After 50 years in children's television and 33 years as the creator and host of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," the Rev. Fred Rogers aired the last original episode of his tremendously popular television program on Friday, Aug. 31, 2001.
Yes, you read correctly. It is the Reverend Fred Rogers. An ordained Presbyterian Church (USA) pastor, Rogers has been ministering to the world's children and adults since his first television show appeared in 1954.
"Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," which first aired in 1968, is the longest running program on the Public Broadcast System. Yet, much like "The Wizard of Oz," the theme of Fred Rogers' message is timeless and his vast library of 1,000 episodes will be enjoyed on PBS stations for years to come.
David Newell, the show's spokesperson who also plays the role of Mister McFeely ("Speedy Delivery!"), told me that Fred Rogers is not retiring, but instead he is "expanding his neighborhood with endeavors that will continue to build a brighter tomorrow for future generations of children."
Expanding the neighborhood—that's a precious way of describing Rogers' ministry and a powerful image for the United Church of Christ to consider as we work to strengthen our church's varied and numerous ministries of justice, compassion, service, and advocacy.
The UCC's Neighbors in Need Offering, received by many congregations in October, is a long-standing ministry tool for us to participate directly in the care, maintenance and repair of God's expansive neighborhood. Yes, the world is God's neighborhood!
Through our collective generosity, the United Church of Christ supports congregations, local organizations, and national ministries that positively impact the lives of our neighbors, that offer bread and justice for the poor and hungry, that challenge oppressive forces that seek to divide us. Every day, I am privileged to witness how Neighbors in Need makes a real difference in the lives of people.
Starting this year, the number of all-church offerings and appeals has been reduced from six to four. So, for the first time, the General Synod mandate for Neighbors in Need now includes the objectives of the former Hunger Action Fund and the Just Peace Appeal—making this year's Neighbors in Need offering more crucial than ever.
I consider Fred Rogers to be an American hero, a man of legendary proportion who has spent his entire life reminding us of simple things—kindness, respect, creativity, friendship, and gratitude. In many ways, Neighbors in Need reflects this same kind of simple theology: By giving generously from what we have, together we share in the timeless message of the church's care and concern for all who live alongside us in God's neighborhood.
For more information on Neighbors in Need, visit the UCC website at ucc.org/steward/nin. Also, children—and people of all ages—interested in Mister Rogers' Neighborhood can visit www.pbs.org/rogers or www.misterrogers.org.
The Rev. J. Bennett Guess works in the national setting of the UCC and is a lifelong Mister Rogers fan.