Here is the first in a who-knows-how-many series of interviews! Our first interviewee is Paul Ritchie - a Methodist Minister in Richhill, Northern Ireland. Originally from Cork City, he has been minstering in Northern Ireland for 12 years. Paul is married to Caroline and they have two kids - Anya and Ronan.
What do you find are the general challenges in ministry?
Quite simply, when Paul says, 'Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ' (1 Cor 11:1) I find it a real challenge to say those words and not be a hypocrite.
What are the challenges you face as a Southern Irishman ministering in Northern Ireland?
My first post was a lay assistant in Dungannon. I was given a house in a loyalist area. I tried to buy the paper without using any words so they wouldn't hear my accent! I found that people would say things like 'Don't bring politics into the pulpit.' But over the years I have realised that the same people don't mind politics in the pulpit as long as it is their politics! Over the years, the challenge has been how to be all things to all people and not let me Southerness be too much of my identity.
What challenges do you find being a Methodist minister?
One of the challenges has to be theological. My main theological influences don't reflect the theology of my denomination. Before ordination I wrote a letter to the secretary of conference and had a chat with himself and the secretary of the board of examiners to explain that to see if they could accept where I stood. Also, the system we have in our denomination of moving ministers every few years is not one I think is productive.
Can you expand on some of the theological differences?
Whereas most ministers in the Methodist church are into John Wesley - I am more into John Stott! And a lesser known theologian called Pete Orr has had a significant influence on my theological development!
Can you tell us some books that you have found particularly helpful in ministry?
None hugely jump to mind with regards to ministry in particular. But the three books that have most influenced my understanding are: How Long O Lord by Don Carson because I was blown away by how Biblically rooted it was; The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God by Don Carson which was hugely significant in a theological paradigm shift; Showing the Spirit by....Don Carson (!) - particularly for its final chapter which discusses spiritual gifts for the church today.
Related to that Paul, you describe yourself as a Reformed Charismatic - can you tell us why and what it looks like in the practice of your church?
I have always been fascinated by what labels to put on yourself and what to avoid but currently Reformed Charismatic is somewhat of an aspiration. We run a service called Cafe Church fortnightly on a Sunday evening in which we have tentatively sought to be more open to certain charismatic gifts such as prophecy. Sometimes it feels that those who are into prophecy aren't into exposition of the word. We want to keep teaching central and yet by open to using the git of propecy. I would like Cafe Church to be an example of using gifts like prophecy in a way that doesn't move the exposition of the word from the centre.
Can I ask what you think NT prophecy looks like?
My thinking on this is largely shaped by Carson's Showing the Spirit but where as many in Reformed circles might agree with what Carson says (i.e. they would not be cessationists), they seem not to be too keen to put it into practice. I think that the gift of prophecy has a revelatory function - primarily to encourage Christians but must always be weighed.
How do you ensure the prophecies are weighed?
Our plan is that prophecies would be run by myself and David (our intern) who are responsible for teaching in Cafe Church. We would try and ensure that there is nothing that contradicts Scripture in them and explain to the Congregation that prophecies must be taken with degree of tentativeness. We must accept prophecy with a degree of humility in that the weighing of it implying a mixed content. We are at the very early stages of using this gift.
A final question: What do you like to do to relax?
On a Monday afternoon I go to the Movies on my own. And my family is an ever-increasing source of joy. I love Rugby and take great joy in Munster's success [editors note: Muntser are the second best Rugby team in Ireland behind Ulster] and have managed to get to three crucial rugby matches - Munster vs Leinster in the SF of the Heiniken Cup (at Landsdowne Road); Ireland vs England at Croke Park which was the first time that God Save the Queen was ever sung at Croke Park (that had huge historical significance); and the Heiniken Cup final this year when Munster beat Toulose.