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Kindness ‘rocks’ on first Mister Rogers’ Day in the PC(USA)

Presbyterians show love to their neighbors through creative acts of service and compassion

by Tammy Warren | Presbyterian News Service

During the Mr. Rogers’ Day Care Package Extravaganza, held in the parking lot at Nassau Presbyterian Church in Princeton, New Jersey, students and young adults with Princeton Presbyterians visit and create art together. (Contributed photo)

LOUISVILLE — What did you do on Mister Rogers’ Day?

Saturday, March 20 would have been the 93rd birthday of Fred Rogers (1928–2003), remembered perhaps as the greatest virtual teacher of all time and a beloved ordained minister of word and sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

This year, staff in the Office of Christian Formation created QuickSheets resources to help congregations commemorate the inaugural Mister Rogers’ Day (March 20) and Neighboring Sunday, which can be any Sunday a congregation chooses.

School-age children from the Center for Children at La Crescenta Presbyterian Church, in La Crescenta, California, helped hide “kind rocks” in local parks during Mr. Rogers’ Week. (Contributed photo)

Pat Murphy Chambers, director of the Center for Children of La Crescenta Presbyterian Church, in La Crescenta, California, said children six weeks to 14 years old participated in a week of activities. The younger children watched an episode of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” each day and learned how to say “I love you” in sign language, which they also turned into art to decorate their classroom door.

School-age children from the Center for Children at La Crescenta Presbyterian Church, in La Crescenta, California, helped hide “kind rocks” in local parks during Mister Rogers’ Week. (Contributed photo)

All ages painted and decorated “kind rocks” that the school-age children helped hide in three local parks. Children and families were encouraged to wear masks and take a healthy, socially distanced walk with their families to search for the rocks, and to take photographs along the way. Anyone finding a rock could choose to take it home or bring it to the center to add to a rock display near the office. One day during the week, everyone also remembered Mr. Rogers by donning a red cardigan sweater or shirt.

First Presbyterian Church of Jacksonville, North Carolina, honored the late Fred Rogers through a monthlong collection of toys and children’s books donated to Finders Keepers Thrift Store, supporting Onslow Women’s Center’s Safe House, a nonprofit that assists individuals experiencing domestic violence or abuse.

First Presbyterian Church of Troy, Ohio, set up outside the church to provide refreshments for neighbors on Mister Rogers’ Day, March 20. (Contributed photo)

First Presbyterian Church of Troy, Ohio, asked congregants to each reach out to four, five or more neighbors in the community, leaving prepackaged snacks, water or a sports drink, a polished cross rock, flowers and a card from the church to explain why the act of neighborly kindness was being done. To promote the community outreach, the church also created a minute for mission video of choir members singing the “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” theme song. Stefanie Swift, program director at the church who lived most of her life in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, said the Rev. E.W. Sensenbrenner, pastor emeritus of the church, was in the same class as Fred Rogers at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Sensenbrenner will celebrate his 90th birthday in 2022, she said.

Princeton Presbyterians, the campus ministry for undergraduate and graduate students at Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey, has a longstanding history of providing care packages to students. Last year, before COVID-19, an undergraduate student leader suggested setting up a table in the student center so students could stop by and assemble care packages. More than 100 care packages were assembled in 2020. This year the team got inspired by a graphic shared on the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Instagram and decided to create a “Mister Rogers’ Day Care Package Extravaganza.”

“The event brought lots of joy to the neighborhood,” said the Rev. Lenore Turner Scales, part-time pastor for mission and outreach, Nassau Presbyterian Church in Princeton and Presbyterian chaplain and executive co-director of Princeton Presbyterians, a nonprofit  overseen by the Westminster Foundation.

“We set up a care package buffet of sorts,” Turner Scales said, including gear with the Princeton Presbyterians motto from Micah 6:8: “Do Justice, Love Kindness. Walk Humbly,” copies of a collection of interviews with Fred Rogers, lavender sachets by Brownn Child Flower Crowns, individually packaged baked good to share from Sugar Street Bakehouse, as well as school supplies, small toys and snacks. The event also included interactive components such as giant Jenga, sidewalk chalk to write some favorite Mister Rogers’ inspirational quotes and a tie-dye station with Tie Dye by Lizzie.

Over a few hours on Mister Rogers’ Day, 55 neighbors wore masks and maintained a safe social distance while visiting the care package extravaganza in the back of Nassau Presbyterian’s parking lot. For many, including Turner Scales, it was the largest in-person event they had attended in more than a year. With students off campus and all regular programming happening virtually due to the pandemic, a larger than typical portion of budget was reallocated to cover gear and interactive activities for the extravaganza.

Young adults from Nassau Presbyterian Church gather for a neighborhood photo after the Mister Rogers’ Day Care Package Extravaganza with Princeton Presbyterians. (Photo by Len Turner Scales)

“We’re proud we were able to invest in our neighborhood, bring attention to new business startups bearing joy into the community, and offer a COVID-safe environment for students and young adults to connect,” Turner Scales said.

Miatta Wilson, mission specialist in the Office of Christian Formation, said, “As I put my arms through the sleeves of my cardigan sweater to take a photo for a social media post, I was transported back to listening to Mister Rogers speak to children with care and respect and doing what author Michael Long calls his ‘countercultural practices of peacebuilding’ in the book ‘Peaceful Neighbor: Discovering the countercultural Mister Rogers.’”

Wilson said it has been exciting to learn how congregations and church leaders are finding ways to engage with their neighborhoods during the pandemic and celebrating the work of Fred Rogers in worship. “This day can easily connect the generations; church and neighborhood; Christian Formation; and Compassion, Peace and Justice.”

Rogers hosted 895 TV episodes of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” transforming educational television for children for generations. His timeless quotes remain favorites among adults today, like this one:

“Imagine what our real neighborhoods would be like if each of us offered, as a matter of course, just one kind word to another person.”  — Fred Rogers

The Rev. Carl Horton, coordinator, Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, top left; Stephanie Fritz, mission coordinator for Christian Formation, Presbyterian Mission Agency, lower left; and Miatta Wilson, mission specialist in the Office of Christian Formation (Contributed Photo)

“Fred Rogers was always a friend of the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program,” said the Rev. Carl Horton, coordinator for the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program. “In the 1980s, he wrote a resource for us called ‘Peacemaking in the Family.’ In the 1990s, we collaborated with Family Communications, the producers of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, to create an intergenerational project called ‘Building a Neighborhood Together.’” Horton said the designation Mister Rogers’ Day in the Presbyterian Church will allow the good work to continue. “This will be a chance for us to continue his legacy of creatively building resilient, generous, just and neighborly communities,” Horton said.

“There’s something about Mr. Rogers that unites us,” said Stephanie Fritz, mission coordinator for Christian Formation in the Presbyterian Mission Agency. “All over social media channels there was evidence of creative and beautiful ways that faith communities and individuals connected to the life and work of Fred Rogers.”

The Office of Christian Formation has plans to collaborate across the denomination to develop even more resources for Mister Rogers’ Day 2022 — which will be celebrated on Sunday, March 20.

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