BY ALBERTA LINDSEY
Times-Dispatch Staff WriterFirst, there were the Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Then, there was the gospel according to the comic strip characters in "Peanuts." Now, there's the gospel according to "The Andy Griffith Show."
The popular 1960s television program is being used for Bible study by a growing number of churches nationwide, including River Road United Methodist Church in western Henrico County. The spiritual guides are the fictional characters of Mayberry, N.C. -- Sheriff Andy Taylor, Deputy Barney Fife, Gomer Pyle, Aunt Bee and Opie. The characters present timeless morals and values: Genuine concern for others is what Mayberry was all about.
About 35 people gathered at River Road Church Wednesday night to watch a black-and-white episode of the show projected on the wall. The 20-minute "Man in a Hurry," kept everyone laughing. The Rev. Stephen A. Rhodes, the pastor, set the scene: It's a quiet Sunday morning, and Malcolm Tucker, owner of Tucker Enterprises in Charlotte, has car trouble two miles outside of Mayberry. Tucker is in a hurry to get back to Charlotte for a Monday business meeting. Sunday is a day of rest in Mayberry -- a fact that collides with Tucker's hectic lifestyle.
The episode is one of Rhodes' favorites because it has the characters in church on Sunday, something the show rarely does. Tucker finds Wally, the service station owner, sitting on his front porch reading a newspaper. He will be glad to get right on Tucker's car Monday morning. "We are closed on Sunday," Wally says. Tucker finally talks Gomer into fixing the car.
And the fun begins. The Bible study participants sat in the darkened sanctuary and laughed and laughed.
Andy, Aunt Bee, Opie and Gomer go out of their way to make Tucker's Mayberry stay comfortable. He's invited to dinner at the sheriff's house, but he refuses. Tucker is invited to sit on the front porch. Again, he refuses. When Gomer finally returns with Tucker's car, Tucker is surprised that there's no charge. As he starts to leave, Aunt Bee hands Tucker a goody bag containing two chicken legs and a slice of cake. Opie gives Tucker a lucky penny. Tucker starts his car and declares there's something still wrong. He gets out, and says he will stay overnight and have Wally check the car on Monday.
The laughing stops. The Bible study participants get down to a serious discussion about the episode's key points: patience, priorities in life, appreciation of little things and serving unselfishly.
Rhodes has scripture that illustrates each point. One participant doubted Wally's refusal to fix the car on Sunday had anything to do with religions conviction. "He just doesn't like to work on Sunday." Added another participant: "It was the kindness and gentleness of the people that changed Tucker's mind."
Said Rhodes: "Here's a guy who probably doesn't think he needs people. He has people who do things for him. When he forces his will, he loses. The people were able to touch his soul."
The Bible talks about being blessed, Rhodes continued. "We are blessed so that we can bless others. That's what happened here. [Tucker] was given something that he could not get on his own."
Although the show takes place in the 1960s, it's not as they really were. The '60s were a turbulent time: the civil rights movement, the war in Vietnam and escalation of the cold war with the former Soviet Union.
Rhodes compares the show to Jesus talking in parables.
He asked: What does the church have to offer the world? Can we force anyone to do anything? What's the only persuasive power the church has? Rhodes answered his own questions. "By example. We have to stay true to our tradition. Just as Mayberry was not going to change for Malcolm Tucker. . . .Patience and delay achieve more than force or rage ever could. These parables tell us there is real strength in patience."
"Any technique that gets people to think about the pertinence of what they learn in the Bible is good," said participant Charles Irwin. "I always enjoyed the show, but I never made connections that it was potentially a parable. Our discussions have been very good."
The idea for using "The Andy Griffith Show" as a Bible study originated with two members of Twickenham Church of Christ in Huntsville, Ala., who began using the show as a Bible study tool in June 1998.
Rhodes began using the show at River Road in September. The study meets each Wednesday at 7:15 p.m. and will wind up Dec. 8 with "The Christmas Story."
"It's a fun way to do a Bible study," he said.
© 1999, Richmond Newspapers Inc.