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SPECIAL ENQUIRY: THE JESUS PEOPLE


IN THE BEGINNING


Source : 17/09/1982 Northampton Chronicle and Echo

The Jesus 'experience' beats an LSD 'trip' - that was the cry taken up by thousands of young people in a 'revolution' of peace and love.

The Swinging Sixties, the 'Fab Four' and flower power had all fizzled out leaving behind a youth culture with an intimate knowledge of drugs.

Into this vacuum move the Jesus Revolution, a revitalised and compelling Christian philosophy offering the disillusioned young fresh hope of peace and contentment.

At the same time, in a quiet corner of Northamptonshire, a small Baptist chapel was undergoing a startling transformation.

Under the pastorship of Mr. Noel Stanton, the Bugbrooke chapel moved into active evangelism, leading to remarkable and publicised conversions among heroin addicts and the violent.

It became known as the Jesus Fellowship and in 1978 set up a community modelled on those of First Century Christians in Jerusalem who sold their possessions and pooled their resources. And it has not looked back since.

Its rise to worldly riches has been matched only by the attraction of a large and flourishing membership of more than 500 disciples.

Unlikely as it may seem, the members of the Fellowship's New Creation Christian Community are the new aristocracy of the East Midlands.

The community refuses to say how rich it is on the grounds that this is a private and confidential matter between contributing members.

But it owns more than 10 large country houses in Northamptonshire and Warwickshire, a score or more of other properties, including houses large enough to fit the luxury homes category, and at least 200 acres of farmland.

Also on its books are a chain of health food shops, building and haulage companies, a clothes shop and other business interests.

Not least of its assets is a willing and able pool of workers, prepared to toil in Fellowship firms at substantially lower wages than paid in the outside world and all turning over their incomes to the community.

The workforce also includes a strong graduate and middle class element. Members can be found in the teaching, medical, legal and other professions in Northamptonshire.

According to the leaders, the community grows every year. While around two or three people leave annually, up to 20 join. And a further 15 join the Bugbrooke chapel without becoming full members of the community.

The community has been at the centre of controversy for more that five years.

Critics dislike its different lifestyle, and are unhappy about the divisions it can cause within families.

The tragic deaths of two young men who were members of the community - one in unexplained circumstances - have served to fuel the controversy. The Fellowship denies all its critics' allegations.

According to the Fellowship, the transformation of the Bugbrooke chapel from a conventional Baptist set-up into a new kind of community began in 1968 when Pastor Noel Stanton and his deacons recognised 'a lack of the power of the Holy Spirit' as experienced in the early church.

Following a search for this 'power', first Stanton, then many of the deacons, were by 1969 'filled with the Holy Spirit.' Their little band grew quickly between 1969 and 1972 and their evangelism resulted in amazing conversions.

Drug addicts found faith in Christ and lost their addiction, and unlikely young people, including a violent ex-president of a Hell's Angels chapter, were converted.

The changing chapel first hit the headlines in Northampton in 1971 when it sponsored a 40-day 'Jesus Lives' crusade in conjunction with the Nationwide Festival of Light.

The Jesus Revolution had been sweeping the United States, where many young converts were coining, for them, the ultimate accolade: The Jesus 'experience' is better than any LSD 'trip'.

Now the revolution had arrived in Britain. Bugbrooke felt the fervour of the movement and experienced the New Testament phenomenon of 'speaking in tongues'. Physical healings were also reported.

The move to community living began after 'prophecies from God,' and in 1974 the Fellowship outbid South Northamptonshire District council to acquire its first large community house - Bugbrooke Hall, subsequently renamed New Creation Hall, at a cost of 67,000.

A building team was formed to renovate the hall and later became Skaino Services Ltd, a construction company owned by the Fellowship.

The community went on to form a company called House of Goodness and opened the Goodness Foods and Jeans Plus shops in Northampton. There are now other Goodness Foods shops - in Towcester, Weedon and Daventry.

House of Goodness Ltd, is also parent company of a builders' merchants called Towcester Building Supplies Ltd, which is based in Towcester and has a warehouse in Daventry.

Heyford Hills, a magnificent farmhouse at Nether Heyford, became the community's second big home in 1976 and was renamed New Creation Farm. Noel Stanton now lives there.

More large houses followed, including the equally superb Cornhill Hotel, Pattishall, bought in 1978 for less than 200,000 and now worth considerably more.

In 1979 the Fellowship moved into Warwickshire and opened a house at Eathorpe, expanding the following year to four properties housing around 80 people. A house was also opened at Leicester.

Among its big Northamptonshire properties are also the former Heyford Grange, Pattishall Grange, Stowe Grange and the old vicarage at Flore.

The Fellowship continues to expand and will require more community homes to meet its needs.