ko te manaaki i ngā kaihākinakina | caring for New Zealand's sports community
Photo of Phil Pawley with St Helens jersey

Interview with our next CEO, Phil Pawley

The Phil Pawley interview – everything you wanted to know about our next CEO.

Tell us about your early life.

Phil Pawley: I was born in Pt Chevalier (Auckland). We moved to Mangere East when I was three, then to Port Charles on the Coromandel Peninsula when I was twelve. My high schooling was by correspondence, and after gaining School Certificate I joined the Regular Force Cadets in Waiouru. I trained as a chef and spent six years in the army. I left the army in 1978, just after marrying Miss Mt Maunganui (Diane).


Miss Mt Maunganui sounds like a good catch.

Phil Pawley: It is not her stunning beauty that has really made the difference in my life, but her willingness to go to the other side of the world with me and do whatever God has asked us to do.


So after marriage and leaving the army?

Phil Pawley: Diane’s family were sharemilkers from Matamata. We began working for a Christian dairy farmer, and living next door to a Christian couple, who just loved us. At 21 I left behind my life of substance abuse and excesses to follow Christ.

In 1980 we joined Youth with a Mission (YWAM), based in Auckland and Hamilton. Then in 1990 we went to a church leadership school in St Helens, England. We intended to come back to do church work here, but ended up staying in England for 20 years. I worked with YWAM and the Church of England, training church leaders.


And you got involved in Sports Chaplaincy?

Phil Pawley: Apollo Perelini, a New Zealander playing rugby league for St Helens, approached me to help set up chaplaincy at his club. It was a natural step to become their first chaplain.


Were you into sports before this?

Phil Pawley: I had played hockey in the army, then social hockey in Hamilton. I ran the London Marathon and climbed Mt Kilimanjaro, but did not play in any team sport in England. I had only been to the SAINTS stadium to see St Helens play the Kiwis and the Warriors. Although I watched a variety of sports when I got the chance, being a Kiwi away from home I was mostly interested in watching the All Blacks and other Kiwi teams.


And did you know anything about Sports Chaplaincy?

Phil Pawley: Not really. I hooked up with SCORE (now Sports Chaplaincy UK), and began attending their annual conference and training event. I also spent time with the one other Rugby League chaplain at the time, who was working at Hull.


So how did it go?

Phil Pawley: The first couple of years were difficult because the club didn’t know about Sports Chaplaincy. So I had to do lots of groundwork and was learning as I went, real pioneering stuff.


Did you get to work with any famous people that we would know of?

Phil Pawley: Daniel Anderson was the coach for the latter half of my time with SAINTS. He was excellent and asked me to become part of his backroom staff. He recognised that by giving me more contact with the players I would be able to build relationships better and therefore fulfil my role more effectively. That mean I was part of match day preparations and would travel away with the team. I would pray with those players who wanted to before games. I was also in charge of time keeping in the changing rooms, making sure the players got out to their warm ups on time and timing them through their warm up exercises. My role also involved weighing them for rehydration, and timing their ice baths.


And you were also a chaplain at the Rugby League World Cup and Commonwealth Games?

Phil Pawley: Yes, I did two Rugby League World Cups, one as chaplain for the England team, and also the Commonwealth Games in Manchester. Being SAINTS chaplain meant I had existing relationships in Rugby League that really helped. At the Manchester Games there was a small team of us in the athletes’ village where we manneda chapel. We tried to meet with all the Chefs de Mission and offer help. A lot of the work was praying with people. We were dealing with some people who were pretty broken up, helping them through the disappointment of not achieving their dreams in their performances.


What brought you back to New Zealand?

Phil Pawley: I visited New Zealand in 2008 for my stepfather’s funeral. One thing that surprised me was that I couldn’t remember the way to Putāruru. A close friend told me, ‘You’ve been away too long Phil’. My mother in law was also aging and I realised that if my wife was to have any quality time with her Mum it would have to happen soon. As I flew out I felt quite torn apart and thought, ‘I can’t keep doing this’. The UK had become our home and we thought we’d live out our lives there. But I realised that the grace that God had given me to live in England had evaporated. It was a hard decision because it meant we would be leaving behind our children and grandchildren.


Tell us more about your children.

Phil Pawley: We have four children including twins, who were aged ten, eight and six when we moved to England. David, our oldest, now lives in Hamilton. Our second son, Adrian, is still in England. Then we have twins: Rebekah, who lives in England, and Isaac is in Nelson. We have two grandchildren in England and two in New Zealand. We also had a foster daughter for three years while we lived in the UK.


So what happened when you came back to New Zealand?

Phil Pawley: When we were discussing coming back, my brother in law asked ‘Why don’t you become senior pastor at our church in Morrinsville?’ I had spent twelve years training vicars in the Church of England and I swore and declared I would never become a pastor. I thought it was the craziest job on earth. But God spoke to Diane and me from the book of John in the Bible where Jesus says ‘Feed my sheep’. We both felt from that passage that God wanted me to become a Pastor – a carer of sheep.

It is the hardest job I’ve done in my life, but also very rewarding. The church has grown from around 180 regular attenders to around 250 and we have totally rebuilt our building. We have grown 13 life groups that meet midweek, and a variety of other activities that serve our community. We also have a charitable trust which provides a kindergarten, budgeting services, a foodbank, and also 24-7 youth workers for our local College. Our church is busy, with as much going on at the church during the week as there is on a Sunday.


