(The following is my first entry in Arlington Presbyterian Church’s weekly newsreel. I thought I would share it here as well.)
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
I’ve been asked quite a bit over the last few weeks about my job. The comments tend to go something like “you’re a neighborhood pastor! Great! What does that mean?”. As I’ve given this question some thought, I realized that I have a wonderful example of what it means to be a good neighborhood pastor: Fred Rogers.
I grew up in Pittsburgh, PA. There’s a few things in which all of us from “da ‘burgh” take huge amounts of pride: The Steelers, sandwiches with French fries on them, and of course, Mr. Rogers. You probably know that Fred Rogers was from the Pittsburgh area. You most likely know that he was a Presbyterian minister. What you may not know about Mr. Rogers him was that Pittsburgh Presbytery ordained him to his position on his TV show. He was ordained to be minister to young people and their families through the medium of television. How cool is that? The heart of Mr. Rogers’ mission should be one that we immediately recognize as being connected to our faith. He taught us to recognize the special gifts that each of us brings to the table, valuing what makes each of us unique. In recognizing our own uniqueness, we are more easily able to see what makes others unique and in that way, we would love our neighbor just as we love ourselves. Sound familiar?
There are three major attributes that I think made Mr. Rogers so effective that I would like to incorporate into my work:
- Curiosity: whether it was a boy on crutches, a world-class cellist, or the worker at a factory, Mr. Rogers always approached his neighbors with a sense of wonder both about who they were and what they did. He asked wide-eyed questions about people’s work and about their feelings. I think a big part of my job is approaching the people in South Arlington with that same sense of wonder, listening to their stories, and understanding their feelings about what is happening in the community.
- Affirmation: People who met Mr. Rogers always walked away feeling a little better about themselves than they did the moment before. I know several people who have met him in real life and they all attest to the fact that this was not just a part of the show. This was who he was. He affirmed people’s gifts and skills, but he also simply affirmed their being. I think this is something that we all need, but it is especially true of the vulnerable among us; kids, immigrants, the differently abled… to be able to tell those in our community that they are important not because of what they achieve but because of who they are, created in the image of God, is an important part of building community.
- Compassion: At the core of Mr. Rogers’ television ministry was a deep sense of compassion. He drew upon the awkward experiences of his own childhood as well as his formal studies of both child psychology and theology to share in sufferings of those in his neighborhood in a Christ-like way. Some of Mr. Rogers’ most enduring words have come in times of national crisis.
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'” I try to hold on to these words whenever the world feels a little overwhelming. When I look around South Arlington, I see a town full of helpers. And we could do so much more in this community if we all helped together.
I am incredibly excited for the opportunity to serve Arlington Presbyterian Church in this capacity. You probably won’t see me in a cardigan too often and if I begin to break out in song, run away! You might occasionally see a puppet or two, but that’s a story for another time. What’s important for now is that I am looking forward to being out in the community, listening to our neighbors, and learning how we as a church can be good neighbors in return.