Shall we gather at the reruns?
Mayberry's Andy, Opie, Barney and friends inspire discussion groups across the country.
By Dennis McCafferty
The Bible according to Barney Fife? Well, yes. A homespun weaving of wisdom from Barney and his fictional Mayberry friends, along with that from predominantly New Testament teachings, is packing the fellowship hall at the Twickenham Church of Christ in Huntsville, Ala. Every week, as many as 200 parishioners get together to watch an episode of The Andy Griffith Show projected life-size on a wall.
This isn't a gathering of Nick at Nite devotees. Rather, the crowd is intrigued by the TV program's timeless values, says Joey Fann, 33, who started the sessions with fellow church member Brad Grasham, 38.
"Many of these people grew up watching the show," says Fann, who has kicked off a new series of eight weekly Wednesday sessions through Feb. 24. "It's also really cool to see teens come out here and say, 'This is a great show.' The show gets discovered and rediscovered."
Buzz has been building on the Internet since Fann posted material at www.barneyfife.com. Since then, more than two dozen church leaders from Georgia to New Mexico have contacted him about starting similar discussion groups.
What do Andy Taylor and his son, Opie, have to do with scriptures? Plenty, according to the congregants. They gathered one recent evening to watch the episode "Opie the Birdman" and found its values made sense for their religion-inspired lives.
It's a simple story about making amends and letting go, and happens to be one of Fann's favorites: Andy cautions Opie to be careful with a new slingshot. The boy promises he will. But he aims at a tree and accidentally kills a mother bird. Heartbroken, he raises the baby birds, heeding his father's guidance about taking responsibility, even for unintended consequences. At the end of the episode, Andy reminds Opie of his promise to let the birds go. One by one, Opie takes them out of their cage and says goodbye.
In the audience, Lehn Brooks, 56, could relate. He had to let go of his 23-year-old son, Jason, who recently got married. He tells about a three-page letter he wrote his son before the big wedding day.
Brooks needed to let Jason know that his life would be changing but that he had his father's blessing. He wrote about his pride in his son's accomplishments: Jason was elected national president of a junior cattlemen's association at 17. These early achievements, he wrote, were only the beginning. "You try to remind your son of that," Brooks says, "and tell him that it doesn't stop there."
Still, it's painful for a parent to let go. "There's nothing you can read or see that can prepare you for that,'' Brooks tells the visibly moved audience. "All you know is, eventually, they will go. And it will be either a blessing or it will tear at you."
But there was a message for Brooks and the parishioners in the episode's last scene: "The cage sure looks awful empty, don't it, Pa?" Opie asks after the birds are gone. "Yes, son, it sure does," Andy replies. "But don't the trees seem nice and full?" The birds sing in their new home, the tree outside Opie's window.
Mayberry in cyberspace
Citing chapter and verse: For the episode "Opie's Charity," try Matthew 7:1-5, on prejudging people. For "Barney Fife, Realtor,'' check out John 7:24, on getting consumed with appearances.
The Mayberry message: "Slow down ... take it easy" sums it all up, from the episode "Sermon for Today." Also: "When you're dealing with people ... you go not so much by the book, but by the heart," from "Andy on Trial."
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