What would Fred Rogers say about the coronavirus?


Everyday God-Talk explores the connection between a centuries-old confession and a beloved children’s television host

by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Jeff Eddings and So Jung Kim discuss Fred Rogers, a centuries-old confession and other matters during “Everyday God-Talk.”

LOUISVILLE  —  In the latest installments of Everyday God-Talk, So Jung Kim, the associate for Theology in the Presbyterian Mission Agency, hosts a two-part video conversation about what the late Presbyterian minister and television host Fred Rogers might say and do during the current pandemic.

Kim talks with the Rev. Jeff Eddings, 1001 New Worshiping Communities associate for Coaching, about how his and Rogers’ lives were connected. Both were from Pittsburgh. Like millions of others, Eddings grew up watching the PBS television show “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” Eddings also attended Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, where Rogers went.

“Times like these really help us understand the depth of what Mister Rogers taught us,” Eddings said.  “How we belong to each other — and everyone.”

Kim and Eddings discussed how Rogers was a truth teller, and how he would speak about difficult topics with children — including feelings people of all ages are dealing with now, like pain, fear, anxiety and anger.

Eddings shared a story with Kim how a seminary professor influenced Rogers by telling him that people have two choices when dealing with the anger: to either be an accuser or an advocate.

“We can either find someone to blame, whether they’d done anything wrong or not,” Eddings said, “or come alongside someone as a loving, caring person.”

Eddings told Kim that Rogers would call people out today for blaming those of Asian descent for the virus and that Mister Rogers would also address such action as bullying.

In part two of their conversation, Kim and Eddings explored the connections between a section of the Second Helvetic Confession dealing with the visitation of the sick, this time of social distancing and, of course, Rogers.

They talked about Rogers’ hallmarks of caring for the most vulnerable during a time of crisis and trauma, and how he reminded children and their parents to look for the helpers, to those who bring comfort and care — the ones on the front lines, like doctors, nurses, and paramedics, who put themselves in harm’s way, bringing help even as they are exposed to the virus.

Eddings also emphasized that Rogers would say that everyone can be a helper, even while maintaining social distance, by making face masks, being in touch with those who are isolated,  writing a letter and staying apart from each other.

“By creating space, we are helping others,” Eddings said.

Kim and Eddings also talked about how deeply connected Rogers was to God’s love — how Rogers lived out his theology and enjoyed the practice of intentional silence.

Before inviting people into that practice, Kim and Eddings offered a brief spiritual and theological reflection on COVID-19.  They spoke about how the virus reminds us of our connectedness to Creation and to each other — and that we belong to each other. That God as Spirit is present, and at work even this time. That suffering is woven into the fabric of Creation, that God weeps with us and that Emmanuel God is with us.

Watch Kim’s conversation on Everyday God-Talk with Eddings on the Office of Theology & Worship’s Facebook page.  Download the videos here.

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