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Source : 05/09/1987 Kettering Evening Telegraph

Jesus People think nothing of handing over all their possessions - and their incomes - so that they can lead a Christian life in one of the Jesus Fellowship's 50 community homes.

And they are only too willing to don 'battlegear' as part of the newly-formed Jesus Army and head for the nearest town, city or even beach to spread their message and recruit new members.

If they have a full time job outside the 850-strong fellowship - and many do, including doctors, solicitors and other professionals - they help 'evangelise', or work on the fellowship's farms in their spare time.

Others are employed by the fellowship working for one of its many companies or helping out in the fields.

It sounds like an idyllic life to many people, Christians and non-Christians, but if they choose to live in one of the community homes they must be prepared to share everything they own and be satisfied with the most humble of surroundings.

Although the Jesus People own many large historic buildings, particularly in Northamptonshire, they are not lavishly furnished.

Liz Donovan, Mr Stanton's secretary, says: 'We live a simple lifestyle and don't seek luxuries.'

New Creation Farm is typical of the larger community homes run by the fellowship. The imposing Victorian house and its 200 acres of land was bought 12 years ago for 80,000.

The only difference is it is a mixed farm as well as a home for 35 single women and men and two families. Everyone is responsible for different chores to keep things running smoothly.

Members don't need to turn to the outside world for food, clothes or other daily requirements. They are bought in using cash from the 'common purse' to which everyone contributes.

People wanting to enter the fellowship can visit at weekends and are baptised if the join. There are Bible teachings, services, prayer meetings, lively hymn-singing and hand-clapping sessions throughout the week.

Many of the members wear Jesus Army badges proclaiming 'We fight for you' and some also dress in the Jesus Army uniform - a combat jacket, khaki shirts and football-type scarves for the men, khaki blouses, green cord skirts, navy bodywarmers and neckerchiefs for the women.

The single 'sisters' and 'brothers' sleep in separate dormitories. Married couples have shared rooms but a large proportion of the fellowship does not wed. Many choose to remain celibate devoting themselves to their religious convictions.

In a rare press interview Mr Stanton, the 60-year-old leader of the fellowship and chairman of the trustees who administer all its business and financial affairs, told me: 'What we are seeking is two-fold. We want to bring the Christian faith to very needy people. By that I mean drug addicts, the unemployed, people who have drink problems, criminals, the sexually promiscuous.'

'The need is far too great for the traditional Church to meet at the moment. And a lot of Churches don't seek to meet the need at all.'

He said: 'Our second aim is to build up this Church which we call the Jesus Fellowship. The more soldiers we can get into the Jesus Army the more work we can do. We have between 15 and 20 members living in the Kettering area and hopefully that will increase. Kettering is like any other town where there are people in trouble, people in need.'

He explained that fellowship members who do not live in community houses hold weekly meetings at their homes. Such gatherings take place on Wednesday nights in Ketterings at houses in Deeble Road, Rockingham Road, Cherry Road and in Rothwell. A formal meeting is held most Sunday evenings in Kingsthorpe Hall, Russell Street, Kettering.

The military image was chosen because it attracted young people, he said. 'The youth especially are keen to be fighters. We want them to fight for something which is good so we encourage them to fight for holiness and purity.'

The Jesus Army is travelling throughout Britain and the Northamptonshire campaign is the seventh so far this year. Stoke, Nottingham, Leicester, Coventry and Birmingham have already been visited.

'Mainstream Baptists see us as unorthodox because of the way we live,' Mr Stanton said. 'But we follow Baptist principles. We're a group of people who desire to live a Godly life and help others.

'People have described us as a hippy-type commune but we're exactly the opposite. We get accused of brainwashing but certainly don't practise it. We've learned to live with suspicion.

Liz, who has been at New Creation Farm for 11 years, said: 'My parents weren't happy at all when I joined. But now we have the best relationship we have ever had. You learn not to think of yourself all the time and to start caring for other people.'

But there are many sceptics who believe the Jesus People have become a cult group which has drifted apart from other Christian movements.

A member of the congregation at Kettering Parish Church who has become an expert on cults and their influence over people, is one of those who is concerned.

'Cults are very isolationist,' he said. And he added that if the whole family is not involved it could easily lead to a rift within the family.'

It's only when you delve deeper into some of these groups that you find they portray all the characteristics of a cult - built up around a charismatic leader who sets himself up as a self-proclaimed prophet and more or less states only his interpretations of the Bible.'

He is in close contact with other local and national experts in the field. One of them, who has first hand experience of the Jesus People but wishes to remain anonymous, said: 'The Jesus People are influencing quite young kids, it's very worrying.'

The official Baptist Church view of Mr Stanton's activities in Bugbrooke is clear. The Rev Ray Freestone, a spokesman for the national Baptist Union which represents Britain's Baptist churches, told the Evening Telegraph: 'The decision was taken to withdraw the Jesus Fellowship's membership.'

'But our constitution allows the matter to go to appeal and we don't know at this stage whether that will happen.' He declined to give a reason why Mr Stanton's organisation had been expelled.