(Excerpt from the Feb. 24, 2001 Toledo Blade)During The Andy Griffith Show's eight-year run on network television, only a handful of episodes depicted the amiable sheriff of Mayberry going to church. In nearly every show, however, Sheriff Andy Taylor emerged as a gentle moral leader, whether he was reining in his high-strung deputy, Barney Fife, or having a heart-to-heart talk with his son, Opie.Fifty years later, the wisdom imparted by Sheriff Taylor as he kept the peace at home and on the streets of Mayberry is being applied to Bible lessons in churches around the country.
It all started when Joey Fann, a computer software engineer in Huntsville, Ala., used an old Griffith Show clip in the Sunday school class for young marrieds at Twickenham Church of Christ in Huntsville in 1996. To bring out a point about the hazards of taking each other for granted, he showed the class a segment on the relationship between Barney and his girlfriend, Thelma Lou.'I was amazed at how captivated they were watching this situation on TV,' Fann said, 'and the discussion we had afterward was more vibrant and more people participated.'Other Griffith Show fans at the church tried the idea with a class of teens and got a similar response. About two years later, the church's education minister suggested starting a Wednesday night class based on the Griffith Show. Fann and fellow church member Brad Grasham went to work on the idea and came up with a series of one-page outlines containing scriptural references.  About the same time, Fann started a web site, www.barneyfife.com, and added the Bible study outlines to it. It turned out to be a means of sharing the Mayberry message with a wider audience.For Fann, the character portrayed by Andy Griffith is central to the program's solid moral messages. Sheriff Taylor, he said, constantly has the other person's interest at heart, whether it's getting Barney out of a jam or resolving a town problem. But he believes all the characters teach some kind of lesson. 'I don't think there's a bad character in Mayberry at all. We can learn from all the characters we see.'Barney, for example, provides a perfect example of someone who takes himself too seriously or thinks he is a little more important than he is. 'We watch him and laugh,' Fann said, 'but if we're honest with ourselves, we act like him a little more than we think.'The Andy Griffith Show Bible Study has been used in 30 states and Canada by a wide variety of denominational groups from Baptist to Catholic. Schools, military chaplains, and prison wardens have used the studies to convey the show's timeless messages.  Fann said he continues to be amazed at the growth that has come from just one church Bible study.'One person or two or three people cannot be responsible for all that's happened ... This has really been a big event in my life, just to see how God can work through some very simple people like me and hopefully affect a lot of people for good. 'Hundreds write or e-mail me and tell me that they appreciate this concept and that it's caused them to look at Scripture in a whole new light and get back in church. I don't take any credit for that.'