Chaplain Paul Ritter
A licensed local pastor in the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church, Paul Ritter pastored churches, served as a volunteer chaplain, and also served as an emergency medical technician prior to beginning his work as chaplain at Augusta Correctional Center in March of 2012. Paul holds a B.A. in Religious Studies from Virginia Wesleyan College, a Master of Science in Patient Counseling from Virginia Commonwealth University (MCV Campus), and a Master of Divinity from The Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. His hobbies include amateur radio, writing stories, linguistics/language studies (proficient in four languages), photography, music (choral, guitar and piano), and astronomy/aviation/space science.
After serving as a church planter for 9 years and a pastor, Chaplain Paul Ritter began pastoring on the “inside” with GraceInside at Augusta Correctional Center in March of 2012. Perhaps it is no surprise that as a piano technician, Chaplain Ritter finds his philosophy in a contemporary Christian song by Steve Kemp, “Some people want to live within the sound of chapel bells. But I want to run a mission a yard from the gates of Hell.”
Formerly a Methodist pastor of four churches in Vermont, Chaplain Ritter has an evangelical background. He adds to this a background working with people of various religions while serving and learning at the Medical College of Virginia, primarily in the psychiatric department. “I learned a lot of skills to get people talking about their spiritual lives.” Walking with people in their spiritual life is his gift and his passion.
Chaplain Ritter shares a story that shares the difference grace inside a prison can make. “There was this incarcerated man who was pretty bitter and angry. He was quite a handful. He was complaining all the time and a real problem to the Correctional Officers. I encouraged him to go to Kairos [a spiritual renewal experience for those in prison]. He said he was just going to go for the first night because he really wasn’t interested. But, he went Thursday night…then Friday morning…then stayed throughout the weekend. Everyone has remarked how different he is since that point!” Without chaplains to facilitate these spiritual programs, these men would remain a challenge to staff and those with whom they are incarcerated! This example highlights Chaplain Ritter’s favorite part of his job. “I watch people change from being bitter and angry at the world to being productive and having a more positive outlook.”
Part of the job of a chaplain is to use spiritual resources to help people to learn how to get along. ”The whole focus of the DOC is reentry, helping people to reenter society,” says Chaplain Ritter. “Are they going to reenter society as a criminal? Are they going to reenter society and come right back? Are they going to be good on the outside? I want to help them to make better choices.”
“Augusta Correctional Center is my ministry.” But when not at August, Chaplain Ritter does volunteer at the hospital on Monday afternoons teaching a spiritual life group for the psychiatric department and is on call at the hospital on Wednesday night and one-two weekends a month. Away from ministry, he shares, “My wife and I like to fish. I am also civil air patrol. I do a lot of search of rescue. When you come from a rescue squad background…that is what you do. I like to read…and music. Primarily bluegrass, country…I play the guitar.”
We are grateful this talented and caring musician has a heart for those on the inside that he shares with GraceInside!