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Rum-pa-pum-pum, a pastor and his drum

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 29, 2015 at 12:19 PM

There is the old saying of a person moving to the beat of a different drummer. For the congregation of First United Methodist Church in Norwalk, that drummer is none other than the senior pastor, The Rev. Roger Smith.

Since childhood, Smith has had a love for playing and later collecting different types of drums, and in recent years has been able to combine that passion with his role as a pastor. The result has meant coming out from behind the pulpit to reach people through the ministry of music.

"I have had more and more opportunities to bring my drums out and use them during worship, and I think it's nifty," said Smith, pastor at the West Main Street church for two years. "It's key for me to use my talents for the Lord."

For as long as he can remember, Smith has had a drum set. "There was just something about them," that he loved, he said. And despite his parents' efforts to get him to play other instruments, like the violin, he stayed faithful to the drum set.

By age 11, he was taking lessons, and by high school, he not only played the drums in the school band, but also formed his own rock band with friends and was playing at birthday parties, bar mitzvahs and even at events at area colleges near his hometown of Columbus.

"My mom always told people, 'We never had to tell Roger when to practice the drums. We had to tell him when to stop,'" Smith said.

In the same way, Smith also always had a desire to be in the ministry. Raised Methodist, he recalls being with his grandfather as a child of 6 or 7 and seeing pastors ordained.

"I said, 'Well, Pop, I'm going to be there someday.' My grandparents were very influential, always buying me faith-related books, and they were there when I was ordained and bought me my first robe."

After earning his bachelor's degree in English and German secondary education from Capital University in 1973, Smith attended seminary at the Methodist Theological School in Delaware, Ohio, where he earned master's degrees in Christian education and divinity in 1976 and a doctorate in 1979.

While he was pursuing his work in the church, he was also married and raising a family. While he and his friends were able to continue to play in their rock band through college, once he entered the seminary, the jam sessions were few and far between and "the drums got put on a shelf for many years," Smith said.

However, his love for drums continued to hold strong, and while he wasn't playing them as much, he began collecting pieces here and there and slowly began playing again through opportunities at the churches he previously served, including First United Methodist Church of Mansfield, and Wooster United Methodist.

In Mansfield, Smith played praise music at the beginning of each service along with the organist and the pianist for about four or five years before he was transferred to Wooster.

"It was giving our service a little different style and allowed some people who may have gone elsewhere to worship a sense to know that at least part of the service had that," he said, referring to a praise-style service not often found at United Methodist churches.

After moving to Wooster, he would play the drums at that church's second of three worship services each week. During this time, he continued to search for more types of instruments. Later, his wife, Jan, helped him add many unique pieces to his drum collection.

"Jan is so supportive. She'll say, 'Roger doesn't just play the drums, he collects drums,'" he said, adding that Jan bought him a Bodhran, an Irish drum, like one featured in the film, "Titanic."

While they have looked at many drums when they have traveled to other countries, most of his purchases have been on e-Bay. Featured in his collection are a Cquiaka, a Brazilian drum that sounds like monkeys that originally was used to call lions, he said.

He also has Latin drums, an African drum called a Djembe, mini conga drums, cow bells, tambourines, three snare drums and a 35-piece drum set in his basement that "Jan calls surround sound," Smith quipped.

He has a small drum set and some other unique pieces at church, too, that he uses occasionally to accompany the choir. Last year, he also formed a small praise band with other church members that he jokingly called "Doc and the Disciples." With some of those members gone to college and the church in need of a permanent organist, the monthly praise performances haven't happened for a while, but Smith said he hopes to start that up again and to soon play again with the choir on one of their anthems.

Carol Phillips, First United Methodist's choir director since 1987 and director of its bell choir since 1982, said there are individuals interested in a praise band. The goal is to have them organize a practice time and lead the singing during worship on a regular basis, she said.

Other than Smith, the Rev. Edna Stahl, who was associate pastor until she was transferred to the United Methodist church in Aurora in July, was the only other pastor who performed with the choir in recent years, Phillips said. Stahl played in the bell choir. However, Phillips said all the pastors she has worked with "were supportive of the mission of the music of our church.

"I believe that when the minister of the church participates with this very important aspect of worship (music), then it reflects to the congregation how vital music is to the life of our faith," she said.

Smith agreed.

"I have never been happier than when I am preaching or doing magic (another hobby that he sometimes shares with the younger members of the congregation), but not quite as much as when I am playing my drums," he said. "The drums allow me to participate in worship in a way that I wasn't specifically trained for at the seminary."

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