Rev. Roger Scholtz is spending 10 months as interim senior pastor of Hyde Park UMC, Tampa. The South African took over the post in September, after longtime senior pastor Jim Harnish retired. When Scholtz returns to his homeland this summer, he’ll be replaced by Rev. Magrey deVega.
Scholtz, 44, was ordained in 1996 and served in Methodist churches in Durban until 2011, when he took leave to work on his doctorate at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He also is a lecturer at the Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary in Pietermaritzburg.
He’s in Tampa with his wife, Leigh, and cat, Fizgig. His children, Michaela, 13; Kelsey, 11; and Jake, 9, visited Florida over the Christmas holidays.
We sat down with Roger to learn more about his experiences in South Africa and in the Sunshine State.
Q: Your father is a Methodist minister. Did you always want to be a pastor?
A: In my high school years – I don’t know if it was that was sort of that teenage rebellious thing – the one thing I was absolutely adamant about was that I wasn’t going to become a minister. That actually changed in my 11th year at school. I was at a boys’ boarding school, a Methodist school. I was part of a Christian fellowship and then in my 11th year was appointed as leader of that fellowship. Out of that experience, there was a sense that developed that this (ministry) is what I was supposed to be doing.
Q: You were one of the last people to interview former South African President Nelson Mandela, just before his 90th birthday. The interview was part of a fundraising drive for the Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary, named for a tutor and mentor of Mandela. What was the experience like?
A: We spoke about all sorts of things in terms of his experiences and the role of the church. It was quite surreal in many ways. At one point, his wife came in and asked if he wanted to put his feet up. He said yes, and she pulled out a little ottoman. He put his feet up and took his shoes off, and there I was sitting a foot and a half away from Nelson Mandela with these stocking feet. I could literally lean forward and tickle them, but I didn’t.
Q: You’ve met now-retired South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu a couple of times. What is your impression of him?
A: He would certainly be one of my heroes of the faith in terms of his example and his courage in speaking truth to power. His was a voice through the dark days of apartheid. He spoke out with a clarity and consistency and that earned him a great deal of criticism and animosity, but the principle of the Gospel is what prompted that articulation. The thing about him is that that has persisted. He’s become one of the most outspoken critics of our current government. Those he is calling to task over the abuses and corruption and lack of integrity and morality in terms of the leadership they’re offering, these were his friends and comrades in the struggle (against apartheid).
Q: What is the biggest remaining challenge in South Africa?
A: It’s the challenge of economic justice. There’s been political liberation and we rightly herald that, but the huge disparities between rich and poor and issues with poverty and everything that goes along with that – unemployment, desperately compromised education system, desperately compromised health care system, huge backlog in housing, basic utilities, sanitation, water, electrification – these are the kind of nuts and bolts of people’s lived experience.
Q: Did you have certain goals when you came to Tampa?
A: Given the fact I’m coming as an outsider from a different context, with a different set of eyes, with a different voice, the desire was expressed for me to give voice to that perspective and to allow the insights of my outside set of eyes to be shared.
Q: What is the biggest opportunity for Hyde Park?
A: The big thing that is of huge excitement for me is the whole development of The Portico and the Downtown Initiative (Hyde Park’s outreach ministry to downtown Tampa). My sense is that that development holds the potential for shaping Hyde Park’s very identity in a new way.
– Susan Ladika is a freelance writer based in Tampa.