Most of you know of my admiration for Mr. Rogers. As his birthday approaches this week (he would have been 87 on March 20) I have been thinking about how he came to be not only Mr. Rogers our television neighbor, but also the Rev. Fred McFeely Rogers, an ordained Presbyterian minister.
At some point in his life, as he was preparing to be a puppeteer, he saw a television set. He was not very enthusiastic about the programming he saw in the early years of TV, but he saw its potential to reach out to a wide audience, and a place for his own gifts to be nurtured. And then, as he was pursuing children’s programming on one of the first public television stations in America, WQED in Pittsburgh, he also entered Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, working on his degree nights and weekends. In 1962 he was ordained as a Presbyterian minister, and immediately began his ministry in children’s television. In 1968, when PBS first broadcast "Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood," Fred Rogers walked through the door of his television home, put one of the dozen sweaters his mother knitted for him, changed into his sneakers, and began blessing the lives of children of all ages.
Mr. Rogers’ decision to pursue children’s television as a ministry was quite forward thinking in the late 1950s and early 1960s. But I also know that in the Presbyterian way of doing things, a decision like this is never reached alone. A Session sponsors a candidate, and several Presbytery committees are involved in the process of education and formation, and finally, the whole Presbytery is responsible for a candidate’s ordination.
Usually, when a minister is ordained, it is only after they have received a call from a congregation to become a pastor. But in Fred Rogers’ case, the Presbytery of Pittsburgh ordained him to what we now called a "specialized ministry." I am impressed that the members of that Session and Presbytery had the foresight and the wisdom to put this ordination forward. I’m sure there were nay-sayers and sceptics. But sometimes it is worth taking a risk.
It makes me wonder what kind of creative, gifted, young woman or man is even now preparing to pursue ministry in ways we have never considered before. And I wonder if we will still be as supportive and open to the way the Spirit leads.
I think nothing would make Fred Rogers happier. Happy Birthday, Mr. Rogers.
Read more about Mr Rogers at http://projects.latimes.com/hollywood/star-walk/fred-rogers/
Fred Rogers Photo: Walt Seng / Associated Press