Local Sunday school class watches show for Christian values

Leigh Nelms, The Morning News

Who would have thought that the banter between Andy Taylor and Barney Fife,
Mayberry's defenders of the law, and the other colorful characters on the popular
1960s sitcom "The Andy Griffith Show" would provide valuable lessons on morality,
responsibility and other Christian values. At least one local Sunday school class thinks

Tom Verdery of Fayetteville has taught a class at First United Presbyterian Church of
Fayetteville for five months, using a different episode of "The Andy Griffith Show"
each week to illustrate various Bible lessons.

"This is my first time to teach an adult class," said Verdery, "and I have never seen an
adult class more enthused and excited than this one."

The class has not been publicized in the church or the community. The attendance of
the first class Verdery taught was only six or seven people. This first lesson was
based on Verdery's favorite episode, "Opie and the Birdman." The episode involves
Opie using his new sling shot to kill a mother bird.

"This is my favorite because of the way Andy talks with Opie, helping him to
understand that his actions have consequences," said Verdery. "There is a scene
where Andy goes and opens the window and lets Opie hear the baby birds chirping for
their mother. That is when Opie brings in the babies to feed them."

The word spread about the class and now attendance averages about 20, but there
have been as many as 30, according to Verdery. That makes for a crowd in the small
parlor where the class is held.

The Dec. 5 lesson was based on "Bailey's Bad Boy." In this episode, rich kid Ronald
Bailey is jailed when he blatantly defies the law because he knows his influential
father will bail him out. Ron side swipes a truck with his car then tries to bribe Andy
and Barney to let him go.

Andy, the moral man that he is, cannot be bought. When the officers take the boy to
jail, he is surprised at how the jail is run and how the prisoners are treated.

Because the jail cannot be left unattended, and because Andy promised to take his
son Opie fishing, Ron gets to go fishing, too. (Deputy Fife was busy watching the
bikes down at the movie theater.)

The next day Andy takes his prisoner to Aunt Bea's for Sunday dinner. Ron finally
learns from Andy's interactions with Opie that it is best to stand on your own two
feet when you get in trouble.

A lively discussion among the class members followed the show, focusing on the
importance of raising children to accept responsibility for their actions. The group's
opinion was that it was easier to teach a child right the first time than to repair an
adult. Some members had personal stories to tell of their own children or

"You may have a checklist of things for your child not to do when they leave home.
But, that won't work," said member Janet Clausen. "If you have not instilled those
values in them at a young age, it will be difficult for them to pick it up later."

The scripture used with the lesson included a passage about instilling values found in
Proverbs 22:6, a passage teaching the importance of taking personal responsibility in
Philippians 2:14-16 and having a change of heart was illustrated with 2 Corinthians

Verdery attributed the success of the program to the fact that everyone can relate
to it. "The stories transcends all ages. We have people in the class from as young as
their mid-20s to their late 60s or 70s." Of course, the 20-somethings did not grow up
with "The Andy Griffith Show," he added, but they are discovering why it was so

"It is easy to relate the stories into something in our own lives," said Verdery. "The
show touches everyone's life."

Joey Fann of Huntsville, Ala., created the 21 "Lessons from Mayberrry" in 1996 after
other members of his church, Twickenham Church of Christ, expressed an interest in
his idea of using the show in conjunction with Bible lessons. The class was so
successful and drew so many, that he decided other churches might benefit from the
curriculum so he created a Web site on which to post the lessons.

On the Web site Fann writes: "When reflecting on 'The Andy Griffith Show' most
people say that the show represented a time to which they would like to return. A
time when you didn't have to lock your doors, a time when you knew all your
neighbors, and a time when life seemed much safer and simpler than it is today.
However, even a casual look back at the decade in which the series originated reveals
a very turbulent time in the history of our country. So the question lingers, what is it
about 'The Andy Griffith Show' that continues to make it one of the most popular and
loved television series in history?

"Over the past year, I have conversed with many people who have implemented this
concept in their churches, homes, schools and even prisons," said Fann via e-mail. "I
also spoke with an Army chaplain who used the Mayberry lessons with his troops!
However, I'm sure that there are others who have utilized this concept that I don't
know about."

"I've received several positive comments about the lesson plans," Fann continued. "I
encourage people to use them, change them to fit their needs, and come up with
plans of their own."

When Fann, a software programmer, was asked if there was any possibility that he
would develop additional lessons for the program he started, he replied, "There are
249 episodes of 'The Andy Griffith Show.' Expanding the format is a good idea, but I
currently don't have the time to do that ... I'm sure there are several episodes that I
haven't even thought about that would work well with this format."

Verdery may get the opportunity to come up with his own lesson plans. The class at
the Presbyterian church in Fayetteville will have its last lesson of the 'Lessons from
Mayberry' series Dec. 19 with the "Christmas Story" episode.

"I would love for it to be an annual class," Verdery said. "There has been a lot of
response that people were surprised that the class was going to end." It would have
to be at least 46 lessons for it to be an annual program.

This Sunday, Verdery will use a lesson that he developed with the episode titled "The
Case of the Punch in the Nose." He plans to use this lesson as a trial to see if further
plans would be well received.

Verdery would like to see the class continue because he feels it has been a positive
influence on people to bring them back to Sunday school and church.

"I believe this is a great Christian program for any denomination," he said. "The series
is based on very strong morals and principles taught throughout the Bible."

The Rev. Wayne Adcock, interim pastor of First United Presbyterian Church, believes
that while the class is not a new idea, it is a good thing. "It is not a new thing to find
spiritual lessons in pop culture," said Adcock. "It is an interesting way of learning who
we are in relationship with God." He went on to say he believed "The Andy Griffith
Show" was one of the easier shows from which to pull a morale.

According to Fann's Web site, when George Lindsay, who played Goober in the series,
was asked about the idea of using the series for a Bible class, he replied, "One of the
incredible things about every single episode is that Andy (Griffith) insisted each show
have a moral point, something good, lofty and moral. It's a shame current shows on
TV don't adopt that high road."

Prior to the current class, Verdery taught youth Sunday school classes for 17
consecutive years. He originally intended to take this year off from teaching, but the
positive response was so large for the "Lessons from Mayberry" classes that he
decided to teach his first adult class.

The study was adopted after a friend of Verdery's mentioned it as something great for
the church. "In a church meeting, I asked if there would be any interest in using one
of the lessons for a filler for a regular Sunday class," said Verdery. Little did he know
what he was about to start.

"Lessons from Mayberry" and more information about "The Andy Griffith Show" can be
found at www.barneyfife.com.

Monday, December 13, 1999