piano lessons when I was about 13,” he recalls. “Unfortunately, the results were pretty much the same.”

Around 1968, when he was in his mid-20s, Marckx was riding with two musician friends to one of their performances when one asked what instrument he played. Confessing he didn’t play any, they stuck a harmonica in his hand and told him to practice until they got to the gig.

That night, he made his on-stage musical debut.

Over his lifetime, Marckx has held a number of jobs, having worked on a dairy farm; hauled hay; driven a tractor; picked peaches, pears and apricots; sold brooms and brushes door-to-door; worked for the State of California as a clerk; drove a delivery van; and been a tree-trimmer.

For many years, he had a successful career as a commercial photographer, but now only dabbles in photography as a hobby.

Although he was once part of a band in the Sacramento area, he has mostly performed solo as a one-man band. He recently teamed up with Cloverdale singer and VA social worker, Christiane Swartz, to form “November Rose,” a country duo performing classic country, rockabilly and honky-tonk.

He and Swartz met about five years ago at a local guitar jam. Before becoming a regular member of his congregation, Swartz says she initially attended out of curiosity to see what kind of church has a rockabilly pastor.

“I have come to admire the earnestness with which he supports the whole of his community, especially those in need,” she says. “I also admire the joyous hospitality he brings to our church, including dozens of incredibly moving worship songs he has written and shares with us each Sunday.”

Besides being a practicing theologian and an accomplished musician, Marckx also builds guitars and produces his own CDs. And while he primarily plays guitar and harmonica on stage, he also knows his way around a bass, banjo, keyboard and lap steel guitar.

To relax, he enjoys hiking the trails around Lake Sonoma and fishing in the streams of the Sierra Nevada’s eastern slopes. He has recently taken up quilting, creating works that look more like fabric pictures than pieces of abstract art.

Born in the Pacific Northwest, Marckx was named after his father, a fundamentalist preacher who had been named in honor of St. Hilary Poitiers. His mother was a talented musician who played the mandolin, an instrument Marckx plans to learn this year.

Despite having a masters in theology from the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley and a PhD from the Theological Union, also in Berkeley, Marckx never set out to actually be a pastor. His original plan was not to lead a congregation, but to do environmental work as an ordained minister. As it turned out, life had other plans.

A prerequisite to ordination in the Church of Christ requires one to undergo psychological testing. Not being able to afford this on his own at the time, he found financial assistance from the Golden Gate Association, which is part of the Northern California-Nevada Conference of the United Church of Christ. The representative he needed to contact, however, was serving as interim pastor of the Geyserville Christian Church.

After meeting with Marckx and then showing him around the area, the interim pastor was convinced he would be the perfect person to take over the permanent church position. Although hesitant at first, it wasn’t long before Marckx warmed up to the idea and embraced his calling.

“Geyserville was an agricultural community and I had a lot of hands-on farming experience. At the same time, I was also educated, so I was able to comfortably walk both sides of the fence.”

Marckx and his wife, Cherie, met in high school and have been married for 53 years. She is the pastor of a church in Ukiah and their daughter, Shannon, works for the Geyserville Unified School District. Their son, Joel, passed away several years ago after a long illness.

One of the hallmarks of the Geyserville church is its Pastoral Fund, which is available at the pastor’s discretion to help anyone in need throughout the year.

Among other things, Marckx says these funds have allowed him to help transients with gas money, replace furniture and other household items for a family whose home burned and even pay burial expenses for two local families.

“This,” he says, “is the core of the work I do.”

As is their custom, Geyserville Chamber of Commerce members took up a collection for the fund at their annual December dinner meeting. The Geyserville Kiwanis Club, of which Marckx is an active member, also takes up a collection from its members, matching individual gifts with club funds.

The church’s annual Christmas Basket Program is one of the primary beneficiaries of the Pastoral Fund.

On Christmas Eve morning, the church sanctuary was bustling with volunteers sorting and wrapping a myriad presents. These included toys from the Geyserville Fire Department’s annual Toy Drive and items donated by local merchants for adult members of each household.

Downstairs, more volunteers were busy sorting out rice, beans and other food items to fill the gift baskets, each of which included both holiday food and everyday staples, as well as either a chicken or a turkey.

Years ago, the fund only held enough money to serve about 15 or 16 local families. This past year, thanks to the ongoing generosity of the community, it helped 90 families and provided more than 500 gifts, with funds left over to meet other needs that might arise during the year.

“Moving to Geyserville and serving this community has been the perfect fit for me. Twenty-five years ago, they needed a pastor to teach, preach, bury and marry, as well as someone to be the town’s minister. Today, it still works that way,” Marckx says.

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