Text Thoughts for Sunday 14th June 2020

Rev Fred Rogers

One of the things we’ve really enjoyed as a family over the past couple of months or so has been our Friday evenings when most weeks we’ve all sat down in the living room to watch a film. We’ve seen some really good films together including Mary Poppins Returns, Once upon a time in Hollywood, and Little Women – all quite different!

There’s another one, though, that we’ve watched (based on a true story) and I actually can’t believe it’s about someone I’d never heard of before, when not only does he seem to have been so famous but he was a Presbyterian minister like myself. His name was Fred Rogers, and in the film A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood he’s played by a sixth cousin of his, Tom Hanks.

Tom and his wife, Rita Wilson, have been unwell with COVID-19. They were both in hospital in Australia, and have thankfully recovered. Tom Hanks performance in A Beautiful Day . . . the usual tour de force by him. Fred Rogers was born in 1928. He died in 2003 aged 74, but for 33 years from 1968 to 2001 he hosted a Children’s television programme in America called Mister Roger’s Neighbourhood. And, as unlikely as it seems, despite being aimed at a pre-school target audience, this was a show in which he tackled a whole range of issues most of us would shy away from where that age group is concerned: such as bereavement and divorce.

From Latrobe near Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, Fred’s first degree was in music, and then he went into television, but while working as a broadcaster he also took a Divinity degree, trained for the ministry, and was then ordained in 1962. Forever after Fred understanding his ministry to be an on-screen one, further studies including ones in Child Development, for much of his career Fred Rogers collaborating closely with child psychologist, Margaret MaFarland (a close colleague of the famous, Benjamin Spock).

Fred’s wife, Joanne, would say of him that while he never really liked to preach, he always prayed (for people by name) and always felt it more important to teach by example, and that’s certainly something that comes through extremely well in the film. Fred Rogers clearly had an excellent rapport with children. But he also did with adults too, and I don’t want to spoil the film for you, but the plot hinges on Fred’s friendship with a journalist who in the film is called Lloyd, but who in real life is the award-winning, Tom Junod.

Who, when he turns up at the television studio where A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood is being shot in order to interview Fred, has no idea what a positive influence Fred is then going to have on him, and on his life. Fred Rogers was an extremely kind man. He was a very gentle man. But he was a brave man too. There’s a scene in the film where there’s what we might call an ‘elephant in the room’ and nobody else is going to mention it, and there’s a very long pause before Fred Rogers does, and as he does so he says that if something is mentionable then it’s manageable. And it was just the absolutely perfect thing for anyone to have said.

Tom Junod, who can’t help smiling when he thinks of his friend, was asked by an interviewer recently for three things he remembers Fred for. And the first is the way he would tell you that, ‘You are special’ whoever you are. The second is that he would actually tell you, ‘I like you’ but then he would add, ‘just the way you are.’ And the third was a message for adults only. For another of the things he would say to grown-ups was, ‘Remember, you were a child once too.’

And now a reading from the Bible, and this is from Matthew 19:

Jesus Blesses Little Children

“Some people brought children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and to pray for them, but the disciples scolded the people. Jesus said, “Let the children come to me and do not stop them, because the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Amen.

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Page last updated: 15th June 2020 10:32 AM