Welcome to Scripture Union
Login to enable more features
Andrew Graystone quizzed SU’s new National Director Tim Hastie-Smith on his plans for SU and the ups and downs of his Christian journey.
Have you always been a Christian?
I gave my life to Christ aged 15. That was over 30 years ago. I immediately knew that I had to work for Him fulltime!
How did it come about?
Although my parents took me to church I didn't have a living relationship with the Lord Jesus until I was invited by a friend to attend an SU camp. I loved it; above all, the friendship and warm acceptance. I knew that I had a deep need for God and was thrilled to learn how to come to know Him.
For most of us there are particular people who are really important in our Christian journey. Who have those people been for you?
When I was at school, there was a particular teacher who played a vital role in encouraging me. He was a brilliant role model. David Fletcher was my first Vicar when I was ordained. He and his wife Susie played a really important role. Recently I find preachers and writers of various sorts playing a huge role. I have devoured everything by Philip Yancey.
Have you been involved with Scripture Union before? Has it been an important part of your Christian journey?
I have attended SU camps as a member and then as a leader, every year since 1977. (This interview was conducted whilst Tim was on a camp in Norfolk). My wife and I still use SU Bible reading notes and my youngest daughter is currently on her first camp.
You are a minister at a local church in Gloucestershire. How is that going to fit in with your leadership at SU?
It has been a huge privilege to have the pastoral and spiritual oversight of a small Cotswold village not far from Swindon. It is very rural – sort of Midsommer meets Dibley. The church has a central place in village life. We are part of the big life events of every member of the community – births, marriages and deaths.
We have a regular congregation of 40-50, with over 100 different people attending Sunday worship at least once each month. They come from all ages, all backgrounds. One of the greatest joys this year has been the introduction of three midweek Bible studies. We’ve introduced pew Bibles and SU notes which are currently being used by 30 members of the congregation. I preach every Sunday morning but have two great lay preachers in the parish too.
By remaining firmly rooted in parish ministry I hope to have a better understanding of the day-to-day challenges and frustrations facing Church leaders.
Am I right in thinking you've had quite an extensive contacts in Africa and elsewhere? How has that come about?
My closest friend is another vicar who worked for 8 years in Uganda, first in the slums of Kampala, then as Principal of the Namugongo Martyrs Seminary. As a family we would go and stay with his family during the school holidays. Aids was rife at that time, and I conducted many funerals of children we had recently baptised.
Our love for Africa grew. We have spent time in Kenya, Gambia, Botswana, Egypt, Tunisia, and Zimbabwe. I have family in South Africa too. And our son has just returned from 3 months in Zambia.
Introducing others to Africa has been a great joy. Whilst I was a Headmaster I led a trip to Uganda that has led to a close link between my old school and a bush school near Ibanda in the West, as well as with the city of Kitgum in the North. Over 100 pupils and staff have now spent time in Uganda.
What's this about you being a member of an African tribe?
We spent so much time in Uganda that we were invited to be adopted into a Ugandan tribe. So I am a member of the Lugavi tribe. The Lugavi is a kind of ant eater. All the tribes have animal names. It’s a great honour.
You even have an African name.
My adopted name is Serenjogi.
You've spent most of your career in teaching. Tell us about your last job as Head of Dean Close School.
In 1998 I became Headmaster of Dean Close School in Cheltenham. It’s a school of over 900 pupils, and also a business with a turnover of about £14m. So the challenges are obvious. We grew the school, built new facilities and improved standards and results.
The real joy was shaping a community where every child mattered. I would explain to staff and parents that every child is unique and infinitely valuable because they are made in the image of God. It is vital that we always treat them this way. I would often quote a Tanzanian proverb: First we must give them roots and then we must give them wings.
I would also endlessly tell the kids: Carpe Diem. Seize the day! God has given us the precious gift of life. Use it to the full. Use every gift that He has given you. Use them in the service of others. That way they grow and we grow.
You left that post rather suddenly. Can you explain what happened?
I employed a teacher who had left his previous job having acted unprofessionally (but not illegally). Having checked with police, social services, the previous school and even the Secretary of State, I decided to give him a second chance. Of course he was CRBed, ‘list 99’ed and had full references. He taught with us for two years and acted properly at all times. In fact he taught two of my children. He then left Dean Close. Then the General Teaching Council held a delayed hearing and deemed him to have acted unprofessionally at his former school. They struck him off their membership for four years. There was adverse reaction in some of the media .and, as I was due to leave Dean Close anyway at the end of that year, I felt that I should go early to protect the school.
How do you reflect on that now? Did you make a mistake? Is that why you resigned?
Things are never that straightforward. If you knew the full circumstances I believe you would agree that my action in employing this individual wasn’t wrong, either morally or legally. But I certainly made a mistake in not predicting the way some people might react. So yes there was an error of judgement on my part. When I realised that the media interest had the potential to damage the school's reputation Joanne and I took the painful decision that I should stand down. I resigned because I was the man at the top and therefore had to take full responsibility.
