The Mayberry Way: Church finds inspiration from Andy Griffith Show
HUMBOLDT - Most Wednesday night Bible studies begin with participants opening the Scriptures.

But lately, members of Humboldt's First Presbyterian Church have first done something a little different. The lights go off and the television flickers on as they sit back, relax and prepare to watch an episode of "The Andy Griffith Show."

The Rev. Paul Means has been heading a Bible study based on the popular 1960s television series at the church since September. The Bible study is running through January, with the last one coming up this Wednesday.

It is based on a series of lessons created by Joseph Fann, author of "The Way Back to Mayberry." Bible study lessons can be obtained from Fann's Web site,

"I think the Andy Griffith stories all have a beautiful moral that we can apply to life, and I wish we had more TV programs like that now," church member Marian Albright said.

Fann started the "Finding the Way Back to Mayberry" class in 1998 at Twickenham church of Christ in Huntsville, Ala. The Web site is based on those lessons and others the show's fans have sent in.

At one point, Fann was aware of churches in 35 states and some foreign countries, including Great Britain and Australia, that have used lesson plans from the Web site for a Bible study, he said Wednesday in a telephone interview.

He never imagined it would be so popular.

It started as an informal class he thought would help those not used to going to church who might feel a little intimidated by a traditional Bible study.

"Again, I think it goes back to people being very familiar with the show," Fann said. "Even though the town of Mayberry never existed, I think people were drawn to values that were displayed by the town."

He said at that "Basic values such as character, personal responsibility, honesty, and integrity were routinely exemplified by the show."

First Presbyterian Church member Jennifer Seals agreed the show's familiarity attracts people to the Bible study.

"Sometimes, you go to a Bible study, and if you're not as familiar with the Bible, then you don't say anything," Seals said. "This

presents it in a way that's not intimidating, sort of in a life's lessons situation."

The Bible study was so well-received at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Miss., where Means once was pastor, that he decided to do the study in Humboldt. Initially, it was to end in December, but class members voted to extend it through January.

At the first Bible study this month, church members watched the episode titled "Opie the Birdman." In the show, Opie accidentally kills a mother bird with a slingshot Barney has just made for him. His dad, Andy, had warned him to be careful with it.

Andy takes the slingshot from Opie when he learns what has happened and opens a window in Opie's bedroom so he can hear the birds "chirping for their mother that's never coming back," Andy tells Opie.

Opie goes on the next day to start digging up "bugs and worms and things" to feed the three orphaned birds. He keeps them in a cage until they're old enough and then releases them to fly away.

Leading members in a discussion based on Scriptures, Means spoke in part about heeding warnings and how saying one is sorry, as Opie does, doesn't erase the consequences of our actions.

"In light of the fact that we cannot change the past, we still ask the question, 'By God's grace, how might we make the failures, disappointments and tragedies of the past redemptive, both in the present and for the future?'" Means pointed out.

They talked about how Opie didn't become "paralyzed by guilt and hopelessness" as a result of his actions. Instead, he takes the initiative and decides to take care of the baby birds himself.

Opie had asked if his Pa would spank him for what he'd done, but Andy said no. Instead, he opened the window and had Opie listen to the chirping birds.

Means asked what class members thought about that.

"Raising the window and letting him face the consequences of his action and letting him hear those birds that were hungry was a lot tougher than getting a whipping," Albright said.

Means added that punishment is not designed to be punitive. It should be restorative, helping one to learn and to go forward.

Albright said she was reminded how much the show does relate to life once the Bible study started.

"Andy always seems to have the right approach, most of the time, and allows Opie to make his own choices, which God does for us," Albright said.

- Tonya Smith-King

Originally published January 22, 2006