This new age of connectedness never ceases to amaze me. Dr. Steve Lindsley and I connected over Facebook when I noticed that he & I were into the same things, except he’s a preacher and I’m just a drummer in a praise band. Ha! Long story short, Steve and I scheduled a time to meet over coffee in Mount Airy at the Good Life Cafe’. As expected, Steve and I got along famously and we’re looking forward to more meetings and spirited conversation. Steve’s a fascinating guy. Enjoy his thoughts on what it’s like being a “Mayberry Preacher” and be sure to check out all his links. Thank you, brother Steve!
There’s a magazine clipping that hangs on the wall outside my study at the church. It’s an ad out of some exciting minister-type publication for a specialized urban ministry degree. There’s a middle-aged man in business suit standing in front of a city skyline; his arms crossed and a smile across his face. The tagline at the top, in large bold font, reads, “Because You DON’T Minister In Mayberry.”
Huh. This is news to me, you see, because I actually do minister in Mayberry. Every day.
So I did the only thing I could when I first found it – I called the number on the ad and explained to the poor soul who answered the phone how, since March 2003, I’d ministered with the fine folks of First Presbyterian Church of Mount Airy, NC, hometown of Andy Griffith and the inspiration for his Mayberry creation. There was an uncomfortable silence on the other end of the line. Apparently he didn’t quite get it.
And I can’t blame him, really. The whole Mayberry thing can be elusive. Life as we know it today it is too complex, too technicolor for a classic 50’s sitcom. So how does one minister in Mayberry anyway – when every problem is solved in half an hour and the closest you come to a community crisis is Andy having to summon his marriage counseling skills or an inebriated Otis wandering the streets?
In all truth, ministering in Mayberry doesn’t look and feel much different from ministering in any of the other tens of thousands of small American towns out there. Mount Airy exhibits all the classic signs of life in the 21st century. We’ve got a movie theater with stadium seats, free wifi around town (lots of hot spots, actually), a Chili’s restaurant, great coffee shops, a Rotary Club (of which I’m a member), a solid school system, a community college. These may not seem like such a big deal for the big city folk, but for a town of 10,000 it’s pretty nifty.
At the same time we also face the same economic challenges that other small towns deal with – factories closing, a dwindling manufacturing base, lots of homes for sale, struggling economy. It’s going to take more than a thirty-minute sitcom to make things right. And then there’s what I like to call the “Mayberry expectations” which come with the territory. Case in point: not too long after I arrived the city had a vote on “liquor by the drink.” What wound up passing fairly easily was still met with resistance by some who claimed that “it wasn’t Mayberry.” A similar sentiment was expressed when a local scandal rocked the community that involved some things that’d make Aunt Bea blush. More than once I heard people say they “just can’t believe this would happen in Mayberry!”
So ministering in Mayberry has meant negotiating this dual identity with integrity and faithfulness, which I try to capture in my sermons every week.. And the thing is, it’s an absolute joy. It may sound hokey but it’s true: people are relatively at ease here, more willing to adopt a simpler way of life. You stroll Main Street on a sunny day and folks wave and smile at you, even (and especially) if they have no clue who you are. You stop in for a cup of coffee at the Good Life Cafe and almost always see someone you know – and if you don’t yet know someone, you probably will soon. And it carries over to Sunday mornings, especially in the comments I hear from visitors who remark how warm and friendly the church was; how people greeted them with a smile and handshake and invited them back. Believe me, this isn’t something a pastor can coach our flocks to do. We can’t make this sort of thing happen. It’s just who these people are.
Which is pretty much what I told the seminary guy who made that magazine ad. I told him that Mayberry exists wherever people enjoy life, wherever folks live simply, wherever they follow the time-old Biblical mantra: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It can be in a big city with skyscrapers reaching to the heavens, or a small town of 10,000 where most everyone knows your name.
Although I must admit to being quite partial to the small town myself. Especially when it’s Mount Airy you’re talking about. The search may go on elsewhere, but this place will always be Mayberry to me.
Dr. Steve Lindsley is author of The Mayberry Preacher, a blog of his weekly sermons as pastor/head of staff at First Presbyterian Church of Mount Airy. He’s also a singer/songwriter performing regularly, instructor at Surry Community College, and author of the blog Thoughts and Musings on Faith, Music, Family, Life. Most importantly he is husband to a wonderful wife, father to two young boys, and caretaker for four dogs and two cats.