The invitation that Fred Rogers offered to us was simple. It was sweet. It was clothed in humility and a bright red sweater. Disarming in his delivery and benevolent in spirit, Fred Rogers came in to our homes and taught us what it looked like to “let the little children come unto me (Matthew 19:14).”
Beginning this evening, April 17th, in the Mission and Fellowship Center during our Adult Bible Study Hour, we will be watching the documentary about the life and work of Fred Rogers and the neighborhood that he built and pastored. The movie, ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’ tells the story of a Presbyterian Minister who sought to create space for children to be loved, and for their curiosity to be sparked. In addition to achieving global notoriety for his award-winning children’s program, ‘Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,’ Fred Rogers would teach us what Jesus insisted his followers become; namely “meek, merciful and pure in heart (Jesus, in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount).”
I have very strong memories of Fred Rogers’ show. Each weekday afternoon, as a 4-year old, I would watch Sesame Street followed by ‘Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood’ while sprawled out on the shag carpet in our living room. My mother would be preparing supper as I tuned in, and my father—as though on cue—would walk in from work and pick up where Mr. Rogers’ had left off. In similar fashion, my father would take off his sportscoat and change his shoes as he transitioned from his workday to being at home. Mr. Rogers sang as he swept across his living room on our television sets. My father, in contrast, seemed weary from the world and rarely in the mood for a song.
Mr. Rogers’ became for my generation a co-parent and a guide, as it were. Like a good teacher or an effective pastor, Fred Rogers modeled for us civility and friendliness as we came of age.
Fred Rogers was faithful to Christ’s commandment to love his neighbor as himself. He did so by choosing to be a good neighbor to everyone he could encounter. Mr. Rogers showed us a lifestyle of grace and quiet humility. He invited us in to his home and provided us hospitality each afternoon. His home was a place of welcome for everyone, and he allowed it be a place to ask questions and to consider weighty subjects. When needed, he would tell stories in parables and would speak truth with authenticity and gentleness.
Fred Rogers didn’t simply “love kindness or have mercy.”
He embodied it.
As such, he can walk through our doors anytime. Perhaps by hearing his story in full, we’ll have energy to be the kind of neighbor that he invited us to become.