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Source : 20/03/1982 Northampton Post

Northants top youth leader was at the centre of controversy this week after he spoke out in defence of Bugbrooke's religious commune.

The Rev. Harry Whittaker, Director of Northants Association of Youth Clubs, has shocked youth workers by suggesting that members of the sect become club leaders - so they can recruit more youngsters into their commune.

His suggestion comes at a time when Archdeacon of Northampton, Basil Marsh, is being flooded with letters from desperate parents whose children have joined the controversial Jesus Fellowship Church.

A Kent school teacher who investigated the Moonie cult in America is also about to launch a probe into the Fellowship, which is affiliated to the Baptist Church.

The storm has erupted only months before the Rev Whittaker - a Baptist minister - is due to retire from youth work after 21 years.

He said: 'A tremendous power for good has come from Bugbrooke and a lot of people with deep problems have been helped by them.'

'But I think if they want to recruit more members they are using the wrong methods. I'll tell them to stop standing around outside youth clubs talking to youngsters, and to get involved with the running of clubs.'

'It is very difficult to evangelise from the outside. Young people reject outsiders trying to impose something on them.'

'The best way for Bugbrooke to influence young people is to become leaders and get to know them on a permanent basis.'

Mr Whittaker admitted that in recent years he has received a number of letters from anxious parents and friends who have become involved in the Fellowship.

But he added: 'I have talked to Bugbrooke people about the problems raised in these letters and I know they have corrected them.'

'I have found them very responsive and willing to listen to problems like the conflict of loyalty some members feel between family and church.'

'It is now the Fellowship's policy to encourage young people to visit their parents more often.'

Archdeacon Basil Marsh, who is the Diocesan Youth Committee Chairman was stunned by the suggestion that the commune members become youth leaders.

He said: 'The Northants Association of youth Clubs and all other truly accredited youth organisations believe in accepting young people on their own terms and in not using the opportunity of youth work to convert them.'

'I believe that before Mr Whittaker encourages youth clubs for which he has the responsibility to recruit as leaders those who belong to an enclosed and exclusive community, he should look for some assurance that they would be able to accept and serve young people as they are.'

County youth social worker, Mr Chris Cork said: 'I have felt very uneasy about the Fellowship's activities for several years.'

'Any organisation which claims some sort of omnipotence is dangerous. And if Bugbrooke members were to become youth leaders with the main aim of recruiting for their Church, I think it would be very wrong.'

'It debases the entire youth leader ethic.'

And Northants Principal Youth Officer, Mr Dennis Carr, said he would not support the Rev. Whittaker's suggestion.

'Personally, I do not know a lot about the Jesus People at Bugbrooke. But we would not expect any organisation to recruit for its church from youth clubs.' he said.

'If a religious denomination has its town club that that is different.'