The Saint is coming to Destin.
At 7 p.m. July 28, First Baptist Church Destin, 201 Beach Drive, will host a movie night showing “The Masked Saint.”
The Saint is Dr. Chris Whaley, an American author, a Southern Baptist minister, a husband, father and grandfather — and a former professional wrestler.
“The Masked Saint,” a film based on the book of the same name by Whaley, won Best Picture at the 2015 International Christian Film Festival and is a fictional story based on his real-life experiences as a wrestler and pastor. Whaley, who has a cameo role in the film, will speak at movie night and also on Sunday morning and sign books and DVDs of the movie.
“I wrote the book for several reasons. After graduating from high school, 88 percent of boys never read another book,” Whaley told The Log. “I was hoping this book might help to change those statistics. The book is an easy read and I believe helps to hold their attention.”
The book is very close to reality, and each chapter is built upon something that actually happened in his life, with a few dramatics added in.
It was Pastor Steve Farris of First Baptist Church Destin who invited Whaley to visit the church. Farris and his wife at one time worked for the movie’s producer and met Whaley for the first time at the premiere in Nashville in January 2016.
“I love pastor Steve. He is an amazing man of God,” said Whaley. “I am honored that he would allow me to preach in his pulpit. I love to share what God has done in my life and how you can have a life with love and meaning through Jesus Christ. I look forward to meeting the great people in the Destin area.”
Growing up was not easy for Whaley. He was in the hospital almost every year after he began school. Diagnosed with polio in the fourth grade, he spent three months in the hospital, and it was watching professional wrestling that helped him to get through the difficult times. He was in junior high school before doctors finally found that he also had almost 200 allergies.
“When they got that under control, I began putting on weight,” he said. “My doctor encouraged me to go to the gym. I loved working out with weights and soon my body began to transform. In 1978 I was in the greatest shape of my life.”
When Whaley saw an ad in a Tampa newspaper needing professional wrestlers, he answered it and began his 10-year career in the ring in 1978. Trained by The Great Malenko, Whaley wrestled professionally in Florida and southeastern states, competing against Mark Calaway, the wrestler who would later find fame wrestling as The Undertaker for WWE, and others. Whaley’s last three years of wrestling were in Texas.
“I loved wrestling,” said Whaley, who was last in the ring in 1993 during a charity event. “It was a thrill to get into the ring with guys I had watched when I was growing up. After not being involved in sports then, it was so exciting to be a professional athlete.”
But he did pay the price with injuries, including a broken ankle, five knee surgeries, broken pelvis, dislocated hips, all ribs broken, both collar bones, neck injuries and more.
“I’ve had both shoulders surgically repaired, probably hundreds of concussions, etc. Every match was the equivalent of being in a car crash.”
“I became a Christian my freshman year in college, and soon after I met the Lord, I felt that he was calling me into the ministry,” Whaley said. “I was 20 years old. There aren’t a lot of churches that want a pastor in his 20s, so I did what many did in my day. I became a youth minister to gain experience."
The job barely put food on the table for Whaley and his pregnant wife, and the couple was hurting financially.
“I went to the pastor and asked if I could wrestle a couple of nights a week to help our income,” Whaley said. “He was totally against it and said ‘No.’ While watching wrestling on TV, the idea came to me that I could wrestle with a mask and no one would know who I was. So, I began wrestling as The Saint, and no one in the church knew about it.”
By day he was a man of God, and by night he was The Saint, dressed in a mask, trunks, tights, cape and boots — all white. The body slam he perfected as a wrestler would come in handy for the pastor as he defended those who could not defend themselves.
“I have always been for the underdog. I can’t stand seeing people mistreated or hurt,” he said. “It started with a young lady in my first church who was married to an abuser. I went to his house and asked him to join me outside and see how he would do against someone who was able to fight back. He never hit her again.”
Pastor Farris of First Baptist Destin said Whaley is one "who goes the extra mile to help those who can't help themselves. He's willing to get his hands dirty and physically fight for justice if necessary,"
Youth ministry is a calling for many, but it was not Whaley’s, and he said it was not a good experience for him. He wanted to pastor his own church. So, the time came for him to accept God’s call on his life and he entered seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, in the late 1980s.
Whaley has since pastored at Westside Baptist Church in Lake Wales, Florida, First Baptist Church in Beverly Hills, Florida, and First Baptist Church in Longwood, Florida. He now serves at First Baptist Church of Orlando as the Legacy Adult Pastor.
The message in the book is that God is the God of a second chance.
“When we mess up, God is able to put us back on the potter’s wheel and make us into a new vessel,” Whaley said. “Just because you’ve messed your life up doesn’t mean that God is through with you. Failure is not final.”