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Christ the King pastor goes to Mayberry for inspiration

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By Stephen Knapp

When the deeply studied theological speaker he’d lined up for Christ the King Catholic Church’s annual Lenten address begged off, Father Christopher Renner was left with two hours to fill, and a quandary.

“She knows about everything,” lamented Renner, a deeply studied fellow in his own right. “What do I know anything about? I know a little about ‘The Andy Griffith Show.’ ”

Of course, the several dozen parishioners packing Christ the King’s comfortable parish hall on the evening of Feb. 7 already knew that. Renner has been known to ladle a little Mayberry into his regular Sunday sermons.

“I use Andy Griffith a lot in my homilies,” he said. “I’m a huge fan of the show. I know them all.”

Granted, as a man in his 40s, Renner knows the half-century-old program only from reruns. But thanks to the miracle of cable television, “The Andy Griffith Show” still delights audiences daily and, like Walt Disney and C.S. Lewis, has never lost its power to entertain and edify.

“The themes reflect small-town values, and it contains a lot of religious themes, and a lot of Christian themes. I can usually find an episode of ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ that helps demonstrate a point I’m trying to make.”

On Thursday, after everyone had finished catching up and got settled with a cup of coffee, Renner began making one of those points.

“Lent is a time when we should slow down, pay more attention to our faith, work to improve ourselves,” he said. “But we all lead such busy lives these days that our biggest challenge is finding the time to stop and reflect. Sometimes, we have to work at being not busy.”

Not surprisingly, Renner found an episode of “The Andy Griffith Show” that nicely illustrated that very principle — 1963, episode No. 99, “The Sermon for Today.” After giving everyone a chance to load up with popcorn, he screened “The Sermon” from DVD. Without commercials, it made for a very tidy — and delightfully instructive — 20 minutes.

By way of synopsis, a visiting preacher from New York exhorts the Mayberry congregation to “slow down” and, fatefully, mentions the sadly lost practice of evening band concerts in the park. Later, as Andy, Barney Fife, Aunt Bea, Opie and Gomer laze on the Taylors’ front porch, the very picture of quiet indolence, they suddenly decide to take the preacher’s words to heart and hold a relaxing public band concert. What follows is an afternoon of frenetic — and ultimately fruitless — labor trying to make it happen. It’s a wonderful, funny, touching story offering a rich subtext concerning the true nature of “slowing down.”

As both a fan of “The Andy Griffith Show” and a man dedicated to spiritual matters, Renner appreciates the little parables and lessons contained within its nearly 250 chapters. As someone who’s taken the time to learn something of its genesis and conduct, however, he’s found just as much to admire in Andy Griffith, the man.

In the show’s very first episode, Renner explained, Opie was portrayed as a sass-talking, wisecracking little scamp. Griffith went immediately to his Desilu Studios producers and corrected that.

“He saw that the show’s underlying theme — its basis — was his relationship with Opie, the father-son relationship. And everything had to be real.” (Story continued after video)

After actor Walter Baldwin — Floyd the Barber, to millions — suffered a stroke that slurred his speech and paralyzed one hand, the producers moved to cut him from the program. Griffith would have none of it.

“He kept Baldwin on, and they just shot around the problem. In the later episodes, Baldwin was in a wheelchair, so you always see Floyd sitting down. To Griffith, the show was both about family, and the people working on it were a family.”

The small audience gathered in the parish hall clearly enjoyed the show, and just as clearly enjoyed Renner’s remarks. A tall man with an open face and ready smile, Renner speaks quickly and with light humor.

Just in case someone in the room wasn’t into Andy Griffith — an unlikely prospect — Renner presented a fascinating wealth of information regarding the historical blending of religion with television. Television, for instance, has a patron saint.

As it happened, St. Clare of Assisi, a 13th-century nun, grew ill and couldn’t attend Mass. Miraculously, the Mass unfolded on the stone wall of her cell.

“You could say that, by a miracle, it was the first television broadcast.”

In all, it was an illuminating evening, and none seemed to enjoy it more than Kelly Amen.

“I grew up in a small town, and I grew up watching ‘The Andy Griffith Show,’ ” Amen said. “I don’t watch it anymore, but I appreciate its messages and its family values. Unfortunately, there aren’t many shows like that to choose from anymore.”

“I think old-fashioned values like that are important,” agreed Bubba Moore, who enjoys Renner’s use of the old sitcom in his sermons. “It gives you a different perspective, and it helps make a point.”

By 8:30, the lecture was officially concluded, but Renner invited any who would to remain and view a screening of his personal favorite — 1963, episode No. 101, “Opie the Birdman.”

Good friends, fine, wholesome entertainment, and popcorn — of course they stayed to watch.

Contact staff writer Stephen Knapp at Stephen@evergreenco.com or 720-261-1665. For daily news and breaking stories, visit www .canyoncourier.com.

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