In conversation with Sam McGuffin: Here in NI, there is an implicit criticism of the Christian faith... we are approaching a time when the Bible will be outlawed, the activities of Churches curtailed and ministers of the Gospel sanctioned
In conversation with Sam McGuffin
The President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, Sam is married to Linda and they have three children, Mark, Richard and Jeni, and two grandchildren, Edde and Lucas.
Q Can you tell us something about your background?
A I was born in Dungannon in 1957 - on April 1. Imagine the jokes my late mum, Lucy, endured on the day. My dad, Ronnie, who was a tanker driver for an oil distributor, still lives in Dungannon near The Bush, in the home in which I grew up and in which I enjoyed a very happy, secure and innocent childhood.
My parents taught me manners, respect for others, the value of money and the importance of Church life. I'm the eldest of four. As of June 30 this year, Linda and I have been married for 40 years. We've three children: Mark, Richard and Jeni, all married, and two delightful grandchildren, Edde and Lucas, with another due later this year.
The Royal School Dungannon did its best for me and I began work with Robinson & Co (Accountants) in 1975. Dungannon Methodist Church was the centre of my world for 23 years. In 1980, God's call to ministry took me to Edgehill Theological College for three years and on into 36 years of ministry within the Methodist Church in Ireland.
Q How and when did you come to faith?
A At 17, I entrusted my life to my Lord and Saviour. It wasn't a Damascus Road moment, but it was relationship-affirming and life-changing and the beginning of a great adventure.
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Q Does this faith play a real part in your daily life? Or is it just for Sundays?
A Sundays are important to me. I feel society has lost something valuable in allowing Sunday to become just like every other day. However, faith is not just for Sundays and there is nothing to equal experiencing God's presence and purpose in everyday life.
Q Have you ever had a crisis of faith?
A Not really. In pastoral ministry, I have encountered many people with questions, doubts and fears, but to date my relationship with the Lord has remained sure and steadfast.
Q Have you ever been angry with God? And, if so, why?
A Just as God had the first word, so He will have the last and "in all things, He works for the good of those who love Him who have been called according to His purpose". So, I don't think I could ever be angry with Him. However, I love the way the Psalmist holds nothing back. Even his anger with God is openly expressed. You can't hide anything from your Lord and in any case He is big enough to cope with anger and to help us through it.
Q Do you ever get criticised for your faith?
A I live with a sense of being a stranger in a strange land. Persecution of Christians is rising across the world. Here in Northern Ireland, there is an implicit criticism of the Christian faith, which is becoming more and more overt. We are approaching a time when the Bible will be outlawed, the activities of Churches curtailed and ministers of the Gospel sanctioned. I can live with all this because my Lord warned about it and encouraged His followers to count it an honour to be persecuted for His sake.
Q Are you ever ashamed of your own Church?
A The Methodist Church has an established record of being and doing good. Our constitution states that we were raised up by God "to spread Scriptural holiness throughout the land by the proclamation of the evangelical faith". Wherever and whenever that vision is undermined, sullied, or has been lost, I feel a deep sense of sadness and, sometimes, of shame.
Q Are you afraid to die? Or can you look beyond death?
A I am not afraid to die. However, since I am now in my 60s and have recently been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, I increasingly wonder how and when. I love thinking beyond death to the life of Heaven and all that it holds in store. Life in this beautiful, fallen world is such a mixed blessing. How much greater and perfect will be the life of Heaven. And it will be endless.
Q Are you worried about Hell?
A Not on my own behalf, but I am on behalf of all who will one day experience God's wrath. "God is love", but the Bible also makes it clear that "God is holy". So, you can't sin with impunity in this life and pass from this world into God's presence, expecting to be welcomed with open arms and all to be eternally well.
Q Do you believe in a resurrection? And, if so, what will it be like?
A The crucifixion of Jesus Christ and His resurrection are the most important facts of history. Just as I share in my Saviour's resurrection glory, spiritually speaking, in the here and now, so I will share in his resurrection glory, physically speaking, there and then. My new body will not have exactly the same characteristics as this earthly one - it will be perfect - but I will be recognisable as Sam McGuffin.
Q What do you think about people of other denominations and other faiths?
A Believers in other denominations are sisters and brothers in Christ, who simply prefer a different way of experiencing their relationship with the Lord and a different style of expressing their faith in Him, especially in their worship. I see people of other faiths as folk who are trying to fill the God-shaped void in their lives in a way that is different from the way I believe God wants them to fill that void and to know Him.
Q Would you be comfortable in stepping out from your own faith?
A I like to think I can meet and share with anyone in a way that can be mutually beneficial and which the Lord can use to help us learn more about Him and draw us closer to Him.
Q Are the Churches here fulfilling their mission?
A In general, no. The Church is increasingly running scared in our community. We're trying to keep in step with society, instead of trying to keep in step with the Holy Spirit. We have acquiesced with people, believing that the observance of religion equals relationship with God. We have focused on doing rather than being, to the extent that the adventure of living in a real and vital relationship with the Lord has become totally misunderstood.
Q Why are many people turning their back on organised religion?
A I was taught that the world, the flesh and the devil are our enemies. When you surrender your mind, your heart and your soul to one or all of these, you turn your back on God and that leads to alienation from those who have surrendered their lives to Him. One of the joys of believing is to share that relationship with God with others. Heaven is not peopled by folk living on their own, but by the people of God living together with Him.
Q Has religion helped, or hindered, the people of Northern Ireland?
A I believe both. Where religion is simply a concept, a mere observance and a faint hope of better things to come, then it will always hinder a community. Where religion is an expression of a daily adventure with the Lord in faith, hope and love, it will inevitably help a community. The real question we face is: "Has politics helped, or hindered, the people of Northern Ireland?"
Q Your favourite film, book and music, and why?
A I enjoy adventure films - and I love Green Book. My favourite book is the one I am currently reading, War and Grace by Don Stephens. I have an eclectic taste in music, but the car radio is more often than not tuned to Classic FM - good music has been a source of great enrichment in my life. I particularly like the Hallelujah Chorus from Messiah.
Q Where do you feel closest to God?
A During worship services, where the focus is on the Lord and where people are expressing their praise and gratitude with heart and soul.
Q Have you any major regrets?
A I regret not being able to adequately tell those whom I love and who love me how much they mean to me and how deeply I appreciate their love.