Build up the body of Christ. Support the Pentecost Offering.

‘Who didn’t grow up watching Mister Rogers?’

Being Matthew 25 broadcast explores ministry gifts and opportunities found in the neighborhood

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

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

LOUISVILLE — Thursday’s Being Matthew 25 broadcast, which you can view here or here, was all about neighborliness.

Host the Rev. DeEtte Decker and her guests, the Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett and Stephanie Fritz, were pointing toward Sunday, when the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) celebrates Mister Rogers Day. Fred Rogers, who died in 2003, was the Presbyterian pastor turned children’s television pioneer who taught millions of people how to be a good neighbor and the importance of exploring the neighborhood.

“Who didn’t grow up watching Mister Rogers?” said Moffett, president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. “He always talked about care and respect for one’s neighbor. I didn’t understand until later he was a Presbyterian pastor, but I can definitely see how he helped children to understand what faithfulness requires — loving God and loving neighbor as ourselves. That’s definitely a Matthew 25 piece.”

Stephanie Fritz

Before becoming the mission coordinator in the PMA’s Office of Christian Formation, Fritz served a downtown Denver church that was “committed to knowing its neighbors.” Many downtown congregations include a number of commuters who “may not understand the neighborhood they go to church in,” Fritz said. At the heart of that curiosity is this Rogers quote: “Frankly, there isn’t anyone you can’t learn to love once you’ve heard their story.”

Growing up watching “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” “I could see grandparents and kids my age. It was everybody, and that’s what stuck with me,” Decker said. “I love that these resources [found here] are meant to bring the neighborhood together so we can learn about our neighbors.”

“Mister Rogers had values of storytelling and listening. He really modeled that,” Fritz said. “If that’s all we do, it’s a wonderful first step.”

Thursday’s broadcast also featured three brief videos. In the first, the Rev. Scott Parker, a mission co-worker, discussed the Strong Kids, Strong Emotions trauma resiliency program he helps lead for Iraqi and Syrian refugee children. One activity involves “dumping googly eyes and pipe cleaners” on a table as an invitation to create.

“When I am consumed by anxiety, it’s hard to engage creatively,” Parker said. “But when we do, the anxiety shuts off. They can simply be a kid.”

“If we are serious about eradicating systemic poverty,” Parker said, “we have to get more serious about addressing childhood trauma.”

A second video described Seattle Presbytery’s Matthew 25 work, especially its Thriving Congregations learning cohort, financed by a grant from the Lilly Endowment.

The film features the Rev. Scott Lumsden and the Rev. Eliana Maxim, co-executive presbyters, as well as the Rev. Tali Hairston, the presbyter’s director of Community Organizing, Advocacy and Development, who leads the Thriving Congregations cohort.

In the film, Hairston is depicted talking with members of three congregations east of Seattle. A central tenet is this quote from Tim Shapiro, the author of “How Your Congregation Learns”: “Congregations don’t just do new things; they learn to do new things.”

“Congregations in this learning cohort are having hard conversations that are easy to shy away from,” Maxim says in the video. Some churches “are so busy taking care of their to-do list they shy away from these deeper conversations.”

“Scott and Eliana said, ‘Go talk to these churches,’” Hairston says in the video. “What does it mean to creatively cultivate Christian practices? We are learning a lot about what that means” by looking at the relationship participating churches have between place and story.

A third video featured “Jesus, Teach Us to Be Neighbors,” a hymn written by the Rev. Dr. David Gambrell, Associate for Worship in the Office of Theology & Worship, and Wil Smith, Austin Lovelace composer-in-residence and senior organist at Wellshire Presbyterian Church in Denver. Hear the hymn sung by the church’s choir by clicking here.

With so many people homebound by the coronavirus for the past two years, Presbyterians and others have been afforded the chance to get to know their neighbors and their neighborhood better, Fritz said. If indeed the pandemic is winding down, it’s the chance to continue that getting-to-know-you process.

“We can remember what it felt like” to better understand the neighborhood, she said, “and how we want to be more in touch with our neighbors.”

The Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett

Moffett said she’s visited the Pittsburgh church where Rogers “did a lot of his work.” She said Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus’ parable on The Judgement of the Nations, was an important passage in his mind.

“Jesus makes the distinction between sheep and goats. [Rogers’] whole thing was, ‘I hope I have been a sheep.’ It was a sense of humility, and it was a major scripture for him,” Moffett said. “As he was preparing to leave the church on this side of heaven, he was contemplating Matthew 25. That stuck with me. He was definitely thinking about all of us being neighbors.”

As a denomination, we are evolving together, Moffett said in drawing the 45-minute broadcast to an end. “Treating each other with respect is so central to Matthew 25,” Moffett said. “I hope you are ready to work with others to help heal God’s people.”

The next Being Matthew 25 broadcast is set for 1 p.m. Eastern Time on April 21. The topic is generational change as conversations for seasons to come. Being Matthew 25 can be viewed on the PC(USA)’s Facebook page or YouTube channel.

Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

  • Subscribe to the PC(USA) News

  • Interested in receiving either of the PC(USA) newsletters in your inbox?

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.