Canon Paul Whittaker is Church of Ireland rector of Leckpatrick and Dunnalong and chaplain to Glenavon FC and Fox Lodge Cricket Club, near Strabane. He is a canon of St Columb’s Cathedral in Londonderry
Q. Can you tell me about your background?
A. I’m in my early sixties and grew up in a working-class estate in Lurgan. My parents, Roy and Doreen, have passed away; thankfully, they had both given their lives to Christ. I came from a large family, with six brothers and four sisters. I lost an older sister, Olwen, way back in 1958 as a result of a car accident and an older brother, Philip, 10 years ago. There are nine of us left and seven of them live in Northern Ireland, one in England and one in Australia. I am married to Carol and we have two daughters and four grandchildren. I have a Bachelor of Theology degree from Trinity College Dublin.
Q. How and when did you come to faith?
A. I came to faith on January 11, 1987, during a mission at my home parish in Lurgan. However, I remember giving my life to Christ when I was a very young boy in a Good News caravan in my local housing estate and wonder has the Lord always had his hand upon me ever since. My parents did play a part in that we were sent to Sunday Schools and Good News clubs every week, but maybe it was just to get rid of us for a bit of peace in the house.
Q. Is your faith often left aside for Sundays?
A. It plays a part in my life daily, especially since January 1989, when we were nurtured in our faith in Shankill Parish Lurgan and the clergy there at that time. They were the late Dean Lockhart, Canon Paine and Captain McCarthy.
Q. What does a sports chaplain actually do?
A. A sports chaplain aims to serve all people in the club, irrespective of position, beliefs, or lifestyle. We serve all people of faith and of no faith, offering pastoral and spiritual support wherever appropriate.Many sports chaplains also undertake “traditional” functions for their organisations, including funerals, weddings and ashes-scattering ceremonies.
Q. Have you ever had a crisis, or gnawing doubt, about your faith?
A. I have never had a crisis of faith and I have had my fair share of troubles and problems. I give it all to the Lord, knowing that together we can sort anything.
Q. Have you ever been angry with God?
A. I have never been angry with God, but sometimes I have questioned Him about allowing things into my life that have hurt me. But He always gets me through.
Q. Do you ever get criticised for your faith?
A. I don’t remember being criticised, but I have been questioned about it often. I spent a few years in Melbourne, Australia and asked someone I had made friends with to come to church, but he said, “Why should I, Paul? I don’t believe in any of that.” Another time, recently, I asked another guy the same question and he said, “I don’t ask you to come to my workplace, so don’t ask me to come to yours.”
Q. Are you ever ashamed of your own Church, or denomination?
A. No, I would never be ashamed of my own Church, or denomination. I really do believe that belonging and being part of the Church is a real privilege, but as followers of Jesus, we can’t do it on our own. We need other people as well.
Q. Are you afraid to die, or can you look beyond death?
A. I’m not afraid to die, but not just yet. And I can look beyond death and feel, as believers, we will all be together sometime.
Q. What about hellfire? Are you afraid of it?
A. It depends on what you mean by “hell-fire”. I wouldn’t be happy with hell-fire preaching all the time, but in ministry we need to strike a balance between evangelical preaching and teaching the biblical truths of what it means to be a Christian.
Q. Do you believe in a resurrection and, if so, what will it be like?
A. I believe in the resurrection and the second coming of Christ. The Bible teaches that the dead in Christ will be raised first and then those living on Earth and we will all meet the Lord in the air, we’ll kiss and cuddle our loved ones already with the Lord and then the Lord will say, “Let’s go back down — we’re taking over.”
Q. Would you be comfortable in stepping out from your faith to learn something from other people?
A. A teachable spirit is something we should all display in our walk of faith, so I am comfortable learning from others.
Q. Are the Churches here fulfilling their mission?
A. We could be doing better, to be honest, and the Covid virus will make this more difficult.
Q. Why are so many people turning their backs on organised religion?
A. I’m not into religion, but I’m more into a relationship with the God who created us through faith in his son, Jesus Christ.
Q. Has religion helped, or hindered, the people of Northern Ireland?
A. It’s probably done a bit of both, but it has helped thousands of people and I’ve seen that over the past 26 years in ministry.
Q. What is your favourite film, book and music?
A. Film: Saving Private Ryan, which shows how awful war and hatred really are. Book: The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren, dealing with all the questions that life might throw up. Music: I’m a big music lover and play the guitar and sing. I love all sorts of Christian music.
Q. Where do you feel closest to God?
A. In church on my own, or out walking with my wife.
Q. What inscription would you like on your gravestone?
A. “Well done Good and Faithful Servant”.
Q. And finally, have you any major regrets?
A. Maybe, when I look back on life and see some of the decisions I got wrong, I ask the Lord, “Why did I do that?” But, in general, no regrets.