A busy calendar of events awaits the new captain of Portadown’s Salvation Army as she prepares to spend her first Christmas in the town.
Captain Sue Whitla, who took over from Captain Scott Cunliffe in July, has been hard at work with St Vincent de Paul (SVP) on the annual Family Appeal, which works to ensure that no child goes without a gift at Christmas.
The Salvation Army is also known for its bands and Sue and around 10 members of the church have carolling engagements at Asda and Tesco, not to mention Portadown town centre on Christmas Eve.
Originally from Devon, Sue has lived in Northern Ireland for 30 years, the last six of which she spent as a captain in Larne.
Sue is steeped in the church - both her parents and grandparents were in the Salvation Army and she was introduced to it from a young age.
In her teens, she admits she “lost her way” for a while, getting into bad company. “I suppose I wanted to see what was out there,” she explained.
It didn’t take long for her to get back on the right path again, however, and at the age of 18 she “discovered Jesus for herself”.
She entered full-time ministry and after training for up to three years was ordained a minister, working in and around London for a period of time.
Although she retired from full-time ministry for more than 20 years, following her marriage to husband Robert, she still played an active role in the church in their home town of Newtownards.
But she admits to being delighted to be working as a captain again, and in Portadown will lead a church of around 50 people.
“It is a very loving and supportive church here and it is lovely to have people who are willing to work alongside you,” she said.
The motto of the Salvation Army is ‘the heart to God and the hand to man’ which Sue explains is about loving God by stretching out to help those in society who are less fortunate or marginalised.
She added, “We are still assessing the need here in Portadown and want to work alongside existing groups and support them.”
The hall in Edward Street will be undergoing a renovation in the new year, which it is hoped will make it more accessible and community-friendly.
While work is going on, the church will be holding its services and other meetings in the Christian Workers Union church in Shillington Street. Sue has reminded any families wishing to be considered for the Family Appeal to pick up a form from the hall (just beside the town hall) on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday from 10-12. All forms need to be returned by December 9 at the latest. And toys and gifts for the Family Appeal can be left at the Meadows Shopping Centre, SVP at Mayfair Business Centre or branches of the post office.