Few things gave Fred Rogers more pleasure than making connections between people. Somewhere on the other side of the thin veil that separates this life from what comes after it, (Fred’s words) he is very happy at the connections I have made at White’s Chapel United Methodist Church in Southlake, Texas.
A few years ago, I heard that the memoir of my friendship with Fred had been mentioned from the pulpit at White’s Chapel, which was no small thing — the church is one of the largest in North Texas. I sent a note of thanks to Dr. John McKellar, the co-pastor, and asked if we could meet someday. John quickly agreed.
I was very curious about John, who in the 1990s had been sent by his denomination to White’s Chapel to essential shut down what was then a failing church. Instead, he turned it into one of our area’s most dynamic forces for good, a source of comfort and inspiration to its members in and around the affluent community of Southlake, and to suffering and impoverished people locally and around the world.
What sort of person could inspire such a transformation? A deeply humble one, it turns out. I sat down with John in his office one day last year for our first meeting, and within five minutes, it was like we had removed our skins and it was just two hearts talking. He was loath to accept any credit for White’s Chapel. Fred would have been in awe.
That day was the beginning of a deep friendship, which led to an evening at White’s Chapel a few weeks ago, when John had invited me to tell the story of my friendship with Fred. John couldn’t be there himself because of a recent surgery, but I luxuriated in the kindness and spirit of his co-pastor, Dr. Todd Renner, and longtime church worker Tracy Christensen, who attended to my every need.
Hundreds attended the traditional, Wednesday night, chicken dinner, then made their way into the beautiful sanctuary for my talk, which was live-streamed around the nation. (My mom in St. Paul liked that.) My wife, Catherine, was there, and from the altar, I could celebrate her healing after a very difficult year. Afterward, I was surprised to meet a close relative of Fred, who I look forward to speaking with again soon.
I have many memories from my travels with this story over the years, none more cherished than those from that recent night. I’m delighted to be able to share excerpts in the video below. Hope you enjoy.