What’s so hard about being a pastor?

Phil Pawley: Someone once said that pastoring a church was like trying to herd cats! When you get 250 people together you have about 300 different opinions on pretty much everything! I was appointed to bring change, and change is hard for most of us. But together we have been through a significant period of change that not only included the physical facilities but also our mindsets. We have become a more outward-looking church involved in our community.


How does your church feel about you leaving?

Phil Pawley: They are a bit shocked. They didn’t see it coming, but then neither did I. It’s painful because this is where the bulk of our relationships are. But generally people are positive about the new role and can see that it fits my gift mix. The leadership team have recognised that this is the right time, but as you might imagine there is mix of emotions for everyone.


What’s been your involvement with Sports Chaplaincy NZ before now?

Phil Pawley: When I came home, being senior pastor was all-consuming; it was a huge learning curve. There was no time or thought of doing anything else, so I parked ideas of chaplaincy. My first connection with Sports Chaplaincy NZ was during the Rugby World Cup in 2011, but as I say I was at a point where I couldn’t take on anything else. David Chawner from Sports Chaplaincy UK stayed with us during the World Cup, and I began receiving the SCNZ newsletters which kept me in the loop. I’ve thought about doing chaplaincy with local teams  from time to time since then, but it wasn’t until the CEO role came up that I felt like God was saying, ‘This is the time’. It came as a shock, but now I am very very excited. My head and heart are buzzing with vision and potential.


I like the sound of that: tell us more about this vision and potential.

Phil Pawley: I’ve long felt that whilst I love the church, most people in our community will not darken our doorstep. I guess that’s because we are just another club to them. Chaplaincy is about going to where people gather and doing life with them.

People are gathering in vast numbers around sport and recreation in this country. We are a sporting mad nation. Chaplaincy is about pastoring people whether they are Christians, some other religion or no religion at all. It’s about being Jesus among them, showing them the practical love of God. Chaplaincy is about seeing God do something indigenous and authentic, not superimposing something from outside. It’s about showing unconditional love and journeying with people at the speed that they are ready to travel at. I hope we can see hundreds of new chaplains across all sporting codes and at all levels, all demonstrating God’s love and care to the people of our land.


I’ve heard that you have a big interest in biculturalism.

Phil Pawley: This began when we came home from the UK. I noticed a lot more racism than I remembered, both in the church and in wider society. Being in Morrinsville we are right in the heart of Ngāti Hauā, the kingmakers. I realised I didn’t know anything about our history, but felt a sharp awareness that all was not well in racial relationships.

I decided to do some reading and started with Ratana: the Prophet by Keith Newman. As I read, I found myself weeping at the injustice and brokenness of our nation. I heard Keith Newman speak and I read his other books Bible and Treaty and Beyond Betrayal. I also read The Treaty of Waitangi by Claudia Orange and attended a seminar on the Treaty. A couple of years ago I did a He Papa Tikanga course with the Open Wananga to help me better understand a Māori world view.

Three years ago I arranged for a Māori friend of mine to come and teach te reo Māori night classes in our church and we’ve had 70 to 100 participants each year. I came to realise that there was racism in my own heart and I that needed to understand my own culture and history better, and how this impacted on Māori. It’s a rocky road to walk and it’s easy to stumble as there’s a lot of misunderstanding and mistrust that needs working through. But I’m glad God convicted me about this and am convinced that anyone willing to take this journey will undoubtedly benefit from and be delighted by what they discover.


Speaking of walking, I also hear you did a pretty major hikoi earlier this year.

Phil Pawley: I had eleven weeks study leave owing and wanted to bring together a few strands of life and experience. My hikoi began at Waitangi on 27th February and followed the approximate journey of Tarore‘s gospel of Luke to Waikanae. I walked for seven weeks, covering approximately 25km a day. I spent one week on the Whanganui River in a waka. The overwhelming value for me was having time alone and I had some amazing encounters with God and with people I met along the way. I was self-contained and mostly walked alone. I slept mainly in homes of people I knew or had heard about through friends. I’d bought a tent for $450 but only used it once so that turned out to be my most expensive night!


So what’s the next step for you?

Phil Pawley: I will be starting with SCNZ at the end of February. We have a house we built for our retirement in Te Mata, north of Thames, overlooking the sea. We will base ourselves there and I plan to travel to Auckland weekly or fortnightly, as well as to other parts of the country. My hope is to also find a club where I could be a chaplain, but I’ll wait and see what happens.


Are you thinking about retirement? How old are you?

Phil Pawley: I turned 60 on Bastille Day, but I’m not thinking of retiring. I reckon I’ve still got ten good years in me.


And how about Diane’s plans?

Phil Pawley: We’re not sure. Diane is currently working as a carer in a residential home and is planning to continue with that a couple of days a week . In St Helens she often got involved in the hospitality side of chaplaincy and also would accompany me to games. She would sit with the players’ wives and catch up with them. Although as a mum and wife she’s not had much time for sport, back in the day she was a pretty good netballer. What’s more she’s highly supportive of me.

Read the official announcement of Phil Pawley’s appointment.

Author Info

Rebecca Hawkins

Rebecca is the Communications and IT Manager for Sports Chaplaincy NZ. In her younger days she played cricket and football with great enthusiasm but very little skill. Now she spends a lot of time supporting her four sons in their sport. She especially loves scoring their cricket matches, which she insists on doing the old fashioned way, with pen and paper.

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