The gospel
according to
Bible class finds
spiritual lessons
in popular show

By Melanie B. Smith
DAILY Religion Writer

HUNTSVILLE -- Andy as a messiah figure? Barney and Goober as disciples?

Well, maybe they wouldn't go that far, but leaders of a Bible class at Twickenham Church of Christ are doing reruns of some old spiritual and moral messages using a perennial TV favorite, "The Andy Griffith Show."

Teachers Joey Fann and Brad Grasham of the church believe people long to go to Mayberry, even if the town never actually existed.

"There was no Mayberry then, and there isn't now. But you can find instances of Mayberry in our towns and relationships," said Fann.

The men are longtime fans of the show and its characters. They know each of the approximately 250 shows almost by heart and now have built a summer Bible series around a dozen of them.

"I always thought this would be a good subject for an inspirational class, and there are applications for today," Fann said.

On Wednesday, they showed an episode called "Rafe Hollister Sings" to teach about prejudice and unconditional love. The plot involves a scruffy farmer who beats out all contestants, including the arrogant Barney Fife, to represent Mayberry in a program, much to the chagrin of town leaders.

One memorable line is farmer Hollister's wife comment on his dressed-up appearance: "You look good enough to get buried."

During the viewing, participants munched popcorn, laughed at the interplay between the sheriff and his deputy and nudged each other when Barney tried to sing a cappella. They could easily relate because singing in churches of Christ is done a cappella, which means unaccompanied by musical instruments.

Fann and Grasham, who designed the curriculum together, guided the discussion afterward with handouts. Points included "Being Caught up with Ourselves," and there were verses like John 13:35: "By this, all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." The talk switched channels often, going from the show to Scripture, from characters on TV to heroes in the Bible.

Lori Hall prefaced her point about prejudice existing even in an intimate community by saying, "I have not seen all the Mayberry episodes."

Fann interrupted jokingly, "You haven't?"

Faithful fans

When they met a few years ago at the church, Fann and Grasham learned of each other's attachment to the show.

Grasham and another teacher had already led a few study sessions based on Mayberry, but the minister of adult education at the church, James Kendrick, wanted more.

"It was a natural with these guys," Kendrick said.

The church tries to be relevant in its Bible teaching, keying in on popular culture and tackling hot topics like angels and the millennium, he said.

"But this is the first time we've tried an entire series with a secular medium and worked moral fiber into it," said Kendrick.

The teachers say they wanted their classes, called Finding the Way Back to Mayberry, to be relaxing and non-threatening. Sessions have attracted up to 60, including many visitors.

"We didn't want a lot of deep theological discussion. That's what Sunday morning is for," Grasham said.

Views from the pews

Some participants are young enough to have only seen the show in reruns but still appreciate its traditional values.

"It's hard to say without sounding corny, but in a day when we don't have much good TV, it's refreshing," said Jamie Clark, 23, of Madison.

The spiritual implications of life in Mayberry came through, too, he said.

"Since I was raised going to church, I knew from an early age the moral lessons it taught."

Justin Campbell, 22, of Huntsville said the class has been a fun method of applying Christian morals in a way that he could remember.

Linda Laird of Madison said she has seen herself in episodes and learned "real practical lessons on treating people."

The teachers said they're surprised at the interest. People have attended from several counties.

Tricia Case, 20, of Decatur said the concept appeals to her and she plans to attend. "I like the shows and they have good messages," she said.

TV church

Ironically, few Andy Griffith episodes depict town residents going to church.

"There are two or three that show characters in church. The overlying factor is that you never doubt that these characters genuinely care for each other, and that's an admirable Christian value," Fann said.

The show's actors would likely appreciate what the class is doing, Fann believes. The values of the show seem to carry over in real life in some cases. Most actors were churchgoers, Fann said.

Griffith, for instance, wrote how faith in God helped him through trials in a recent issue of Guideposts Magazine, and he has made some popular gospel recordings.

Fann has featured the class in a Web site about the show, and he said he has gotten mail messages of approval from across the country.