Yesterday, March 20, was the birthday of the Rev. Fred Rogers, who died in 2003. Most of you know that Mr. Rogers is an influential person in my life. But even though I wear sweaters all winter, and I occasionally like to sing one of his songs, “It’s You I Like,” I don’t really try to imitate Mr. Rogers. I do try to emulate some of the things he stood for, however.
Among many other things, Mr. Rogers showed us that when adults pay attention to children, take them seriously, listen with genuine interest to what they have to say, we validate their lives and let them know just how important they are to our world. Childhood, he taught us, is not just a transitory phase of life, to be gotten through quickly so we can move on to the more important work of being an adult. He showed us how valuable the insights and feelings of children are to understanding our world. You can learn a lot by listening to a younger person. Without ever quoting it explicitly, the Rev. Fred Rogers embodied the teaching of Jesus that says, “Let the little children come to me and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly, I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
To be part of the process when a young person discovers some of the truths about our faith, or shares their own feelings about one of the stories of the Bible, is a high honor and privilege. I find that to be true at all ages, from the very youngest child to the oldest kid. The times when that happens, on a Sunday morning during Echo the Story, or on a Wednesday evening during Confirmation, or any time at all—these are some of the most rewarding times in my Christian life.
And like most of the best ways to engage children, it doesn’t require any particular skill or aptitude. All you need to do is be there and listen. It is the kind of experience that happens very rarely, if at all, in any other place than church. And when it happens here, it is a beautiful day in this neighborhood.