Roberta Rominger interview: Church service
Roberta Rominger, general secretary of the United Reformed Church from 2008 to 2014, talks to Stephen Tomkins about the leading, serving and the future of the Church
Who’d be a Church leader? It’s a job that sometimes seems to involve speaking on behalf of the Church to a world that doesn’t much want to listen, and leading a Church that doesn’t much want to be led. It also seems rather remote from the essential business of what happens in local churches week by week – until something big goes wrong and suddenly you’re in the spotlight.
Still, Church leader was Roberta Rominger’s job until she stepped down as general secretary of the United Reformed Church in July 2014, having served since 2008. She was the first woman appointed to the post, as well as the first American. Once she had had a few months to reflect on the past and contemplate the future, Reform caught up with her on a grey winter’s day in London.
The first church you served at was in Tombstone, Arizona. Was that everything we might imagine?
It was indeed. My church was just up the road from the OK Corral and I walked past Boothill Cemetery every day. There were still gunfights on the streets on Sunday afternoons. When friends visited I took them to the saloon for a sarsaparilla.
What kind of place was it to be a minister?
Two-thirds of the congregation were snowbirds – they went north over the summer, but were with us for Christmas and Easter. It was the heyday of the sanctuary movement: Tombstone is close to the Mexican border and churches were helping the underground railway for people fleeing violence in Nicaragua and elsewhere. The organisers needed a station in Tombstone and I preached about it, but my church never agreed to become part of it. There it was – a challenge staring us right in the face.
What brought you to the UK?
It was a really powerful experience of being called. The minister of my home church spent a sabbatical in Moat URC, East Grinstead, and came back to say I should quit my job in Tombstone immediately, because there was a need for ministers and it was so exciting to reconnect with great mother Church. I’d only been ordained for three months so it was very funny, but the idea wouldn’t go away. The final straw was when my brother announced he might to go to the UK for postgraduate work. The jealousy! I rang the mission office the next day and asked to apply. They were very suspicious, because I hadn’t been ordained very long and what was I trying to escape? But it was right. Never looked back.
Did you find it very different over here?
In the UK generally, I had to relearn everything – how to use a payphone, driving a car, telling shampoo from conditioner. But the Church felt like home from day one…
This is an extract from the February 2015 edition of Reform.