Remembering Rev. Roger Miller –
I met Rev. Miller when I was 13 or 14 years old. My father extended a call to Rev. Miller to serve as his associate minister. Rev. Miller was unusual from the start. His wife, Gloria was black. Roger was white. I believe they met when he was a student at Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis. Gloria was from the St. Louis area. Gloria was attractive, tall, brown-skinned and easy going. Roger was tall with blond hair and a generous smile. They were only married for less than a year. Cancer took her life just as we were getting to know her. The fourth of July before she died, I remember it today like it was yesterday, the two of them came over to visit my family. Gloria, Roger, my mother and father sat on the front lawn on Fullerton Street sipping iced-tea and lemonade. Emory, my younger brother, and I could not sit still long enough to enjoy the tea and lemonade, so with the urging of a friend and neighbor, Aquito (Spelling?) Varner, we bombarded Patrick Sullivan’s house with sparklers, one of which hit Mrs. Sullivan. Dr. Sullivan marched down the street shouting at my father, “Rev. Hood, what are you going to do? What are you going to do?” Right in front of Gloria and Roger Miller, my dad yelled at Emory and me to go upstairs. That was the last spanking I ever received. When it was over, me on one twin bed and Em on the other, as we pulled up our pants and my dad put back on his belt, Emory said, “You know Nick, I think we could have taken Dad today!” We all knew that was the last whipping! Roger and Gloria just laughed, trying to keep straight faces.
Roger was my dad’s right-hand man. Roger was called to serve as the associate minister of the Plymouth United Church of Christ in Detroit. In 1960 the church learned it was to be taken by imminent domain for the construction of a medical center. Roger was hired a few years later. At one point, Roger and Tony Stanley were both associate ministers under the leadership of my dad, Nicholas Hood Sr. The three got along famously and seemed to have a lot of fun working together. In only two years, Tony was called to pastor the Peoples United Church of Christ in Washington, DC. Roger stayed with my dad until 1976, the year I was ordained to the Christian Ministry and returned to work at Plymouth UCC in Detroit.
In 1976, Roger was hired by Millard Fuller and Habitat for Humanity to build houses in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Roger was well suited for this calling because he learned about construction and development of housing in Detroit as my father’s associate.
In 1963, Plymouth United Church of Christ sponsored the creation of a non-profit housing corporation which developed the Medical Center Courts Housing Development. Roger Miller was the first executive director of the Housing Corporation. Construction began in July of 1967, the same month and year of the Detroit Riot. A year later, the first of 230 tenants moved into the housing development. Roger Miller was unique in that he too, moved into the housing development in court six, and remained there until he moved from Detroit to the Congo.
Overcome with grief from the death of his beautiful, young wife, Roger poured himself into his ministry at the church. He not only assisted with pulpit duties on Sunday mornings, but Roger also was quite pastoral in visiting the sick.
However, where a whole generation of us remember Roger was through his work with the young people. On Sunday evenings, Roger assisted Randy Evans, the dynamic undergraduate student youth minister, in leading our high school youth minister. We would start on the lower level of the church at 514 Garfield Street, talking about the issues of the day, with Roger and Randy connecting the current events with the Bible. Next, we would go upstairs to the sanctuary, sing and pray, then return to the lower level to spin records and learn the latest dances! It was a dynamic youth ministry that none of us would ever forget.
Roger Miller is one of people who encouraged me to consider becoming a minister. In my junior year of undergraduate college, it was Roger Miller who encouraged me to request In-Care-Status as a person who was considering going into the ministry. In my fourth year of college, Roger bought me a plane ticket to St. Louis to visit his alma-mater, Eden Theological Seminary. Roger was slick in that he arranged for me to stay at the home of one of the nieces of his deceased wife, Vicky Mabry. Vicky was a senior in high school, tall, beautiful with a St. Louis drawl. She and I went with some of her friends to see Al Green in performance. I had a ball. On the plane ride home, I was convinced I was going to enroll at Eden Seminary. After asking myself why I liked Eden so much, I had to admit that what I really liked about that weekend was Vicky Mabry. I prayed to the Lord and said, “Lord, take me away from that place!” My fallback school was Yale Divinity, and that is where I enrolled, but Roger Miller almost convinced me to go to Eden.
Back to the Housing Ministry. My dad was deep into uncharted waters as he developed the first new residential construction in Detroit after the 1967 Riot. Roger was a major contributor to the housing ministry of our church because he was white and often was allowed access to some people and places my father was less welcome. Even though my dad was an elected member to the Detroit City Council, and at that time, the only black person on the City Council, He and Roger worked well as a team and the church built and renovated several properties.
In 1975, my father received a grant from the Kresge Foundation to build the Cyprian Center, one of the first partial day activity centers for the mentally handicapped in Detroit, Michigan. Again, Roger was right by the side of my dad!
After returning from the Congo, Roger worked as an associate conference minister in Denver, for the Rocky Mountain Conference of the UCC. After leaving the Rocky Mountain Conference, Roger was called as an associate conference minister in Ohio.
Roger fell in love with his beloved, Susan, and they were happily married. Together they gave life to a daughter, Emily. I talked off and on with Roger over the past year. He was intent on sharing his files from the housing ministry with me and the church. He also delivered to the church one of the stained-glass windows from 514 Garfield Street, our former church location. Roger was able to make it to the funeral for my father. Although he was in poor health, he wanted to be there for the funeral and made a few remarks.
Roger died earlier this week. Leslie Taylor, who is the first person ordained at Plymouth UCC under my pastorate, contacted me to tell me that Roger had died.
The following are the arrangements for Roger:
Funeral for family and friends on Saturday, December 16, 2017 at 10:30 AM at the North Congregational United Church of Christ in Columbus, Ohio
Address: 2040 Henderson, Columbus, Ohio
A memorial service is also being planned for early 2018