How an Old Friend Helped Us Find Our Way. Thank You, Mr. Rogers!

Although doing church differently is something that always excites me, I have to be honest with you. Trying to land and feel settled about our new normal within the established church has been exhausting.

Moving from trying to survive to finding a new normal

As reality has set in, one thing has been crystal clear to my lead pastor and I. The way our established church or fresh expressions gather for worship, prayer, and discipleship is not going to feel “normal” for quite some time. Don’t get me wrong, my congregation has been so appreciative of all the worship opportunities we have made available through the internet, phone, and good old snail mail. They may not really like having to do this, but they have been cheering us on.

The way our established church or fresh expressions gather for worship, prayer, and discipleship is not going to feel 'normal' for quite some time. Click To Tweet

If we’re honest, thanks to our liturgical calendar, it was easy to think of content for March and April. However, as we looked to May, we knew that more than content was needed and we would have to begin figuring out exactly what the future of our church, both our established church and our Fresh Expressions would look like because most of our Fresh Expressions have joined this new online expression of church because it feels like the only option.

We knew people were wrestling with feeling like things are okay. We knew that everyone would like to get back to normal, but also knew normal wasn’t possible. It was like we were all stuck in this Fresh Expression of church and our response to that feeling of being stuck was important because stuck can lead to negative feelings towards our Fresh Expressions and we want both the established church and our Fresh Expressions to feel as though they are able to have all of those most important elements of church moving forward.

Now entering Mr. Rogers Neighborhood

This is how we landed on creating a series that is rooted in the resources available through UMC Discipleship resources that go with the movie, Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. These resources helped us shape messages as well as opportunities to begin to help our congregation and fresh expressions re-connect in safe ways through virtual neighborhoods.

As I prepared the first message of this series, something hit me that may be helpful to you and your established church. You see, the average age of my established congregation is 70. Yes, a majority of my congregation would be classified as highly vulnerable in this pandemic world we find ourselves in, and yes, a majority of my congregation is not real comfortable with technology. However, all of them are familiar with Fred Rodgers. If they didn’t spend time themselves as children tuning into Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, their children did. And helping them look at our new reality as a church through familiar eyes, the eyes they had as children and parents watching Fred Rogers, has been a game-changer.

Nuggets of wisdom from Mr. Rogers

Fred Rogers was not a fictional character, he was real. And, as he was an ordained Presbyterian minister, I’m going to go out on a limb and say Mr. Rogers had a Fresh Expression of Church long before any of us knew the term. He was able to gather children (and adults too) from all over the place, providing a safe place for them to love themselves and others, to always have a friend and learn together. Sounds an awful lot like church to me.

This is when I could also see the nuggets of wisdom that could be found in how Mr. Rogers developed his show. I mean, if churches could get people to tune into Jesus the way they tuned into him, wouldn’t it be great? Here are just a few nuggets of wisdom I believe the church could use as we lean into our new reality that I have gleaned from Mr. Rogers and his Beautiful Neighborhood:

  • Those who knew Fred Rogers personally would tell you that what you saw on the television was Fred’s true and authentic self. He cared deeply for people and saw a generation in need of care. As we connect with those both in our actual established neighborhoods and those new neighborhoods that could virtually be anywhere, we must be our authentic selves. If we do not actually care about helping people grow in the likeness of Christ and come alongside them, even the best online content in the world will not matter.
  • People tuned in time and time again because they trusted Mr. Rogers to tell them the truth. He wasn’t afraid to tell you the truth, even when it wasn’t comfortable to hear. The topics he covered were not always sunny and bright, but he always found a way to help you see the beauty in others, the beauty in yourself, and ultimately how to say it is a beautiful day in the neighborhood. People want to know the truth. In order for the church to be the hope of the world, we have to be willing to be a place people can count on for truth!
  • Yes, he may have had make-believe characters from time to time, but every show was intentional. Every word in the lyrics for the music he penned was intentional. This is how his friends became our friends, those that were make-believe, and those that were real. And somehow, this person you had never seen or met in person became someone you could trust. And you couldn’t wait until your next visit. We must be intentional as we make real relational connections with both our established congregation and our fresh expressions.
If we do not actually care about helping people grow in the likeness of Christ and come alongside them, even the best online content in the world will not matter. Click To Tweet

Won’t you be my neighbor?

I know these aren’t necessarily new and brilliant ideas, but for me, they helped. If you’ve already figured out how to navigate an older congregation and a Fresh Expressions movement into this new reality, kudos to you! However, if you’ve read all the way to this point it’s more likely that you feel like I do. You’re trying to figure out exactly what is next and how you can help your church, established or fresh expressions, feel better about this new normal we find ourselves in.

I hope looking at things this way may be helpful because friends, we’re all in the same neighborhood right now and the world is our parish! There are people out there both in our established congregation and fresh expressions and now even those on the margins of spirituality just waiting for us to ask the question, “please won’t you be my neighbor?”. Let’s open our virtual doors and invite them into our Jesus-filled neighborhood!


Ann Marie Carley

As a UMC Deacon Ann Marie’s ministry focus is helping churches walk through sacred change. She is currently living out this call by serving as the Executive Pastor (and overseeing Fresh Expressions) at Trinity Church in Chillicothe, Ohio. She and her husband are passionate about sharing Jesus, cycling, cycling to tacos and exploring new ways to connect with others.


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