THE INTERVIEW: Preacher turned politician combines church and council...Theo Cronin speaks to new deputy leader Helena Croft

Church, council, and Conservatives – the communities around which Helena Croft’s life centres.

Wednesday, 1st May 2013, 6:26 am
JPCT 220413 Helena Croft. Photo by Derek Martin

A pastor for Kingdom Faith Church, the new deputy leader of Horsham District Council, and a rising star of the local Tories, Mrs Croft is a woman on a mission.

Her ascendancy to the top table at Horsham District Council has been spectacular – she was only elected to represent Roffey North in May 2011.

But what motivates her? And in what way has her faith and church influenced her political journey?

It was working for Kingdom Faith Church that first brought Mrs Croft and her family to the town 20 years ago. Both she and her husband receive a salary from the registered charity and are pastors for the church based in Roffey Place, Horsham.

Her husband is a Director of the Horsham church’s college and one of its elders. Mrs Croft says she stepped down from her post as Director of Prayer to allow more time for her burgeoning council work.

Referring to Kingdom Faith as The Charity, Mrs Croft said: “I am one of the leaders primarily responsible for overseeing the women and the various projects that we do in the community with women.”

HELPING WOMEN IN NEED

Her role includes helping victims of domestic violence at a women’s refuge; helping prostitutes through her work with the Streetlight Project investigating the local sex industry; and parent and toddler groups at Kingdom Faith Child Contact Centre for which Mrs Croft is the management committee chairman.

Coming from a proud military family instilled Mrs Croft with a ‘can do’ attitude, but at the same time it was a home broken by divorce which helped shape her compassion for the many women she helps, she believes.

At Horsham District Council she became the cabinet member for Communication, Horsham Town and Special Projects in January 2012 and she sits on the Development Control (North) Committee, Licensing Committee, and Personnel Committee.

To her extensive personal, pastoral and professional responsibilities are now added the mantle of deputy leader of the Conservative group, as well as deputy leader of the Council, but Mrs Croft remains confident in her ability to do the job.

But what are her objectives as deputy leader? A question I put to her when we met earlier this week in the leader’s office at the local authority’s headquarters in North Street, Horsham.

“Number one is to support the leader, that’s the deputy’s job,” she said, referring to Ray Dawe (Con, Chantry) who took over in January 2012 following the shock resignation of Robert Nye.

“We work very well together,” she continued, adding how she will also ‘continue the good work that has begun in the last year particularly under my portfolio’ – that of Communications, Horsham Town and Special Projects.

‘A CERTAIN DEMOGRAPHIC’

But what difference does she hope to make? “Put it this way, when I first came on to the council and I looked at the cabinet, they were all a certain demographic,” she said. “Because of the Broadbridge Heath Leisure Centre issue there was a sense of being a little bit out of touch.

“I am not someone who is ingrained in politics and has been for 20-odd years. I am the opposite to that. What I have to offer is a fresh perspective. And to challenge some of the political status quos of doing things a certain way. I don’t think within this political box, I think outside of it.”

We had already discussed her background during which she had refused to divulge her age, but she had outlined her extensive involvement with Kingdom Faith Church for the past 20 years, a period by her own definition she now said she was not ‘ingrained with politics’, although she has always been a Conservative at heart she had said, just not a card-carrying member.

So from where does her ‘fresh perspective’ come? I suggested it must be premised on her strong Christian faith which she acknowledged defines her as a person.

Now elected to a position of significant influence in public office I said I would like to explore this new relationship between politics and church. How do your stated objectives for the council align with your objectives at Kingdom Faith?

“I wouldn’t link it specifically to Kingdom Faith, I don’t speak on behalf of Kingdom Faith.”

Really? But you are a church leader I said, slightly taken aback by her reticence to discuss the issue.

“One of many leaders,” she said. How many, I asked? “Probably about eight or nine. I have responsibilities, and most of those are now to do with various projects that I oversee, like Streetlight, working with the refuge and the Child Contact Centre.

“So I am not speaking on behalf of Kingdom Faith, because that wouldn’t be right.”

Mrs Croft’s declaration of interests on becoming a councillor repeatedly state she is a pastor at Kingdom Faith. She only stepped down as a Director at the church due to council responsibilities.

In Kingdom Faith’s trustees report of 2009, activities listed for achieving Kingdom Faith’s objectives include ‘increasing collaboration with Horsham council’. On the church’s website, in describing Mrs Croft it makes a link with the council, saying she is also a cabinet member of Horsham District Council.

AREAS OF INFLUENCE

In light of her joint roles as politician in public office and that of pastor I persisted and persuaded her that discussing her church was a perfectly reasonable line of enquiry, especially considering Kingdom Faith’s stated ambitions on its website.

There it says: “Being an apostolic church, we have a strong belief that the raising up and releasing of men and women into areas of influence and authority within their regions will be a key in turning the tide of the godless society.”

In one of many short videos that can be seen on the website, senior pastor Clive Urquart can be seen striding around Horsham declaring: “I can see the very fabric of society being changed – areas of Government, law, even policy being shaped once again by the truth of God’s word.”

Another video entitled The Call: Apostolic Mission states: “God is turning the church inside out because he is wanting us to influence the society that we are living in. We know that our society needs to change and we need to be the people who affect it.”

