MAYBERRY, U.S.A. - I'd traveled here before, but never on business.
In the past, when Sheriff Andy Taylor lured me to his hometown, I'd chuckle at Barney Fife's nervous trigger finger and savor Aunt Bee's apple pie - but definitely not her pickles.
I'd stop by Floyd's for a haircut, let Gomer fix my transmission, go fishing with Opie and trade smooches with Thelma Lou. Occasionally - and I'm ashamed to admit this - I'd see town drunk Otis in jail and cackle at his pitiful existence.
This time, though, I came to this fictional North Carolina town as your representative - to report on Oklahoma churches that have ventured here.
At the Broken Arrow Assembly on Sunday mornings, for example, congregants with deputy badges sip coffee at the Mayberry Cafe and browse announcements in the Mayberry Gazette. Sometimes, real-live Darling boys, barefoot with overalls on, show up and make music with jugs and washboards.
"If it's hokey and campy, we do it," associate pastor Thomas Harrison said.
Think of it as the "Gospel According to Andy." The nationwide Mayberry movement started three years ago with a summer quarter class at the Twickenham Church of Christ in Huntsville, Ala.
"The comical interaction between the characters of Mayberry will never be duplicated," class co-founder Joey Fann wrote on his Web site, www.barneyfife.com. "But if you look a little closer, you begin to see some deeper values... such as honesty, integrity, character, forgiveness and responsibility."
Fann never dreamed the class would last longer than a quarter, much less spread across the country, he told me. But spread it has - to churches such as Faith Assembly of God in Dewar, Arrow Heights Baptist in Broken Arrow and St. Luke's United Methodist in Oklahoma City.
"It's like parables in the Bible," St. Luke's teacher Rick Moore said of the lessons taught by "The Andy Griffith Show." In the "Opie the Birdman" episode, for instance, Opie kills a mother bird, then must listen to the baby birds' cries. Being sorry, he learns, doesn't erase the consequences.
Each Sunday, Moore's class views a 22-minute episode and discusses the biblical principles depicted, often over cups of Aunt Bee's lemonade.
"We don't talk about deep theological issues," said Harrison, the Broken Arrow pastor.
With Barney Fife around, there ain't much room for rocket science.
It doesn't take a brain surgeon, however, to make a spiritual application when Barney says, "You see Ope, it ain't only the materialistic things in this world that makes a person rich; there's love and friendship - that can make a person rich."
Religion Editor Bobby Ross Jr. can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 475-3480. The following fields overflowed: SECTION = Oklahoma NOW! RELIGION - ETHICS - VALUESArchive ID: 850902