In recent years Fred Rogers, everyone’s favorite “neighbor,” has made quite a comeback.
His original children’s program began in 1968 and did not go off the air until 2001, which means generations of children have been influenced by the man in the cardigan singing lyrics like, “It’s such a good feeling, to know you’re alive!” and, of course, “Won’t you be my neighbor?”
Unless you have read or seen a biography about Rogers, what you may not know is that “Mr.” was really a stage title, because off-camera Fred was in fact “Reverend.”
The Rev. Fred Rogers, a graduate of Pittsburgh Theology Seminary and an ordained minister in the United Presbyterian Church, believed his calling to be to care and nurture children and their families through the medium of television.
Like many of you, I was a recipient of Rev. Roger’s ministry. One of my earliest memories is watching "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" with my dad every morning. (Only recently did I learn that the show’s ratings peaked during the years of 1985-1986, otherwise known as my preschool years.) I don’t remember many specifics from those days, but I do remember Mr. Roger’s kind, calm, tender spirit.
So, you can imagine how disturbed I was when I sat my own children down to watch an episode of vintage "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood." What I thought was going to be a sentimental moment quickly devolved into a disaster.
“This is so boring!”
“Why isn’t he doing anything?”
That last comment really stung. How did they not see the Christ-like presence of Rev. Rogers trying to tell them they were loved and accepted “just the way they are?” We did not even make it through the first 10 minutes before I turned it off. I could not stand by and allow them to make a mockery of my childhood.
Not long after that debacle I found myself refereeing an argument on a Saturday morning about what TV show to watch. And you know the one show my three all gladly agreed upon? "Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood."
For those of you without small children, "Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood," now in its fifth season, is a spin-off of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood." Once a puppet in the Land of Make-Believe, Daniel is now an animated character with lots of dilemmas to explore. He also sings songs like, “Being kind is the right thing to do,” and “In some ways we are different, but in so many ways we are the same.”
I have come to accept the fact that my children are not interested in watching "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," and I can do this now without too much regret because it seems they are now the recipients of the next iteration of Rev. Rogers' ministry.
Whether they know it or not, the little phrases and jingles they often repeat are not just the musings of a cartoon tiger — they are gospel truth.
“I like you as you are
Exactly and precisely
I think you turned out nicely
And I like you as you are
I like you as you are
Without a doubt or question
Or even a suggestion
Cause I like you as you are.”
— Rev. Fred Rogers
Rev. Kathy Wolf Reed serves as co-pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Auburn. Her writing has appeared in publications such as Journal for Preachers, The Christian Century, and Presbyterians Today.