Midland's Golf Course Rd. Church of Christ attracts almost 200 every week for Sunday school classes based on 'Andy Griffith Show' reruns

By Jimmy Patterson

Staff writer

He stands at her desk, color rapidly draining from his face. Thirty seconds earlier he had been on top of the world. Dad was proud enough to buy him a new bicycle at Weaver’s Department Store. And what’s more, he had all A’s on his report card.

Now, the student has just learned that the teacher made a mistake and he not only didn’t make all A’s, but he actually made an F in math.  Should he tell Dad and risk losing both his father’s happiness and his new bike? Or should he keep the painful truth from him?

The teacher is Helen Crump. The student is Opie Taylor. And the classroom is a portable building at Midland’s Golf Course Road Church of Christ. The curriculum in this Sunday School class is "The Andy Griffith Show," and the lesson for the day is "Ill Gotten Gain."

By now, you likely remember the episode if you ever watched the popular 1960s situation comedy.

Golf Course Road Church of Christ is one of a growing number of churches nationwide that have begun studying the show and the biblical principles and lessons in morals that so often subtly weave their way into what is one of the most beloved television programs of all time.

Joey Fann, an engineer in Alabama, and his friend Brad Grasham, founded the concept of how the program relates to Jesus’ time-honored teachings and first introduced it last year at their home church, the Twickenham Church of Christ, in Huntsville, Ala.

"I’ve always thought the show presented good moral values," Fann said.   "But I think there are a few specific episodes that really drive some timeless messages home. Some of the episodes deal with such issues as faith, honesty and responsibility, so finding Scriptures to back up these topics is not a problem."

Ken Young, Music Minister at Golf Course Road Church of Christ, agreed, and started an 11-week course based on Fann’s curriculum. Each Sunday thus far, in a course that is now four weeks along, 70-80 adults and another 125 junior high and high school students meet in separate classrooms to study the wisdom of "Andy Griffith."

"I think that people want to return to these simpler times," Young said.   "Even in Midland, where you’d think we’re not like Dallas or Houston, but we really live just like people in Dallas and Houston. Our teens and families run at breakneck speeds with so many activities."

Fann also says the course is timely because we have lost trust in one another.   "There was a time in this country when you could leave your doors unlocked, you knew your neighbors, and people were generally trusting of one another," Fann said. "I think today most people feel that our society has lost that innocence. Obviously, there was never a real Mayberry, but the mindset of doing the right thing and genuinely caring for one another is very real."

The "Ill Gotten Gain" episode shown Sunday at Golf Course Road is not included in Fann’s original curriculum, but individual churches are free to pick and choose, and to incorporate their own lessons if they feel they fit and have sound meaning. Such relaxed standards would likely be well received in Mayberry.

Fann said the curriculum’s concept has proved popular because it offers a non-threatening atmosphere where people are not afraid to come and bring their friends.

"It’s a fun class and it prompts a lot of discussion," Fann said. "I also think it causes people to look at some biblical principles in a new light. They see some very familiar characters in situations that are not unlike situations in their own life. I think it is that familiarity with characters like Andy, Barney and Otis that people identify with."

Last Sunday at Golf Course Road, Young led the class through a post-program discussion on honesty and integrity, and cited

corresponding biblical passages (Luke 16:19, Acts 24:16, 2 Corinthians 4:2, Ephesians 2:8-9 and Philippians 3:12), all of which could in some way be linked to the points made through Opie’s struggle with honesty, and the consequences that come with dishonesty.

Fann said after a Nashville television station did a piece on the course, George "Goober" Lindsey commented that the actors and writers were very proud of the show and he thought it was great that the show was being used in such a positive way today.

"I think many times, our culture checks out mentally," Young said.   "Especially when the media is being used. We’ve seen these episodes almost solely from an entertainment standpoint and we don’t process their value, and that’s how a lot of times we let a lot of junk filter through without offending us. I hope we can train people to see that, ‘Hey, this is more than entertainment, and while it’s OK to have entertainment you can learn from it too.’ "

So successful has the summer series been at Golf Course Road, Young expects it to return next summer.


The Sermon for Today

By Jimmy Patterson

Staff writer

Look beyond the laughter, the pure entertainment value that exists four decade later, and the messages remain. Messages that are basic really.   Messages that still pertain — and apply to young or old regardless of the decade you’re from.

For those many of us who can lip-sync along to "The Andy Griffith Show," it is no surprise that someone finally saw the fit that exists between the old 1960s situation comedy and Sunday School class.

Even within the humor lie messages. Last Sunday, when adults, junior high and high school kids at Golf Course Road Church of Christ met for the fourth session of their "Back to Mayberry" class, the episode was "Ill-Gotten Gain." You probably know it, even though you might not know it by its episode title. Opie comes home with all A’s on his report card, until Miss Crump admits she made a mistake and Andy Taylor’s boy actually made an F in math.

That episode, with its themese of honesty and integrity, also contains one of the most remembered, hilarious scenes in the program’s history.  Barney dusts off his old history book one day at the Sheriff’s office and boasts that he still knows a lot of what is in the book. "Once it gets in there," he says, pointing to his head, "it’s there to stay."  So Andy tests Barney on his claim that he can still recite the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution. Andy, of course, has to spot Barney the ‘We the People ..." (and every other word), and you remember the rest. It’s been played and replayed and is part of American popular culture. It’s as funny the 40th time as it was the first. Certainly not cerebral, Barney’s physical humor, his sense of timing and the inherent comic strength of his character carry the classic scene.

But even within that funny moment is the message that when you’re dishonest, you often get found out, even when boasting about something as innocent as how much you remember — or think you remember — from your high school days.

OK, maybe I’m reading a bit much into a comedy scene, but the point is:   "The Andy Griffith Show" more often than not pointed out basic principles of common decency — and it did so without being preachy. A lot of those lessons were imparted from father to son, or from trusted friend to naive deputy. Watching the show was like going to church without going to church.

To those who watch the program, seeing it in a church setting and watching adults and kids laughing at Barney while coming away with a message realize just how perfectly the two go together.

Recently, a debate has sprung up about Christian music, and how many of today’s artists seem to be more focused on entertaining people rather than ministering to them. Veteran artist Steve Camp told The Dallas Morning News that, "It’s impossible to entertain people with the things of God. If you do, you’ve watered down that which God says is holy."

Mr. Camp apparently never watched "he Andy Griffith Show." If he did, he missed the point.

With so much below-average humor on television today — it’s been years since we had a decent sit-com — cable holds many buried treasures in older programs like "Andy Griffith." There are others that most certainly contain messages still relevant. "Mary Tyler Moore" and "Dick Van Dyke" both contained recurring themes regarding the importance of family and friends; "M*A*S*H" spoke regularly on man’s humanity — and inhumanity — to man. Even the earlier episodes of "The Wonder Years" addresses issues common to most all of us.

But no one does it so expertly as Andy and Barney. It remains a Miracle Salve in the otherwise fly-riddled ointment of today’s pop culture. Maybe instead of trying to pass a law calling for the Ten Commandments to be posted on public school walls — something that will likely never happen — Congress should instead legislate regular viewings of "The Andy Griffith Show" as part of the school day.