There’s a great website called The Bitter Southerner that recently featured an article entitled “The Weird History of Hillbilly TV” by Gabe Bullard. It talks about all sorts of things from “The Andy Griffith Show” to “Duck Dynasty,” including the fact that the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement, although unmentioned, were both taking place while Andy Taylor was sheriff in the fictional small town of Mayberry.
No less than four photographs of Andy Griffith, who died in 2012, are part of that article. That made me smile for two reasons. First, because I was raised on reruns of the black and while episodes of “The Andy Griffith Show.” Yes, I’m among those who consider the color episodes of that show, including all things related to “Mayberry R.F.D.,” to be heretical. But I also smiled because of a connection to Andy Griffith.
That’s because the first pastor whom I remember during my childhood at Union Cross Moravian Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, was the Rev. Edward T. Mickey, Jr. After he had retired from Union Cross, he was elected to be a bishop of the Unitas Fratrum, which is the name of the worldwide Moravian Church.
We called him Mr. Mickey, in the same way that Episcopal priests, believe it or not, used to be addressed in past generations in the United States. Mr. Mickey wasn’t only an ordained minister in the Moravian Church but also a very good musician. His grandfather, in fact, had been the leader of the 26th North Carolina Regimental Band during the Civil War. It was from Mr. Mickey that I first learned that liturgy in our worship on Sundays isn’t a meaningless repetition of words but a beautiful act of prayer. He also directed the children’s choir in which I sang at Union Cross.
One of my first memories of Mr. Mickey is of him interrupting our practice of the song “This Is My Father’s World” to ask us if we happened to know what “the music of the spheres” was. He explained that it referred to the harmony of the movement of the planets in our solar system, which were created by God. I loved that thought. Another time he talked to us about part of a missing finger of his. I was so relieved he mentioned it because I could never take my eyes off of it when he directed us.
When I was older, I would sometimes help my daddy mow the grass at the church, which was on a fairly sizable piece of property that was bordered on two sides by tobacco fields. The white riding mower that I first used to do that was a gift to our church from Andy Griffith. He had shown up at the parsonage one day, asking to see Mr. Mickey and wearing a large hat that covered his face as he looked down at the ground. He was there to surprise an old friend who had set him on the right path.
Mr. Mickey had once served as the Pastor of Grace Moravian Church in Mt. Airy, North Carolina, which is located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. There a teenager by the name of Andy Griffith came to visit him, wanting to learn how to play the trombone. Here’s how that teenager later remembered that experience in The Player: A Profile of an Art, which is a 1962 collection of reflections by actors:
For three years, he gave me a free lesson once a week. Ed Mickey taught me to sing and to read music and to play every brass instrument there was in the [church] band, and the guitar and the banjo besides. I was best at playing the E-flat alto horn.
When I was sixteen, I joined the church, together with my mother and daddy. We had been Baptists, but it was all Protestant anyhow, so it didn’t make any difference. I was very happy with the Moravians. All the other band members accepted me. They didn’t ever make fun of me. When Ed Mickey had a call to serve another Moravian church, somewhere else in the state, I became the leader of the band until the church could bring in a new preacher. A lot of the people used to point to me and say, “There’s our next preacher.” I was beginning to get that idea myself. The preacher was the cultural leader of the whole town.
Those lessons were mentioned in Andy Griffith’s obituary in The New York Times, along with a painful memory of having been called “white trash” as a child. The band members at the church, including Mr. Mickey, embraced him with the love of Jesus.
Mr. Mickey recommended Andy Griffith for a scholarship to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he began his college studies with the intention of becoming an ordained minister in the Moravian Church. He changed his major to music, however, becoming a teacher instead and spending his summers as an actor in “The Lost Colony” outdoor drama on Roanoke Island on the Outer Banks.
The rest is history . . .