Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Have you seen the documentary about Rev. Mr. Fred Rogers, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” It made me very proud to be a Presbyterian minister. My husband and I went with some friends. As we were leaving the theater, he and I were standing outside waiting for our friends who were delayed leaving the theater. I ran into an acquaintance whom I know from the place where I work out. (Work out friends are kind of like kindergarten friends, I have found. You might have a nice conversation and even know something about their lives but if someone asks you their name, you are like a kindergartener reporting a playground encounter. “She is my friend, and we had a very happy conversation today.” Your mother asks, “What is your friend’s name?” “I don’t know. . . “) Anyway, after seeing the movie I did something I don’t often do with casual acquaintances. She was there with friends from her work at the public television station in Peoria. When she put herself in that context, I told her that my husband and I are both Presbyterian ministers. I don’t often do that in casual conversation because you can either see people trying to think back over conversations you have had and trying to remember if they have cursed in front of you; or they ask you some deep theological question they have always wondered about. In this case, I was proud to stand with Rev. Rogers.

There is a scene in the movie when Mr. Rogers invites the police office character to join him in an activity. The story on the show is that it is a hot day and Mr. Rogers is cooling his feet off in a little swimming pool. He invites the police officer to do the same.  The officer sits down, removes his shoes and socks and enjoys the cool water. There is a long shot of their four feet in the pool together. It happens that the police officer is African American. The larger context in the late 1960’s had to do with integrating swimming pools. In various places across the country white people were objecting to this practice. In the documentary, they show a scene from a newscast. There is a pool at a motel where black and white adults are swimming in the same pool. The motel owner objects and throws bleach and cleaning chemicals into the water while the people are still in it. Our colleague Rev. Rogers decided to address that issue on his program which was designed for very young children. He never said anything about justice or prejudice or white supremacy. He simply invited his friend to partake in a pleasant activity together on a hot day.

How do you address the issues of 2018 in your practice of ministry, whether as a Minister of Word and Sacrament or as an elder or deacon or Sunday School teacher or choir member or faithful worship attendee? What approach do you use to show your understanding of the heart of our faith that we are all saved always and only because of who God is, and not because of who we are? How are you bringing hope in the name of Jesus Christ ?

Susan D. Krummel (Sue)
Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Chicago