Lots of people are familiar with the popular phrase “six degrees of separation,” which refers to the idea that every individual on this earth is about six steps away, by way of introduction, from anyone else on the planet. I don’t know if it’s true, but that idea became popularized through a trivia game called “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” in which players try to make connections — as few as possible — between someone and the actor Kevin Bacon.
So what does any of that have to do with Andy Griffith, who died earlier this week at the age of 86? Well, the honest-to-God truth is that I really do have only one degree of separation from him. That’s because the pastor during my childhood at Union Cross Moravian Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, was the Rev. Edward T. Mickey, Jr., who later became a bishop of the Unitas Fratrum.
Photo Credit: NCSU Libraries’ Digital Collections: Rare and Unique Materials
Mr. Mickey, as we called him, wasn’t only an ordained minister 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 learned that liturgy 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 asking us if we knew what “the music of the spheres” was. He explained that it referred to the harmony of the movement of the planets, which were created by God. Perhaps that marked the beginning of my interest in astronomy, which this recent post highlighted.
Mr. Mickey had once served as the pastor of Grace Moravian Church in Mt. Airy, North Carolina. There a teenager named Andy Griffith came to visit him, wanting to learn how to play the trombone. Here’s how that teenager later remembered it in The Player: A Profile of an Art, 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.
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.
The rest is history . . .