Source : 20/09/1982 Northampton Chronicle and Echo
It indoctrinates young people, and it comes between them and their families … these are the kind of allegations levelled at the Jesus Fellowship of Bugbrooke.
But the Fellowship strenuously denies all such claims.
In an interview the Fellowship's pastor, Mr. Noel Stanton, rejected completely the idea that recruits were subjected to indoctrination or any organised process.
'Obviously people have chosen this lifestyle,' he said. 'Everyone of us has his own mind and own personality - I don't accept that there is a group mind. But what we do have is a single heart of faith towards Jesus Christ and following Jesus Christ and accepting the various disciplines.'
The Fellowship is used to being likened to other sects which have come under attack.
But Mr. David Hawker, senior elder and Fellowship press officer, said there were light years of difference between certain other sects, which were not Christian, and the Fellowship, which was.
'People look at us and see some superficial resemblances, i.e. that we have a community life style, and they automatically assume that other things that are true about them may be true about us,' he said.
'One hears things about deceitful means of obtaining cash and recruits; prising people away from their relatives; moving people around so nobody knows quite where they are; people disappearing off abroad at a moment's notice; people working 20 hours a day as 'missionaries' for no pay and very little sleep. One hears all that about others and none of it is remotely true about us.'
'These are charges many Christian communities face. We are not alone in this, but we are perhaps one of the more obvious communities because of our size,' said Mr. Hawker.
The lives of community members are dominated by the Fellowship almost to the exclusion of the outside world.
While there are no rules as such against television, radio or books invariably members deny themselves these things, which many people would take for granted. The only books to be seen around are on religious subjects, but daily papers are delivered to each household.
Members don't go to the cinema or theatre or dine out, and going off alone for any length of time would be considered selfish.
Discipline and loyalty are required by the Fellowship, which is as religiously rigid as an order of monks.
David Hawker commented: 'Commitment to Christ is the over-riding concern and that means other commitments are secondary. But we have always and will always uphold the value of family life.'
According to its leaders, the Fellowship would welcome meetings with worried mums and dads.
Mr Kevin Bartholomew, a senior elder, said: 'Parents can obviously be alarmed by what their offspring relate to, and just to meet us can be of help.'
'I have talked with the fathers, man to man, and asked them if there was anything they were concerned about. And my wife talked with the mothers.'
'I don't recall any particular people who have been prejudiced and remained prejudiced,' he added.
Mr. Stanton said: 'The problem is that so many people have been fed on the cult idea that they fear the worst. The big danger is that they won't come to us and gain the knowledge.'
When recruits become full members of the community they hand over their personal wealth, lock, stock and barrel.
But the community stresses that it sets a minimum age limit of 21 before acceptable people are allowed to become 'contributing members,' and then only after a probation period.
Joining the community is one thing, what happens when people want to get out?
The Fellowship tries to persuade a person to stay on. Just what kind of persuasion is applied and are leavers free to depart with the wealth they originally put in?
David Hawker said anyone leaving the church would receive 'pastoral help,' but the situation would demand great sensitivity and there might come a time when it seemed right for the break.
'People who join us commit themselves with their eyes open. Now, clearly, when they have taken that step, then a decision to leave is a fairly major one.'
Inevitably once you have been very closely associated with people over a period of time you are very close to them and it's emotionally difficult to leave them.'
'We try not to stand in their way, but we would certainly counsel wisdom and patience in thinking about it.'
Mr. Hawker admitted that the scriptures which he described as 'uncompromising' would be pointed out to the leaver.
Having made the break the ex-member would normally be given back his or her original capital, but it was not a statutory requirement of the trustees, said Mr. Stanton.
'There is an allowance for inflation and anyone who left would in real terms have the same wealth as when he came in,' he said.
'It has never happened that someone has not been repaid,' Mr. Stanton added.