I put it to Mrs Croft that her ascendancy to a position of significant influence at Horsham District Council was a perfect example of Kingdom Faith’s publicly stated ambition of ‘releasing men and women into areas of influence and authority’ where they would be ‘key in the turning of the tide of a godless society’.

But this was shot down by Mrs Croft who said: “At Kingdom Faith there is no sort of plan, as that’s what you are reading into that - there is no plan to influence the council, let’s do this and let’s do that.

“What we are about as a church is about people being...” she hesitated, before continuing: “The faith and the convictions that they have on the inside of them actually being lived out in your every day life no matter where you are.

“And for me as a leader, where ever I am and whatever I am doing, I would hope to influence people in a positive way.”

She said it was a neighbour’s idea she enter into politics.

“It has been a quick rise. I didn’t set out on this journey and think right here we go, cabinet in six months, then deputy leader, and the world next – that’s not been in my thinking whatsoever. I have just been presented with different situations and responded to them.

“I do believe that there’s a right timing for everything, and that is a very biblical thing. This seems to be my time right now,” she said.

GODLESS SOCIETY

The church’s reference to ‘turning the tide back on the godless society’ is intriguing. To what does it refer? Mrs Croft bemoaned the lack of respect afforded to the clergy and godly attributes, blaming it on Britain becoming a secular society.

Examples of godlessness for Mrs Croft included the binge culture, the prevalence of teenage pregnancies, and the demise of the ‘moral code of sex within marriage, restraint, the word no, abstinence’.

“It’s just not taught in schools,” she lamented, adding her shock at some of the things her two daughters, aged 17 and 20, have been exposed to at school. “It is a different era,” she said, “and I think we are poorer as a community because it has affected the core values of communities and of the family.

“And of course family values are at the heart of Conservatism and they are at the heart of Christianity.”

NO CONFLICT OF INTEREST

Here there appeared to be a powerful synergy between Mrs Croft’s beliefs as a preacher and as a politician. But what would happen when council and church do not align? Where would her first priority lie?

“Personally I can’t see that there would ever be a situation where I would have to go against my convictions,” she said, before referencing JF Kennedy’s response to a similar question put to him as the first Catholic president of the United States.

“If ever there was a case my convictions were compromised then I would have to question why I am doing what I am doing,” she said, apparently intimating she would rather resign office than enact policy that went against the core convictions of her faith.

However, some in the community are already concerned that her beliefs as a leader at Kingdom Faith are incompatible with Horsham District Council policy.

NO CURING OF HOMOSEXUALS

I read an excerpt from a letter received by the County Times following her appointment as deputy leader which stated: “Ms Croft is a prominent member of Kingdom Faith Church, which set out to ‘cure’ homosexuals, and casual visitors to the church are liable to be introduced to someone who has been ‘cured’.

“This archaic approach to homosexuality is very much at odds with Horsham District Council’s statement on Equality, Diversity and Human Rights,” continued the letter.”

Mrs Croft’s reaction was that whoever had written the letter had ‘got their facts wrong about Kingdom Faith’.

“This about curing homosexuals, I don’t know where he has got that from, he will never have heard that at Kingdom Faith,” she asserted.

Are there any openly gay members at the church, I enquired? “No, not that I am aware of because I don’t think any gay members would come to somewhere like Kingdom Faith.”

I asked the church pastor for the church’s position on homosexuality.

“It is the biblical position. It would be the scriptural position,” she said, adding: “If you just want to make a story out of that Kingdom Faith is anti-homosexual that is absolutely missing the point because we are a community church. We would help a homosexual couple if they were in need, and actually have. I have personally done that.

“We wouldn’t discriminate against anybody’s ethnicity or sexuality, that’s not the teachings of Christ. The teachings of Christ are non-judgemental and so we operate in a non-judgemental way.”

FULLY COMMITTED TO HDC

She went on to reassert there was no conflict of interest between her council, church and community roles.

“Like all of us there are different priorities at different times. I am fully committed to Horsham District Council, as deputy leader, as a cabinet member, and you can see from my record of attendance that I am absolutely committed.

“I don’t do anything by halves, just as I am fully committed to the things I am doing in the community, and as I am fully committed as a mother and wife. I don’t see any conflict in that.”

What are your ambitions I wanted to know? Now you have experienced political success, if the opportunity arose, would you consider becoming an MP?

“I am not even going to comment on that, I don’t even want to go there,” she bridled.

Is your name on a selection list? “No it is not, and I don’t even want to have a conversation about that. I know Francis Maude and I totally support him.”

This was a not a good note to finish the interview on, so instead I asked for her reaction to putting herself in a position of public office where she was rightly subjected to challenging questions concerning her loyalties, priorities, beliefs and objectives.

“It is a challenge being in the public eye, and that is not something I have been used to,” she admitted.

“I have been a leader in the community in terms of projects but it is different being in the public eye, and there are aspects of that that obviously I don’t enjoy, but I think it comes with the job.

“I am happy to talk to absolutely anybody about anything if its going to be open honest debate, that’s just how I am as a person.

“I am pretty black and white. I have nothing to hide. I am a very open person,” she said.

However, I still don’t know her age.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?
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