Tag Archives: Steve McCloskey

Fred Rogers: A Model of Confident Humility

By Steve McCloskey, Pastor of Taftsville Chapel Mennonite Fellowship

Steve McCloskey

In a recent sermon, I spoke to my congregation about the relationship between confidence and humility. I expressed that an individual can have a sober view of themselves with confidence in what they are called to do, and act on it faithfully in humility. In other words: you can be simultaneously confident and humble. I was reminded of a great example of this recently when I saw a trailer for a movie that comes out this fall about a former resident of the Upper Valley (the area where our church is located). 

It’s based on the life of Fred Rogers–star of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood”. He began college at Dartmouth and eventually went on to attend seminary and became an ordained Presbyterian minister. Tom Hanks will be playing the role of Mr. Rogers in this movie based on his life that comes out this November (“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”) .

As a young child I regularly watched Mr. Rogers. His message was simple: every person is endowed with dignity and worthy of love and respect. He seemed to be immovable on this. From everything I’ve seen and read about him–this was not just a TV act–this was who he was, he believed it! He was motivated to communicate the intrinsic value of every person; presenting this message to children at a young age through public television. He knew what his message was and he stuck to it for decades. 

I read a story of a girl who was blind, she knew Mr Rogers had a pet goldfish but wanted to make sure the fish was being fed, she wrote a letter expressing her concern for the fish. In response, Mr. Rogers would always narrate when he was feeding the fish because of this one girl’s concern. He had a famous song called “It’s You I Like” but there’s a clip– you can look up on YouTube– of him singing a special version of this song to a boy in a wheelchair where he says:

It’s you I like,
It’s not the things you wear,
It’s not your fancy chair–
But it’s you I like.
The way you are right now,
The way down deep inside you–
Not the things that hide you,
Not your toys–
They’re just beside you.
But it’s you I like–
Every part of you,
Your skin, your eyes, your feelings
Whether old or new.
I hope that you’ll remember
Even when you’re feeling blue
That it’s you I like,
It’s you yourself,
It’s you, it’s you I like.

There’s an interview with Fred Rogers and Charlie Rose:  Rose asked him about his daily routine: Mr Rogers said he begins each morning waking up before 5 AM and spends several hours in quiet time. He said, in the interview, that “in silence comes revelation”. And Charlie Rose asked, “And then you begin the business of your day?” 

“No”, said Mr. Rogers, “Then, after that, I go swimming”. Rogers said that it was in the silence that he could reflect on what was most important. Perhaps it is through this time, in silence, each day, through his own self-care, reflecting on what is most essential, that Mr. Rogers had built-up this deep reservoir to appreciate people for who they were–just the way they are. In doing this, Fred Rogers exuded a confident humility.

Similarly,  Jesus would often withdrawal from the crowds, find solitude and pray.

It is not selfish of you to make time to care for yourself, in fact it can build the reservoir of love for others. How do you make time for yourself? What practices do you have to care for yourself; both body and soul? 


Formation Through Mentorship

by Wayne Nitzsche, Interim LEADership Minister

Erik Erikson, psychologist, developed an eight stage theory of psychosocial development. You may remember it from a psych class in high school or college. The seventh of eight stages in his helpful construct is “generativity vs stagnation.”  He associates this stage with the middle years (40-65.) To engage this stage one begins to think about contributing to future generations through parenting, grandparenting, and mentoring future generations. If we do not engage this stage we stagnant and life loses a sense of purpose.

This past year I became a grandfather to William. He has brought so much joy to my life. Even though he lives with our daughter and son-in-law in Long Beach, California, Mary and I have been able to bond and stay connected thanks to modern travel, and the technological wonder of FaceTime. Our lives take on new meaning as we engage our small part in mentoring this precious child.

A central task of the church has to do with faith formation. There are, of course, many beautiful examples in the Scripture of this happening through mentor/mentees such as that of Paul and Timothy, Naomi and Ruth and others. In the 1980’s I had a hand in developing the “life-planning” process in the Mennonite Church. In part, it was a plan for matching an adult with a youth, and helping them develop a generative relationship. The program has long since died, but the need remains for adults to consider how they pass on the faith.

