The start of a new year is a good time to take a seat on the Neighborhood Trolley.
FPC has one, currently on display in Currie Library. Joanne Rogers sent it a few years ago after we voted her late husband, Fred Rogers, winner of March Madness for Ministry.
In case you need a refresher, March Madness for Ministry matched theologians against each other in a tournament. We voted, round by round, to choose the most influential shaper of the faith.
In our competition, Fred Rogers, the lanky man in the comfortable sweater, outlasted Christian luminaries such as John Calvin, C.S. Lewis, Saint Francis of Assisi, and Mother Teresa. (The last name he knocked out in our competition was another Presbyterian pastor – Rev. James Naismith, the inventor of basketball.)
Fred was ordained as a Presbyterian pastor, becoming Rev. Rogers five years before he became “Mister Rogers” to millions of children on TV. Joanne Rogers said in an interview that the command from his ordination was to be an evangelist working in television to serve children and families.
Even years after his death, his evangelism continues on the big screen with A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. The film doesn’t address Fred’s faith, but that’s OK. Fred modeled his faith in his show, and that comes through.
One ordained filmgoer put it this way:
“This ends up being an anti-narcissism movie, a story about a TV star who was an anti-diva. … In most pop culture, when you try to capture that kind of spiritual quality, it rings hollow.
“But that isn’t what happens in this case. I really think people will leave theaters thinking, ‘I wish that I could be more like him.’ People need to ask, ‘Why is that?’ ”
The next question might be “How is that?” – what does it mean to commit to a seat on the trolley? How do we call beautiful days into being in our own neighborhoods in 2020 and beyond?
Fred might suggest what worked in his own life: praying every morning, asking others to pray for us, being a good Samaritan – showing kindness to everyone and welcoming to those who are different – and showing our faith by our actions.
“All life events are formative,” he said. “All contribute to what we become, year by year, as we go on growing.”
If you want to give this some more thought, check out the collection of Fred Rogers books and CDs in Currie Library near the Welcome Center. And look for a Mister Rogers intergenerational study from Christian Formation ministry in late spring!
PS: Fred is one of several Presbyterian pastors in major films. This Presbyterian News Service article has more.