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Mister Rogers’ life of prayer for his neighborhood

If you hear someone singing, “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood,” most of you will know the person who made those words famous.  Fred Rogers, an ordained Presbyterian minister, sang these words, which were lyrics in the theme song of his children’s television program.

The first episode of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” aired on February 19, 1968.  The final episode of his half-hour educational program aired on August 31, 2008.  During the 895 episodes, Fred Rogers, a puppeteer, created 14 imaginary characters and he composed 200 songs.

A movie will be released next week in which actor Tom Hanks portrays Mister Rogers.  “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” tells “a timely story of kindness triumphing over cynicism, based on the true story of a real-life friendship between Fred Rogers and journalist Tom Junod,” who was assigned to write a profile of Fred Rogers.  Junod overcame his skepticism, learning about empathy, kindness and decency from America’s most beloved neighbor,” according to movie website www.imdb.com.

A book titled “The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers” was published last year on the 50th anniversary of his children’s program.  Author Amy Hollingsworth’s friendship with Fred Rogers began with a television interview and was followed by dozens of letters.  In her book, she describes Mister Rogers as a man of prayer.

She writes that his daily routine began at 5 a.m. with prayer, reflection and Bible reading.  “Each morning he prayed for his family and friends by name…The prayers continued into his workday.” Hollingsworth recalls Fred Rogers saying, “When I walk in that studio door each day, I say, ‘Dear God, let some word that is heard be Yours,’ he told me during our first meeting. Not only were his spoken words on television a focus of prayer, but also (were) the numerous decisions that had to be made daily.”

Rogers wrote in one letter to her, “When I asked for your prayers, I didn’t mean to be vague about the need. I always pray that through whatever we produce (whatever we say and do) some word that is heard might ultimately be God’s word. That’s my main concern. All the others are minor compared to that. As you know in this business there are countless decisions every day (every hour!) and I solicit your prayers for guidance from above in all the decisions which must be made all the time.”  Mister Rogers lived the words of 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray without ceasing.”

“Fred Rogers committed his life to making television programs for the very young because he saw its potential as an instrument for good as a gift. He cared deeply about those on the other side of the screen – their needs, concerns, struggles and joys,” states www.misterrogers.org. “He often said that he trusted that if he was giving his honest self, the viewer would hear it in a way that could be helpful. ‘The space between the television screen and whoever happens to be receiving it… I consider that holy ground.’”

Perhaps author Amy Hollingsworth said it best, “Everything Fred Rogers did was a prelude to – or an outcome of – prayer.”