“The greatest thing that you can do is to help someone know that they are loved and capable of love.” – Fred Rogers
I recently went to see the documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” about the life and work of Fred Rogers. Growing up, I was a little too old (barely) to have watched his show “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” which was nationally syndicated in 1968. I was more into Batman and Spiderman cartoons rather than this low production children’s program with hand puppets and simple songs. Yet somehow, I still knew the words to the famous song that opened every show.
What struck me in the documentary is the way Fred Rogers interacted with the children in the show and in real life. Rogers disliked how children’s television at the time was so kitschy, more about pies in the face and slapstick than anything else. Rogers treated all children with respect seeing them as fully formed people who had struggles and serious questions about the world and their place in that world. His show was famous for addressing such questions as divorce, war, and racism.
Many people may not know that Fred Rogers was a Presbyterian minister, ordained as an evangelist. We may find that odd since he never mentioned church or religion in any of his shows as people often view evangelism as recruitment for heaven or at least the church. In fact, the Greek word for evangelism simply means sharing good news. Fred Rogers was a far cry from the televangelists and “Health and Wealth gospel” peddlers we find these days.
Fred Rogers shared the good news of Grace. You are loved and are capable of loving. His was not a complicated theological construct that required an allegiance to a particular statement of faith or specific group. He shared the good news that you are loved and are capable of loving others with the children he talked with and listened to each and every day.
We are evangelists also when through our daily living and interactions with others we simply share the good news with the people we meet that they are loved, and they are capable of loving others. We are called to share this good news with our spouse, our children, our friends, our coworkers, and the strangers we meet along the way. In a way, every day we should be inviting everyone around us, “Won’t You Be my Neighbor?”
Grace and Peace,