Centern Stories: Week One with Natalie

“What Do You Think Is Important?” by Fred Rogers

What what what do you think?
What do you think is important really?
What what what do you think?
What do you think really counts?
What do you think about other people?
What do you think about new ideas?
What what what do you think?
What do you think is important?

Some people think that houses and cars and lots of fancy toys
Are the things that are most important for grown-up girls and boys
Of course houses are nice if there's love inside
And cars are too if they run well
It's the things that we do with the toys that we have
That help us to feel that we've done well

What what what do you think?
What do you think is important really?
What what what do you think?
What do you think is the best?
What kind of world would you like to live in?
What kind of love would you like to give?
What is essential for you and your neighbor?
What what what do you think?
What do you think is important?

This week, the other interns and I went out for crepes and a showing of “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?,” the new documentary about Mister Fred Rogers. It’s a beautiful film about Rogers’ personal call to spread kindness to all. In the emergence of television, Mister Rogers was somehow able to form relational bonds with viewers across the nation. The Center focuses on creating and nurturing relationships that can better a neighborhood.

Many of the groups that visit The Center are groups of high schoolers who were essentially born into a congregation together. The youth know each other’s families and they have been friends since their first day of Sunday School. I had the pleasure of working alongside a group from First Presbyterian Church (Ann Arbor, MI) for Week One. In a beautiful way, this group did not fit the mold of the ‘typical’ group I have described. Before departing on a nine-hour road trip together, much of the group met each other for the first time that very morning. Sure, spending that number of hours in a van will force any group to get to know each other, but I believe it was the conversations during evening programming, the laughter while playing in the park, and the Peruvian chicken that truly brought this group together. They arrived as a group of people who were neighbors in a literal sense, but not necessarily in a relational sense. After a week of being thrown into life at The Center, they left with a clear, supportive connection. 

During our week together, we partnered with Gallery Church in Patterson Park (a bilingual congregation) and Comunidad Presbiteriana La Trinidad (a 1001 New Worshipping Community made up of recent immigrants from Central America). With Gallery Church, we brought games and Bible stories to a large neighborhood park to play and learn with the church members as well as any families nearby who wanted to join us. With Comunidad Presbiteriana La Trinidad, we worked alongside some of the church members on the church’s farm. We witnessed the power of these two congregations intentionally engaging with their neighbors through the power of laughter, bubbles, and fresh produce. By the end of the week, we saw Pastor Bill and Aida of Gallery forming connections with neighbors who they likely would not have met inside of their church walls. We saw the Ann Arbor youth forming close friendships with the youth of Gallery. We saw the leadership of Comunidad Presbiteriana La Trinidad seeking out the best ways to minister to their congregants as national and local news surrounding immigrants elevated. 

On Friday, our planned morning at Comunidad Presbiteriana La Trinidad was rained out and our plan B was to reflect on The Good Samaritan and the treatment of our neighbors who are crossing the border. The Center’s missional theology typically leads us to focus on times when we are the one who needs help rather than the one who is helping. Generally, we would read the story of the Good Samaritan through the lens of being the person who is in a ditch instead of automatically placing ourselves in the shoes of the helper – the good Samaritan. We spent the morning recognizing that the role of being a good neighbor can and should be a reciprocal experience. Just as we know times in our lives when we have needed a neighbor to pull us out of the ditch, we are also called by Jesus to advocate for our neighbors. Called to love our neighbors, we wrote to our congresspersons telling stories of our week with new immigrant friends and demanding better treatment of families at the border.

One of my main takeaways from last week was the gift children and youth have of embracing the neighbor around them. When it comes to crossing social boundaries that limit us as a neighborhood, there tends to be less hesitation and fear for younger people. God has placed people around us who are already living out God’s call to love their neighbor regardless of circumstances. May we all “make the most of this beautiful day”[1] by going and doing likewise.  

-Natalie

[1]  “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” Fred Rogers, 1967.