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Jesus Fellowship says closure of communal buildings 'unavoidable' - but pledge they will not make any members 'homeless' in years to come

Website: Northampton Chronicle and Echo
Date: 22/12/2019
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Northamptonshire-based religious sect The Jesus Fellowship have pledged they will not make any of their members 'homeless' - despite the "unavoidable" sale of their community houses in the years to come.

Earlier this year, the organisation previously known as the Jesus Army disbanded after an investigation revealed allegations of historic abuse against former members of the church.

The news came five years after the launch of Operation Lifeboat, a police operation looking into historical sex abuse at the 1969-formed Baptist movement. In 2017, The Chronicle & Echo revealed there had been some 150 reports made of either sexual physical, religious or financial abuse at the church and that at least 40 people were pursuing legal action against it.

With the leadership of the fellowship disbanded and number of other measures were taken by the Jesus Fellowship Church Trust, including creating a fund for victims that is being financed by the sale of existing buildings and assets.

This raised concerns with existing members of the organisation, one of whom told the Chronicle & Echo they believed they were at risk of becoming 'homeless' if any more of the trust's communal buildings were to go.

Many members of the trust have only ever lived in the group's shared communal houses and have no property or savings of their own.

One current member, who has been in the church for more than 30 years and lives in church property, told the Chron: "I don't have my own place.

"I have about £3 to my name. I gave up everything I had when I joined the Jesus Army in the 1970s. If one day I couldn't go to the communal houses I wouldn't have anywhere else to go.

"I just want the church leaders to be clear on their intentions. What's going to happen? What's going to happen to the people who have lived at these houses most of their lives?"

Now, the religious trust has confirmed that the closure of its communal buildings is "unavoidable" in the future - but has pledged that none of their members will be left without a place to live as a result.

The Jesus Fellowship Church Trust (JFCT) was created following the dissolution of The Jesus Army and has been dealing with the fallout from the investigation, creating a redress scheme to compensate victims of the historic claims - a scheme that will be funded by "disposing" of the trust's buildings and assets.

A spokesman for the Fellowship said: "The trustees of the JFCT are keenly aware of the needs and anxieties of the members of the Trust and those who live in these houses.

"The trustees have a legal duty to provide for members... The only way to make this happen is to ensure that the redress scheme is properly financed. This has to come from a managed rationalisation and disposal of the trust’s assets over time.

"That does not mean that the needs of trust members will be forgotten or relegated - but it is unavoidable that former community houses will be sold."

Anyone with safeguarding issues or concerns, whether non-recent or current, should report them to the Jesus Fellowship Safeguarding Department.

If you do not feel comfortable approaching someone from the Jesus Fellowship Church then you can contact the police directly or the Safeguarding Helpline run by a support organisation independent of the church and the community trust on 0303 003 11 11.