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Source : 07/07/2000 Northampton Chronicle and Echo

The Jesus Fellowship has attracted much controversy since its inception in the late 1960's. But it has also become one of Britain's fastest growing Christian movements. With its impending move into Northampton town centre into the former Cannon cinema, one of our chief reporters visited the headquarters of the church to find out more in the first of a two-part feature...

Noel Stanton, the man responsible for bringing the Jesus Fellowship into being, will celebrate his 74th birthday on Christmas Day this year.

Now a virtual recluse to the outside world, he has shunned publicity and brought a shroud of secrecy about the inner sanctums of the religious sect.

Mr Stanton lives in a converted farmhouse at the Jesus Fellowship's United Kingdom headquarters on the outskirts of the Northamptonshire village of Nether Heyford.

He has continually refused to be interviewed, leaving a tight rein on publicity to one of his elders, John Campbell.

There is no denying some of the virtues Mr Stanton encourages Jesus Fellowship members to pursue can show a marked difference from those of wider society.

To the outsider, the Jesus Fellowship, along with its outreach project the Modern Jesus Army, may appear out-dated, even misogynous.

The sect emerged at the end of the Swinging Sixties, a reaction to the hedonism of the previous decade.

Mr Campbell said: 'The 1960's and 1970's were a time of idealism, people were looking for a fairer system.'

'It was somewhat futile. But the Jesus Fellowship was developed to provide a type of Christianity which was lively and relevant, getting away from materialism."

Mr Stanton has surrounded himself with other men, selected to 'carry the message on'. He has also remained celibate since he became a Baptist priest in 1958, a theme which has also been taken up by many members.

Many other single men in the Jesus Fellowship have taken a vow of celibacy, and the whole movement is driven by a male-centred philosophy.

Male members are encouraged to develop platonic relationships with their own gender, and specific times are set aside for bonding sessions.

Mr Campbell said: 'We see, like the biblical sense, leadership should be male. But within a church like ours there is plenty of scope for everyone, both male and female.'

'There will be some people who will be looking for a husband or wife, which is fair enough.'

'But there is a proportion of members who believe they have a calling from God, and adopt a celibate lifestyle."

Alcohol is frowned on, and television has no place within the Jesus Fellowship, although members keep in touch with current affairs through a daily supply of newspapers.

Mr Campbell said: 'We have no theological objection to either alcohol or television, but it is not encouraged due to practical reasons.'

'There are people who have had alcohol-related problems, and television would mean we would not be able to spend as much time together communally.'

But perhaps the most contentious part of the Jesus Fellowship ethos is the need for some members to hand over their earnings into a pool of resources.

This is in the face of an annual turnover of more than 15 million, which is secured through the five Northamptonshire businesses owned by the Jesus Fellowship.

The most dedicated members hand over their wages, which are held in a central coffer that is used to fund their basic lifestyle. Everyone who gives up their salary has access to the cash, and an agreement exists not to fritter the money away on extravagance.

Mr Campbell said: 'Everyone hands over their wages to ensure everybody is on the same footing for an equal society. If you do not want to partake, then you do not have to sign up.'