Best neighbor ever

Connect to the work and life of Fred Rogers on ‘Mr. Rogers’ Day’ March 20

by Tammy Warren | Presbyterian News Service

Kids young and old alike loved Fred Rogers, and he loved all his neighbors, just as they are. (Contributed photo)

LOUISVILLE — It’s nearly time to celebrate “Mr. Rogers’ Day” in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and what better day to do so than March 20, the birthday of one of the most well-known ordained Presbyterian ministers of all-time, everyone’s neighbor — Fred McFeely Rogers (1928–2003).

“In the 1980s the Peacemaking Program worked with Fred Rogers himself, and then again in the 1990s, with the producer of his television program ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,’ to create resources for Presbyterian congregations and families,” said the Rev. Carl Horton, coordinator for the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program. “Those resources, though dated, are still available and as timeless and relevant today as is the wisdom of Fred Rogers.”

It was Rogers himself who said, “We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say, ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.” Rogers also said, “Real strength has to do with helping others.”

The Presbyterian Peacemaking Program worked directly with Fred Rogers and  the producer of his pioneering television program to develop resources in the 1980s, timeless wisdom that is still of great benefit today. (Contributed photo)

When Rogers was a child and would see scary things in the news, his mother would say, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” He took comfort in knowing that especially during times of disaster, there are still many caring helpers.

“As a young child in a rural area that didn’t have preschool, Mr. Rogers was my first teacher,” said Stephanie Fritz, mission coordinator for Christian Formation in the Presbyterian Mission Agency. “Looking back, I think he was also a first pastor for many children as he embodied the Christian life in a way children connected to.”

Rogers hosted 895 episodes of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” transforming educational television for children for generations. (Contributed photo)

The Office of Christian Formation has compiled a pair of QuickSheets called “Fast and Fabulous Ideas for Ministry” to assist congregations in remembering and engaging in the work and life of Fred Rogers.

The QuickSheet “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” provides links to Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) resources in Compassion, Peace & Justice; Presbyterian Publishing Corporation, including Flyaway Books and Westminster John Knox Press; Office of Theology and Worship hymn suggestions and Scripture connections; and movies, television and other resources. This online resource includes a list of ‘10 things to do’ to participate in Mr. Rogers’ emphasis day, such as leading a children’s sermon about “being yourself.”

Another QuickSheet, “Neighboring Sunday,” offers a guide to planning community experiences for engaging in the neighborhood — even through an online gathering during pandemic times or through chalk art or a small plant and note left on a neighbor’s porch.

“We are excited to encourage faith communities to connect to his work through ‘neighboring well,’ Fritz said. “In order to live out the Matthew 25 vision, we should learn about the communities we are in and how we are called to join God at work in the neighborhood.”

Fred Rogers with King Friday XIII, ruler of the Neighborhood of Make Believe. Rogers was ordained by the Pittsburgh Presbytery in 1962 and encouraged to continue his ministry call to children through the media. (Contributed photo)

“The neighborhoods in which our Presbyterian congregations reside today are still Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood — places that need us to be good neighbors, offering hospitality and welcome to all, and breaking down the long-standing structures and barriers that divide neighbor from neighbor,” Horton said. “I’m thrilled that the church is setting aside this date and remembering the lessons of Fred Rogers.  I’m going to put on a cardigan sweater and sneakers on [Saturday] March 20 and try to channel as much of him as possible.”

Horton added, “Next year, March 20 will fall on Sunday, so we hope to put together an entire worship liturgy — Mr. Rogers’ style.”

Learn more about the Office of Christian Formation and access all Mr. Rogers’ Day resources.

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