Heather, how long have you been writing and how did you get started?
I distinctly remember when I was at Junior School my mother reading a story I had written for homework and saying, ‘This is a lovely story, but it doesn’t end, it just stops.’ She was then starting to write books and eventually had twenty published and I learned a lot from her.
Later, I was a member of a missionary organisation for twenty-two years working in their radio production department and wrote a wide range of programme series, some of which I presented, but others were voiced by someone else so I had to learn to write in their style.
My first book grew out of a presentation on singleness that I was asked to make to an international conference of leaders in the mission. Later, after studying for an MTh – which involved writing a lot of essays and a dissertation! – I worked at Christian Research where I undertook nearly one-hundred qualitative research projects, each of which had to be written up for the client. Two more books grew out of that work.
Tracks of Trustworthiness examines the role of church and charity governance, and is based on extensive research that you undertook, something that you have professional experience of – how did you go about planning this and compiling all the information you collected?
The idea for the book came out of several requests to join charity boards locally. I knew I could not help them all personally and I believe God prompted me to produce something of wider use. The initial plans were based on my own fairly wide experience, which I then sent out to half a dozen contacts. Their responses helped shape the questions which I put to a wide range of people who were trustees, many of them contacts from my time at Christian Research. Once I had transcribed all the interviews I had mountains of paper to sort through and shape into the topics which became the various chapters! Those interviews are quoted extensively in the book which helps bring the topics to life.
What were one or two of the main things your research revealed, and did any of the findings surprise you?
The research revealed a range of issues which require careful balancing by trustees, including some distinctly Christian ones – such as trustees assuming God will protect and provide for them so they have no strategies or plans in place to manage risk, or at the other end dealing with risk at a human level without consciously praying for God’s guidance and direction.
What surprised me was how many differences there are between a trustee board of a church and a separate charity, for example church Deacons or PCC members are usually elected by church members and may not realise they are trustees, whereas charity boards are themselves responsible for finding new people and it is clear right from the start that those appointed are trustees.
In Tracks of Trustworthiness, you draw inspiration from Nehemiah and Daniel – why did you pick these two Biblical characters?
It was a verse about Daniel which led up to the famous story of the lions’ den that led me to focus on trustworthiness:
They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent. (Daniel 6:4)
Daniel was a world-class administrator and there is a lot to learn from how his faith shaped his work, attitudes and values.
Nehemiah is my favourite character in the Bible, a cup bearer and therefore a slave, who took on the huge task of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem without any previous experience and against a lot of opposition. How he tackled it with the help of God (Nehemiah 6:16) also has much to teach us.
Many PCC members and other church ‘trustees’ are unaware of their legal responsibilities – why is it important they are informed about them and how can that be empowering rather than intimidating?
The legal requirements for charities are increasing year on year, and the public perception of churches has been damaged by issues such as lax child protection. Knowing which laws apply to your situation and applying them conscientiously is not only important legally, but can help protect a church from falling prey to accusations of bad practice.
COVID-19 has clearly had a dramatic impact on charities and churches across the country – what advice and encouragement would you give those struggling to find a way forward?
As one interviewee put it (quoted in a postscript to the book about COVID-19), ‘Cataclysmic change makes us go back to basics.’ In a world where so much has changed and with all kinds of restrictions, a key issue is to reconsider your core reason for existing. Are you doing things that do not contribute to that core reason? That means reassessing priorities, and then thinking creatively and prayerfully about resources – not only finance, but buildings, people who are on furlough or have been made redundant, the local community etc.
How has being a trustee and PCC member impacted your own life and faith?
When I first became a trustee it was a real eye opener to what goes on behind the scenes of an organisation. I soon realised that the role demanded integrity and honesty, as well as the need for each trustee to contribute their own gifts, skills and life experience to the discussions. Some of the challenges were a test of faith, and seeing how God guided and provided for that organisation helped strengthen my own trust in Him.
What advice would you give to a new PCC member or charity trustee?
Listen to and learn from the experienced people around you, and think and pray about what gifts and skills you can contribute that perhaps others do not have.
What is the main thing you hope readers will take away from Tracks of Trustworthiness?
Being a trustee can be seen as rather ‘behind the scenes’ and not very important in the overall mission of a church or charity. But fulfilling the role well can free others to focus on the mission or outreach without worrying about the administrative side of things. I hope the book will encourage people who are not trustees to consider becoming one and help those who are to apply their faith to the role.
How did you find the publication process?
Having been on the other side of the process (Christian Research published its own books) it was a joy to work with professionals to produce the best product possible.
As you developed the manuscript for Tracks of Trustworthiness, did you get input from friends and others or was it something you felt best to work on alone?
I had lots of informal conversations with people other than those I interviewed, which often backed up what the formal research was revealing. Also, all the interviewees were given the opportunity to read the manuscript and some of them responded with very helpful comments.
What one piece of advice would you want to give to a new writer?
Make sure you know who you are writing for – what sort of people do you want to read your book? Don’t just write down what you want to say without considering whether it will interest anyone else!
What are you working on now?
I want to see Tracks of Trustworthiness out there, being helpful to trustees, so I am doing what I can to publicise it, write articles about it and generally make it known beyond my own contacts.
Finally, what is your favourite book and why?
Anything non-academic by Tom Wright, such as his New Testament for Everyone series. He makes me think. I don’t always agree with him, so I have to stop and consider why – and sometimes adjust my own thinking and faith as a result!