The public are rightly very concerned about the safety of children. Don't Christian organisations like SU need to be particularly aware of this?
Absolutely, and I would never put a child at risk. But we also need to be careful not to demonise certain individuals beyond redemption.
Does that incident cast a long shadow?
Up until that point our life had always appeared gilded and endlessly 'successful’: a wonderful family, Headmaster of a big school at the age of 36, the youngest Chairman for over 50 years of the prestigious HMC. To suffer a public setback and humiliation brought us back to earth and forced us to re-evaluate what was important to us. It also helped me to be able to look people in the eye who have been through really difficult and unpleasant times. In reality what we went through was nothing compared with people who really suffer.
In practical terms, we have received so much support and help from church, political and educational leaders. We’ve found ourselves in an amazing new place where God has clearly gone before us.
To be honest I thank God for what happened, painful though it was.
When I Googled you, I discovered there's a Facebook group called the Tim Hastie-Smith Appreciation Society with over 500 members. I presume you didn't start it yourself...!
My children refuse to allow me to join Facebook! But I was very touched by the huge numbers of pupils, staff and parents who either joined this group or wrote or rang to offer love prayers and support. We were overwhelmed.
We received hundreds of letters of support. Parents, pupils and staff were amazing.
Can you tell us a bit about your family?
I’ve been married to Joanne for 23 years and we have three children. Emily is in her final year at Exeter Uni reading Sociology. Edward is just about to start at the Royal Agricultural College at Cirencester training to be a farmer. Our youngest, Alice, is at the village school.
What do you like to do to unwind?
I like being in the sunshine with the family, reading, watching Spurs win, going to the theatre and organising things. This year we had a Literary Festival in Kempsford - the smallest in the UK!
You've worked very extensively with children. How do you see the particular needs of children in the UK?
Children, like adults need to be loved, valued and accepted unconditionally. God loves them in this way and they need to know it for themselves. We are the human agents whereby God makes His love known. There is nothing more important. They need to know God's love.
Are we bound to see the influence of Christians decline over the coming years? Is the Christian community inevitably fighting a rear-guard action? If not, what will it take to turn the tide?
Our society is consumed by consumerism, materialism and relativism. But 'things' do not make people happier or more content. People crave truth. Pascal said that “In every person there is a God shaped vacuum”. And Saint Augustine said “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You”. There has never been a time when our society has needed God so urgently.
The forces of secularism are huge. But they are utterly, hopelessly unsatisfying. Our challenge is to find ways of presenting God that are comprehensible and 'real'.
What are you most looking forward to about leading SU?
It’s an incredible privilege and responsibility to lead this amazing movement that has been a source of incredible blessing to so many and has been so mightily used by God.
It’s vital that we focus on our key priorities of children's evangelism and equipping Christians to engage with God's word and also ensure that we reach out to the least loved and the most lost.
I want to see us penetrating those parts of society that need God, but are most marginalized: the young who have no hope, no aspiration and know little love in their lives.
At times of challenge the church often turns in on itself. We must look out to the ocean of need that surrounds us. SU is uniquely equipped to engage with a vast range of Christians. We can bring together all those who care for the salvation of the young and the centrality of Bible study to Christian growth, discipleship, and above all, a living relationship with our heavenly Father.
I want to see more initiatives among the young, closer working with other Christian groups and many more churches using our resources and being helped by our teams.
I want to help SU grow by generating more income to resource our life-giving programmes. I want SU in England and Wales to play a full part in the work of SU International. We are part of a vibrant worldwide body and I want us to be fully engaged.
I want us to influence the national debate about the young. We live in a nation that is afraid of young people. We need to love our young people, and bring them to the life-changing love of Jesus. Only this will transform society. Everything else is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
Do you expect to change things a lot at SU?
My most important role initially will be to listen and to learn. If change is needed, SU will already be aware of it. Keith Civval has done a great job, and it is an honour to be succeeding him.
Where do you feel you need the most help and prayer as you take on this new role?
The task is huge. My prayers for myself are that my delight in God would daily be renewed; that I would be given boundless energy; that I might be given the wisdom to discern what our priorities should be and that I might recognise the image of Jesus in everyone that I meet.
We’ll join you in those prayers. Thanks Tim.
This or That??
Football or rugby? Rugby
Organ or music group? Music group
Shower or bath? Bath
Radio 4 or Five Live? Five Live
Public or private? Public
NIV or The Message? NIV
Wine or beer? Wine
Night in or night out? Night in
Cautious or risky? Risky
Red sauce or brown? Brown sauce
Cat or dog? Dog
Eastenders or Coronation Street? Eastenders
Charles Wesley or Matt Redman? Wesley
PC or Mac? PC
Starter or dessert? Starter
Summer or Winter? Summer
Excited or terrified? Excited
© Scripture Union 2010
All material on this website, unless otherwise credited to the relevant copyright owner with appropriate permission,
copyright © 2002-2013 Scripture Union. All rights reserved