'Andy Griffith Show' fans tune in to its lessons in Bible Class
By Yvonne White
Times Religion Editor

HUNTSVILLE, Ala.—In a scene on "The Andy Griffith Show" that takes place in church, a visiting preacher extols the merits of taking life slow and easy.

Afterward, as they exit the sanctuary, Sheriff Andy Taylor and his deputy, Barney Fife, shake hands with the speaker. "Yes, sir," says Barney, who was daydreaming during the sermon. "That's one subject you just can't talk enough about -- sin."

Although sin isn't the main focus of a special Bible study class at Twickenham Church of Christ here, the biblical and moral merits of "The Andy Griffith Show" are. Each Wednesday night this summer, the Mayberry faithful have gathered to sip lemonade, munch popcorn and watch an episode of the classic 1960s television sitcom, among the most popular of all time.

"It's really amazing where the discussion goes," said Joey Fann, who worked with fellow church member Brad Grasham to design a curriculum for the weekly hour-long class based on TAGS -- the fans' acronym for "The Andy Griffith Show."

"It [applies] to our everyday lives. The interest we've received has been phenomenal. We've heard from people all over the country about it off our Web site."

The class, "Finding the Way Back to Mayberry," started in June with 28 adult participants. It has since grown to a standing-room-only crowd of 84, ages 8 to 80. And on Sept. 6, the weekly class will move to quarters that will accommodate 300 and the beginning of a new three-month series of discussions on Sunday nights.

Eddie Levick, Twickenham's senior minister, said he has been surprised by the response to the class "from the community and beyond." People from nearby churches and from other towns said they wanted to attend the class but are unable to come on a weeknight. Shifting the time to Sunday evenings will make the class more accessible, he said.

At the Twickenham class, early arrivals are treated to taped folk music by the Dillards, who appeared on the show as the Darlings and still perform on the bluegrass circuit. Each class begins by viewing an episode about life in Mayberry, selected by Fann and Grasham, followed by a discussion of the moral lesson it teaches and Scripture verses to complement the various scenes.

One of the stories the group studied is "Opie the Birdman," which many fans and critics consider the best of the show's 249 episodes. Opie, Andy's son, with Barney's help, makes a slingshot and promises he will shoot only "tin cans and stuff," but when he aims for a tree, he accidentally kills a mother bird.

Overcome with guilt, Opie confesses to his father, who tells Opie that being sorry isn't enough and that he must take care of the three baby birds until they are able to fly away. When that time comes, Opie has become so attached to the birds -- he names them Winken, Blinken and Nod -- that he has trouble letting them go.

Other stories included "Opie's Charity," in which Andy chastises his son for saving to buy a gift for his girlfriend but later learns that Opie wanted to buy the girl a coat because she needed one; "Barney Fife, Realtor," in which Barney gets into real estate and urges Andy to shade the truth about problems with his house so it can sell; and "Opie's Hobo Friend," in which Opie begins to emulate a hobo -- Mr. Dave -- by playing hooky to go fishing.

"Television can be bad, but sometimes, like tonight, it can be used for good," Fann told a recent class. "Mr. Dave never took responsibility for his actions, and it didn't take long for Opie to start doing the same thing. We have no idea what kind of influence we have on people. It can be good or bad."

Wade Schofield, who recently attended the class for the first time, said it is a great idea. "But I would have never thought about it as a Bible study class," he said. "I'm a big fan of [the show] because it's a good family show. You can take real-life situations and present them in a right setting, such as the show did, and gain something from it."

Linda Laird, who has gone to most of the classes, said she has been a fan of "The Andy Griffith Show" since it first aired.

The class "just gives you a nice break to sit back and really enjoy something while getting a good lesson in life," she said. "I usually see the characteristics of the people on the show in myself. It was a foregone conclusion I would attend this class."