Rev David Turtle is Superintendent of the Lisburn and Dromore Methodist circuit. He has been married to Pamela for 26 years and they have four children, Stephen, Amy, Sam and Ellie.
Q. Can you tell us something about your background?
A. I was born into a farming family near Stewartstown, Co Tyrone, the youngest of three children and the only boy. My father and mother both worked on the farm and through them I learned many values for life, but particularly those of commitment, persistence and respect for other people. I had a very happy childhood and, after studying agriculture at Queen's University, Belfast, I returned home and farmed in partnership with my father for the next 12 years.
In 1994, I married Pamela, who was then working as a catering manager, now as a classroom assistant. We met when I was 17 and she was 14 and so we have shared the majority of our lives together. We have four children, Stephen, Amy, Sam and Ellie.
Following a long wrestle with God, I followed a call to work as a lay pastor with four Methodist churches on the Aughnacloy and Monaghan circuit and, subsequently, to ordained ministry in the Methodist Church in Ireland.
I have been stationed as a Methodist minister to Ballynahinch, Trinity (Lisburn) and just last July to be Superintendent of the Lisburn and Dromore circuit and pastor to the Seymour Street congregation. I'm now 51.
Q. How and when did you come to faith?
A. My father and mother were both committed Christians and heavily involved in Stewartstown Methodist Church and a local Faith Mission hall. As a result, I heard the Good News of Jesus from an early age and prayed many prayers of commitment to faith.
However, it was in 2004, at the age of 35, when the message that Jesus came to be my personal Saviour really came alive and I experienced God's forgiveness and real, living presence in my life. Christian Endeavour and Lighthouse Christian Ministries, an interdenominational youth group in Dungannon, also had a profound influence.
Q. Have you ever had a crisis of faith?
A. I had a short period of panic when I questioned everything, just a few months after taking the decision to leave farming and follow a call to ordained ministry. We were selling our dairy herd and I was effectively ending the tradition of generations of our family farming in Stewartstown. I didn't have any guarantee that I would be accepted as a candidate for the ministry.
For a few weeks, in the magnitude of the uncertainty, I questioned if God was even real at all. Thankfully, as I kept seeking for Him in the Scriptures and began to trace His faithfulness in my life to that point, the fears that I was gambling everything on a fairytale were replaced with an even deeper confidence in God as the one who held my and my family's future.
I'm so thankful that my heavenly Father is big enough and patient enough to cope with all our questions, anxiety and wavering.
Q. Have you ever been angry with God? And, if so, why?
A. I have had big questions for Him and I had some very frank conversations, but I'm thankful that I've never had a deep rage towards God. I have spent time with people who are intensely angry with God and it is clear they find it an incredibly difficult place from which to find peace.
Q. Are you ever ashamed of your own Church, or denomination?
A. I have sometimes disagreed with decisions we have taken, but nothing that I would term as being "ashamed". I think Methodism on this island has punched above its weight in the leadership which has been brought to some of the most difficult issues of our past and present, but we can never become complacent and must always seek God for direction.
Q. Are you afraid to die? Or can you look beyond death?
A. My father died just over a year ago and that was the closest family member I had lost up to that point. A very quiet, self-effacing man, dad was a shining example of steadfastness, wisdom and grace and my greatest hero.
However, as it became clear that he was moving through his last days, God gave me a deep peace that has stayed with me through the words of Paul in Philippians 1:23: "I desire to depart and to be with Christ, which is far better."
While the thought of leaving loved ones behind makes my heart break, I have the same sense of peace for what lies beyond death for myself.
Q. Are you afraid of hell?
A. We could get into all kinds of theological gymnastics on this issue. The simplicity of my own faith means I accept that those who "believe in Him (Jesus) shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)
Q. Do you believe in a resurrection? And, if so, what will it be like?
A. Yes, I do. There is much we don't know, or understand, about what that will be like, but I believe the best indicators we have are the post-resurrection descriptions of Jesus.
In Him, there appears to be a coming together of Heaven and Earth. I may be wrong, but I think our experience will be much less ethereal and other-worldly than the Church has traditionally portrayed it, with a different kind of metaphysics at play.
Q. Do you think that the Churches here are fulfilling their mission?
A. In some ways, we are utterly failing; in others, we are making an amazing difference. The places we are succeeding are where we are equipping Christians to own the contexts they are placed in as their God-given mission fields, seeking to serve and love the people they find themselves alongside.
It is the "little stories" of God at work in the lives of individuals that encourage me most.
Q. Why are so many people turning their backs on organised religion?
A. There are many factors at play. As Churches, we must own the responsibility we bear where we have failed to communicate that the message of Jesus is Good News, or when we have been guilty of inward focus, moral failure and judgmental attitudes.
However, the rise of individualism, self-sufficiency and the increased pace of life across society have also been major influences. I think we can all detect that, during the Covid-19 crisis, many people have been re-evaluating life's priorities and, as Churches, we have a renewed responsibility to meet people where they are with the hope and purpose of Jesus.
Q. Has religion helped, or hindered, the people of Northern Ireland?
A. The answer must be both. Where religious practice leads to bitterness, division and polarisation, we obviously need to ask questions. In Lisburn, over the past few years, we have seen many Churches working together, building partnerships with each other, civic authorities and others to address issues such as mental health and poverty. I pray that kind of unity of purpose in seeking blessing for our community may be what Francis Schaeffer famously termed the "final apologetic".
Q. What is your favourite film, book and music, and why?
A. My favourite film is Saving Private Ryan, especially the opening and closing scenes, which were so criticised by commentators. For me, they capture the essence of why the story was told.
My favourite book is The Principle of the Path by Andy Stanley, because of the way it draws attention to a tremendously simple principle in life, but one which we can easily miss.
My all-time favourite song is Casting Crowns' East To West.
Q. Where do you feel closest to God?
A. There's a small rath on our home farm from which, on a clear day, you can see most of Lough Neagh and get a glimpse of the Mournes, the Sperrins and Slemish. It's a 'thin' place for me. If I'm not there, any mountain where I'm alone is a good alternative.
Q. What inscription would you like on your gravestone, if any?
A. My wife, Pamela, threatens that it will be: "I'll be there in a minute." In the light of my previous answer, I'm hoping for, "With Christ, which is far better".
Q. Finally, have you any major regrets?
A. I've made many significant mistakes and missed many opportunities. When I have, I hope I've acknowledged where I got it wrong.
I find that the longer I walk on this journey with God, I see that He is more concerned with how I experience Him with me in the present moment than with either my regrets for the past, or my plans for the future.