Reflecting back on my early years in pastoral ministry, I was blessed to have mentors who noticed gifts for ministry and encouraged me to consider seminary. While in seminary I learned so much from an experienced and wise pastor, Clare. He was gracious when I made stupid mistakes, he affirmed and challenged me, and was always ready to give new opportunities. He modeled a love for Christ and the church, and was vulnerable with his struggles. He was never stagnant but growing and generative.

Wayne Nitzsche (right) prays for Jessica Miller at her installation service, November 2016

Now I’m older than Clare was when he mentored me. I’ve had the great privilege of mentoring Jessica Miller, who began at Perkasie Mennonite (PMC) in November, 2016 as our pastoral intern, but has since become our Associate Pastor. Jessica and I have long conversations about ministry, life, theology. I see her not only as a mentee, but also as a colleague from whom I can learn. I value her youthful wisdom and welcome the integration of her ministry with her theological studies at Drew Theological School. She has been a great gift to PMC. I trust that I might model some of the same things for Jessica that Clare did for me.

When we sit down together, sometimes we are intentional in reflecting on a specific aspect of ministry, personal or professional development. Other weeks it’s more informal and might be related to preaching, worship planning or pastoral care.

Steve McCloskey and family

I’m still finding my way in another mentoring relationship with Steve McCloskey, who pastors Taftsville Chapel Mennonite Fellowship in Vermont. With the distance, we’ll perhaps need to rely more on technology to make connections. So be patient with me, Steve, as we find our way in this new relationship!

I’ve had to deal with self-doubt, wondering what, if anything, I had to offer. However as we offer ourselves and trust the Spirit, both our gifts and places where we are still being formed can be formative.

Might you, if you are like me and nearing the end of your active pastoral ministry, consider how you might mentor someone younger? Perhaps if you feel “stagnant” it might be the prompting of the Spirit to consider such a relationship. You’ll discover a joy and sense of purpose that is a gift from the Great Mentor, the God and Parent of us all. If you’d like to talk more about it, I’d be glad to share more over a cup of coffee. But bear with me, you’ll also have to indulge me as I share a picture or two of grandson William!

Staff Meeting Heads to the Margins of Vermont

By John Stoltzfus, Conference Youth Minister

As part of our ongoing practice of going to the “margins,” a contingent of Franconia Conference staff traveled to Vermont last week for a 48 hour working retreat. Of course, going to the margins can be a relative statement depending on where one places the center. Perhaps, going to the margins can actually help re-center us in the saving work of God in this world. By locating ourselves physically in other people’s spaces we are re-placed and invited to see how the Spirit is present and active in communities and people beyond our own.

Our short time in Vermont included many opportunities for centering ourselves in God’s good work in the beautiful hills and valleys of Vermont. For our first meal, we received generous hospitality and delicious food around the table at the home of Gwen Groff, a Franconia Conference Board Member, who is pastor at Bethany Mennonite Church in Bridgewater, Vermont.

The following morning, our first in Vermont, Steve McCloskey who is the new pastor at Taftsville Chapel Mennonite Fellowship led our group in devotions. We were invited to consider our calling in ministry and how we are sustained in that calling. Later we visited Taftsville Chapel, getting a glimpse of the solar panels installed last year on the church roof.

We also heard from Joe Paparone who is an organizer with the Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State, and the advocacy coordinator with the FOCUS Churches of Albany (NY). Over the past several years he has connected with Bethany Mennonite Church through his work in Albany, including leading a book study for the congregation over video conference. He led the Franconia Staff in a helpful training on Community Organizing Principles for pastoral ministry and the church.

Hearing the stories of call for Joe, Steve and Gwen and learning more about the mission and ministries of their respective communities was an encouraging and hopeful witness of God’s renewing and creative work in our church and world. These communities have many gifts to offer to the broader conference and church.

Of course Vermont has other “gifts” to offer such as cheese, maple syrup and beautiful scenery. Our retreat included a visit to the Sugarbush Cheese and Maple Farm for a delightful cheese and maple syrup tasting and we enjoyed an invigorating walk down the Quechee Gorge.

Jesus’ life and witness consistently re-centered the focus on God’s activity in the world. Henri Nouwen made the observation that “those who are marginal in the world are central in the Church.” How can we as a conference continue to receive the gifts and witness of the Spirit’s presence and activity by those at the “margins”?

See the photo gallery on the Franconia Conference Facebook page.