At the first Sunday, Hill learns from Mrs. Rafferty that her husband Delaney (Douglas Fowley) bet all the sinking fund money on a horse race. Hill delivers a sermon less than 15 seconds long, then rapidly escorts Mrs. Rafferty out the church as astonished worshipers watch. She leads him to the bookie, hidden behind a dry-cleaning shop, and meets Harry the Hat (Alan Hale, Jr.), who recommends that Hill let the bet ride, at which point the race begins. Hearing other bettors cheering their horses, Hill urges on his horse, which loses. The bookie and his people lock Hill outside, without his pants. Hill summons the police, but the booking joint has been skillfully removed.
That evening, North Avenue happens to have been scheduled in rotation to provide its pastor for a brief television spot on the local station, and Hill does not have his heart in it to present his prepared inspirational message. Instead, he launches into a tirade against the organized crime in the city, finishing with an abrupt, "and God bless you."
Hill gets chastised by his presbytery superiors for the tirade, and is urged to go out and build church membership in the area. He goes out and finds a rock band called "Strawberry Shortcake," and recruits them to "jazz up" the music at church; Anne resigns as music director. Then, two treasury agents for the US government show up—Marvin Fogleman (Michael Constantine) and Tom Voohries (Steven Franken). They want Hill to help them close down the gambling racket by recruiting some men from the church to place bets that the agents will watch. Hill cannot find any men to help, even though Hill appeals that the operation is taking money out of the community.
Hill suddenly hits upon the idea of getting women involved, and five women (and the husband of Mrs. Rafferty, who does not drive) become Hill's North Avenue Irregulars. Fogelman and Voohries do not want to go through with it, but they finally agree to let the women be part of it. They try to place bets, but with disastrous clumsiness. Now, the gangsters are alerted to these apparently inept women. The treasury agents say the gig is over, but the women want to continue: they want to try to go after the "bank" that the gangsters use. Claire Porter (Cloris Leachman) volunteers to spring for radios, and the women start to track the gangsters' movements, with Hill coordinating using a map at the church office.
The church services are rocking now, but two gangsters come to the service and notice the women.
Anne discovers the operation, even as Hill defends the Irregulars as keeping the gangsters off balance. Anne resigns from the secretary position, but one night, while she is out on the street in front of the church, a fiery explosion happens in the church. She and Hill start using garden hoses while the fire department is called, but the interior is gutted, leaving only the church offices.
Hill is shocked at the gangsters' act, and seems ready to give in, but to his surprise, Anne wants to join the fight. They do so, and continue to hammer the gangsters' movements around town. While the others are discussing strategy, Anne enters the office to read a letter from presbytery: the pulpit has been declared vacant and North Avenue will be discontinued as a church entity. Hill has been fired, he realizes, and that he has cost them their church.
Dr. Victor Fulton (Herb Voland), a representative from presbytery, arrives to discuss the closure with Hill; Anne is picking up two more at the airport to bring them to the church to assist in closure of the church. While she is driving the two, she detects a buzzing on her car radio and recognizes the driver in the truck next to her. She radios Hill, who only answers the radio when his visitor insists he do something about the beeping. Anne urges Hill to call in the troops, and Hill finally does so, under the disapproving glare of Dr. Fulton. June Bride (Karen Valentine) even leaves her wedding reception to do so, and her groom is trying to keep his car from ruin.
Anne tracks the truck as far as one intersection, but one of her passengers spots a closing electric gate. Within minutes, all the Irregulars are on the scene, watching the property from behind a parked truck. They then besiege the place, which contains the "bank" of the gangsters. A demolition derby ensues and the crooks are stopped and the evidence is seized.
The scene shifts to the following Sunday worship service, held outdoors with the music team on the steps of the gutted church. Hill is reading the announcements, including the details of all the indictments, but noting that the Irregulars seem to be absent. After cheers, he gets to the bad news: this will be the last worship service at North Avenue Presbyterian, but just then, a stretch limo pulls up and the Irregulars get out.
North Avenue has a new lease on life—it will be rebuilt. The youthful band starts the music again that has "pepped up" the Sunday worship music.
Compelling `Gods and Monsters,' Van Sant's `Psycho' out on Video: TV Releases Offer Time Travel, Classics, `Deep Space' Mix
Jun 17, 1999; THE "A" LIST Actor Ian McKellen fully earns his best-actor Academy Award nomination for his complex interpretation of haunted,...