The Gospel According to Andy Griffith

Eastside church preaches the morals of Mayberry to
reach a TV generation

By:  Richelle Thompson

After Matthew, Mark, Luke and John comes Andy.
Between Andy Taylor's twangy Southern drawl and Barney
Fife's one-bullet fumbling, Eastside Christian Church members
are finding in The Andy Griffith Show moral messages befitting
the Gospel.

The Rev. Rex Brown spins from one of Barney's jealous
huffs a sermon on rivalry and love. He springboards to a
lesson on honor and commitment from an early episode when
Andy presides over the marriage of his housekeeper. And the
segment called “Opie's Charity” morphs into a homily on

The Milford church is in the midst of its seven-week
sermon series, “Everything I Needed to Know I Learned from
Andy Griffith.” It's a long way from shiny black-patent shoes
and polite piano riffs of traditional Christian services. And
that's what the Rev. Brown intends.

“I grew up with Andy Griffith, and I liked it when I was a
kid,” said Bev Holden, 46, of Goshen. “Now that I'm an adult, I
still like it. You can watch Andy, Barney and Aunt Bee sit
there on the front porch and think, "Oh, I wish I could live in
Mayberry because life is simple.' You know it's just a fantasy,
but you wish you could go there for 30 minutes.”

Pop Culture Icons
Like many contemporary churches nationwide, Eastside
is tapping pop culture to reach nontraditional audiences. And
Andy, Barney and the other fictional cast from the 1960s
show are firmly lodged as pop-culture icons.

Groups across the country have found spiritual direction
in Mayberry reruns. A Huntsville, Ala., church started an Andy
Griffith Bible study in 1996. Fans — and a Web site
( — spread the idea.

It's a church gimmick, diehard fan Greg Akers said, but
one that works. Inserting Andy Griffith into the sermons Mr.
Akers heard as a kid might have made them more interesting.

“There was a moral lesson in every episode,” said Mr.
Akers, president of Toon Art-Hometown TV, a Cincinnati
company that sells Andy Griffith Show merchandise. “Whether
it was Opie having to be responsible for killing the mother
birds or (the episode that) teaches Andy how to believe in his
son, it's all about trust and following the golden rule.”

Simple Things of Life
The show revels in the simple things of life, uses humor
to defuse sticky situations and values integrity above all else,
the Rev. Brown said.

With six kids under the age of eight, he's careful what
they watch on TV.

“Andy Griffith is one of those shows we as a family
watch together,” he said.

So does the church family.

Between the three services, Andy Griffith trivia pops up
on the large screen at the front of the church. Before the
sermon begins, a two- to three-minute clip airs. Then, settled
into padded pews, the congregation jots notes from the Rev.
Brown's PowerPoint presentation on blue paper already
three-hole punched to keep in a binder.

The sermon series “takes the simple lessons that are
important in life and brings them to a focal point where people
in this day can relate to them,” said Dick Hess, chairman of
elders at the church.

His favorite episode: “Nip it in the bud.” Barney goes
around town trying to stop trouble before it starts. He keeps
saying he's got to “nip it in the bud.”

“I think that's true in life,” Mr. Hess said. “If you let
something get to the point where you should have dealt with
it earlier, it's a much bigger problem.”

Attendance Doubled
It's a philosophy Eastside tried out last June. Facing
declining membership, the church decided to change its
tactics. Members hired the Rev. Brown and spent $60,000 to
$70,000 fitting the church with high-tech audio-visual
equipment, screens and a sound system. Acoustic guitars,
keyboards and drums accompany Sunday songs like “You are
holy, you are mighty.”

There are no stained-glass windows. A projection
screen at the front of the church covers a large cross on the
wall. TVs hang from the ceiling in the back for those in the
last pews.

In eight months, attendance has doubled, to almost 500
each Sunday. Church leaders are considering adding a fourth

“We live in such a high-tech society,” the Rev. Brown
said. “Everything is multimedia and Hollywood. That's where
America lives, where people are today.”

The Andy Griffith Show didn't deal much with
newfangled technology and the latest in multimedia, but cast
members would have understood Eastside's mission.

They're trying to build a bridge to meet people where
they are.

Copyright 1995-2000. The Cincinnati Enquirer, a Gannett Co. Inc. newspaper