GAYLE WHITE and RALPH ELLIS, Cox News Service
Opie Taylor's outlook is changing. Arnold, the new kid in town, is worldly and wants to share his wisdom.
"Look, Taylor," he tells little Opie, "I've lived in Raleigh. I've been around."
Kids should get more than a quarter a week for allowance, Arnold says, and they shouldn't have to work for their money. If Opie can't get his way, he should hold his breath, cry uncontrollably and throw a temper tantrum.
Opie gives it a try until he witnesses an eye-opening encounter in which Arnold is willing to let his father go to jail so he can keep his new bicycle.
It's a parable for the television age, introduced by a whistled theme song and delivered in 20 minutes of black-and-white footage. This episode of "The Andy Griffith Show" is the lesson that drew 25 people to a Bible study sponsored by Heart of Atlanta Network, a Christian ministry. The ministry, which grew out of evangelism efforts during the Olympics, sponsors seminars, counseling and several weekly studies.
At noon Wednesdays through August, people meet in the middle of downtown Atlanta to plumb the meaning in Mayberry as they snack on Moon Pies and sip iced-down bottled drinks.
"To me, Mayberry is just a place I'd like to live, where people care for one another," said Mary Ellen Despo, 60, a secretary at Georgia State University. "I like that small-town atmosphere. I guess that's why I live in Hampton."
Today's television "bites," added Despo. "I watch `Seventh Heaven' and `Promised Land.' I do like `Everybody Loves Raymond' and `Frasier,' of course, but there's just not a whole lot to watch."
Said accounting manager Noreen Conort, 48: "I always enjoy watching the (Griffith) shows, but this kind of gives you the opportunity to pause and not just be entertained, but to delve a little deeper.
They're not hitting you in the head with a 2-by-4. You laugh, and you're entertained, but then you realize there's a lot underneath it."
'The seed was planted'
Conort, a member of Hapeville, Ga., First United Methodist Church, is well-versed in episodes of the Griffith show but said she is "sort of a novice as far as the Bible goes. I can't cite chapter and verse."
To help her and others get the most possible meaning from each show, Heart of Atlanta's Janet Speer presents appropriate Bible passages. For the Opie-Arnold episode, suggestions include Galatians 6:7 - "you reap what you sow"; Ephesians 6:1 - "children, obey your parents in the Lord"; and, for Opie's Pa, Sheriff Andy Taylor, Ephesians 6:6 - "And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord."
Speer, associate director of Heart of Atlanta Network, bought some of the shows on video and tapes back-to-back episodes on TBS, seen every weekday in the Carolinas. Most of the Scripture suggestions and discussion questions come from the Internet, at www.barneyfife.com.
That Web page and class lessons were created by Joey Fann, 33, of Huntsville, Ala., an engineer who works for companies involved with NASA and the defense industry.
Fann said he's been an Andy fan all his life, though he never saw the show when it ran in prime time. He grew up in Tullahoma, a middle Tennessee town that he describes as being a lot like Mayberry.
He started to realize the values implicit in the show while he was attending Lipscomb University in Nashville and living in a garage apartment at his grandparents' house. "That's when the seed was planted."
The study was born in a Sunday school class in June 1998. Fann was discussing Andy trivia with a friend at Twickenham Church of Christ in Huntsville. The Sunday school director overheard them talking and asked Fann to put together a class with the Griffith theme.
"We said, `Sure, why not?'" Fann said. "We just kind of winged it the first couple of weeks."
The class was an immediate hit and drew media interest in Tennessee. A month or two later, Fann started the Web page. At least 50 church congregations have contacted him to say they are considering using the study, Fann said.
He said he's had no copyright problems with Paramount, which now owns the show. "It's not like we're trying to make money or anything."
But the Andy lessons don't please everybody.
"I have gotten some comments from people saying we're cheapening or trivializing the word of God by associating this with a sitcom," Fann said. "They say the church is no place to be watching TV, especially a 30-minute sitcom. Most people who have a problem with it think we're just being entertained."
But he said he has never received a negative comment from anybody who's attended the class. "I think now in today's society, people want to return back to a time when morals and our core values were a way of life rather than the exception," he said.
'Mayberry did exist'
Earl Hardy appreciates the nostalgia.
Hardy, 54, a systems analyst for the Federal Reserve Bank in downtown Atlanta, grew up in East Point, Ga., and remembers collecting soda bottles for pennies to earn money to go to the movies and feeling safe walking two miles to school.
The Griffith show "was always one of my favorite programs on television," said Hardy. "Even now, if I walk into the den and it's on, I'm hooked. It's just that sweet '50s, '60s innocence. You can trust everybody and sleep with your doors unlocked."
As for lessons for life, "I'm into application," said Hardy, a member of Heritage Hills Baptist Church in Conyers, Ga. "So many people go to church on Sunday and fulfill their obligations, but a lot of time you don't hear how to apply the sermon to real life. This is real-life people in real-life situations, basically applying the Scriptures."
Even though they're just fictional television characters?
"They're TV," he said, "but I truly believe that Mayberry did exist at one time."