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Friday, June 14, 2002 5:31AM EDT

The gospel according to Mayberry

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The 'Lessons From Mayberry' series treats the family situations that Andy and Aunt Bee faced in 'The Andy Griffith Show' as parables for gentle moral lessons.

DETAILS
What: The "Lessons From Mayberry" series. Each lesson is followed by an ice cream social.

When: Sunday evenings from 6 to 8 through Aug. 25, with the exception of Aug. 4.

Where: Brooks Avenue Church of Christ, 700 Brooks Ave., Raleigh.

Cost: Free.

Info: The church welcomes people of all ages, faiths and backgrounds. Call 821-2400.

By BROOKE CAIN, Staff Writer

RALEIGH - The timing was perfect, if coincidental. The Brooks Avenue Church of Christ in Raleigh debuted its summerlong series "Lessons From Mayberry" last Sunday, and the whole nation showed up to watch.

In addition to the hundreds of local faithful who attend services there each Sunday night, television cameras and reporters were present from Raleigh, Washington, D.C., and, yes, even Hockeytown, USA.

That's Detroit, in case you haven't been paying attention to all the recent Stanley Cup hoopla.

Deacon Stan Atwood and church member Eddie Woodhouse began planning the series a few months ago. But the uncanny timing of its launch -- coinciding with Raleigh's sudden national identity crisis -- was not lost on them.

Do the national jokes about "a hockey team from Mayberry" bother the folks at the Church of Christ?

Can Barney Fife sing?

The answer to both questions is "not a lick."

In fact, to show they can take a joke with the best of them, the church proudly displayed a large doctored photograph of Barney wearing a Carolina Hurricanes home jersey and cap, while Gomer held up a newspaper saying "Mayberry brings home Stanley Cup."

What's more, they don't see what's so bad about being compared to Mayberry in the first place.

"We don't distance ourselves from Mayberry," Woodhouse said. "We embrace 'The Andy Griffith Show' because of what it teaches, and the timeless message about being responsible to your community, about being good neighbors."

That's the whole point of the "Lessons From Mayberry" series, Atwood says. "Using stories of common, everyday situations to make points about values."

The church didn't come up with the idea: Atwood uses lesson plans and materials from the http://www.barneyfife.com/ Web site, run by Joey Fann of Huntsville, Ala. Fann began teaching the Mayberry morals classes at his church in 1996, and he developed the site to help others do the same.

Fann's site provides 26 lesson plans, each based on a different episode of the beloved TV show, which ran for eight years starting in 1960 and has been a popular rerun ever since. The site also serves up a page of "Barneyisms" and classic "Andy Griffith Show" quotes (Barney: "It's not a whim anymore if you put on clean underwear"; Andy to Gomer: "And get that gun out of your mouth!").

Fann says he hasn't kept official stats, but he knows that groups from at least 35 states and Canada have used his program.

"It's not a matter of looking to the show itself for guidance," said Fann, who is scheduled to appear at the Brooks Avenue church lesson later this month, "but more an exercise of considering the given situations and reflecting on how -- and why -- we might react to a similar situation in our own lives."

Several churches in the Triangle, including Apex Methodist Church and the Raleigh Moravian Church on Ridge Road, have already used "The Andy Griffith Show" to teach Sunday school classes and other lessons. At Cary Presbyterian Church, the Rev. David Wiseman says they use the approach in adult Bible study classes, and people have responded well.

"I feel it's a real creative way to get at some important things," Wiseman said. "What makes 'The Andy Griffith Show' so wonderful is I see them as parables, and we can use them as teaching tools. I see my own self and my own family in the show's situations."

The first lesson, which centered on charity and pride, about not jumping to conclusions and judging others, seemed custom-made for our recent experiences of inter-regional picking, prodding and poking back.

With Detroit's own WXYZ television station ready to broadcast live, about 250 people watched the episode "Opie's Charity," from the show's 1960 debut year.

In it, Andy makes a fool of himself by quickly jumping to the wrong conclusion after learning that Opie made a paltry contribution to the Underprivileged Children's Fund at school. He sternly chastises his son and even calls him "stingy."

At the same time, Andy displays a great amount of pride, lamenting that Opie's actions will embarrass him and make him a laughingstock.

Once the sage Aunt Bee points out to Andy that he is letting his pride dictate his actions with Opie, Andy makes amends with his son and offers to forget the whole mess -- only to learn that Opie held back on his contribution because he was saving to buy his girlfriend a much-needed new coat, which her own family could not afford.

"You never told me that's what the money was for," Andy complains to Opie.

"You never asked me," Opie responds.

It was all that simple. A big ole misunderstanding due to a lack of information.

Sound familiar?

A big hit

Not surprisingly, there was a little talk before the Sunday session about how the rest of the country has -- wrongly or rightly -- come to regard Raleigh as a sort of Mayberry, complete with hillbillies and hayseeds and plenty of "Gaaawww-llees."

Though Church of Christ members didn't mind being compared with Mayberry, they said the rest of the country is wrong about the hillbilly stuff.

Church member Donna Walls, a native of the Detroit area who has lived here since 1975, said the Detroit media just needed something to pick on, so they latched on to Mayberry and its well-known characters.

"That's not how it is here," Walls said. "But I guess that's what people think of us if they've never been here."

Ah, jumping to conclusions. Now, what would Aunt Bee say about that?

Walls, who even after 27 years in the Triangle still pulls for Michigan teams in most sports, says she really only started pulling for the Carolina Hurricanes in earnest after reading what some of the people in Detroit were saying about the area. And while she doesn't consider herself a huge fan of "The Andy Griffith Show," she has watched it.

The rest of the crowd, though, was clearly familiar with the series. They whistled along with the theme music and some even quoted dialogue right along with Opie and Andy.

The "Lessons From Mayberry" program was a hit. Discussion after the episode touched on Opie's natural inclination to help someone in need without being asked, and Andy's readiness to admit he was wrong.

"It's remarkable," said church member Lancelot Bailey, "the way Andy just accepted Aunt Bee's criticism, humbly, and recognized he was at fault."

The program's style is informal and fun (it's definitely no "shakedown" at "The Rock"), a slight twist on regular Sunday evening services, which typically draw about half the number present Sunday night, according to Atwood. "Lots of people brought their neighbors and friends. We had a lot of newcomers," Atwood said.

After the program, the diverse bunch hung around to eat ice cream and just visit.

This different approach to Sunday services is important, church members say. "We need to get much more contemporary," said Debbie Hodges, "or we're going to lose our kids. They don't want to do it the old way."

So for the summer, anyway, the old way is out, the fun way is in. And "Lessons From Mayberry" is more exciting than a couple of Fun Girls on a Saturday night in Mount Pilot.

Well, maybe not that much fun, but, as Barney would say, it's definitely a gas.


Copyright 2002, The News & Observer. All material found on newsobserver.com is copyrighted The News & Observer and associated news services. No material may be reproduced or reused without explicit permission from The News & Observer, Raleigh, North Carolina.