From Bank Clerk to Followers Figurehead

Chronicle and Echo/October 12, 1984

The members of the Jesus Fellowship do not celebrate that great commercial holiday that the rest of us know as Christmas.

They say it is because their community is modelled on the way Christians lived in the early days after Christ.

It is more than ironic therefore that Mr Noel Stanton, generally regarded as founder of the Fellowship and now senior pastor, received his Christian name because he was born on December 25, 1926.

Tracing his life history is difficult because he is not a man to encourage personal publicity, although he is by no means a recluse.

But after leaving school in the Bedford area at 16, he worked as a bank clerk for two years before being conscripted into the Navy where he remained in the ranks as Seaman in the clerical division.

After leaving the Navy, he joined an agricultural training scheme and returned to live with his parents in Bedford where he also worked with his father who was a tenant farmer.

Next came a move to an accounting firm where his work gave him the freedom to attend the All-Nations Bible College where he was awarded the London University certificate of religious knowledge.

He was then able to take up the part-time position as deputation secretary to the West Amazonian Mission. At this stage of his career he was hoping to travel to the Third World as a missionary himself.

But in 1957, the Baptist Chapel in the village of Bugbrooke was without an official pastor and Mr. Stanton in his position as deputation secretary of the West Amazonian Mission was one of the guest speakers invited to address the congregation.

After making several trips to the chapel, Mr Stanton was asked to act as their pastor. He was recognised by the Baptist Union and became part-time pastor.

From then until the late 1960's the Baptist Chapel continued to be run on fairly traditional evangelical, Baptist principals. But in 1969, the charismatic dimension was added.

The story is taken up by a former member of the community, who has made a close study of the history of the Fellowship.

He said: 'Mr Stanton's Christian life was revitalised by an experience which has become known as being 'baptised' or 'filled with the Holy Spirit'. In the months that followed, several other members of the chapel congregations were baptised in the Holy Spirit.'

'Those of the congregation who shared with Mr. Stanton in their blessing' began to meet together for informal occasions of worship and these small meetings must have been charged with an atmosphere which made the presence of God very real, very near and very alive to those who attended.

'As the number of people who were entering into this new form of Christian worship began to grow, a recruiting programme among the young people was started in the surrounding villages and towns.'

Senior Fellowship elder, Mr David Hawker, said that rather than a recruiting programme, it was a matter of preaching the Gospel to all.'

Mr Everett added: 'With the increased numbers, the meetings were transferred to the old school room in the upper part of the chapel building. But not everyone in the traditional congregation agreed with the direction in which Mr. Stanton was leading the Fellowship and I have been given the names of at least 43 adults who terminated their association with the chapel between 1970 and 1974'

'This was viewed by Mr. Stanton and others as an inevitable clearing out of dead wood, and during these years the enthusiasm for Christian living which was generated as a result of the charismatic worship, began to overspill into a programme of concentrated evangelism.' He continued.

Mr. Hawker commented: 'It would not be uncharitable to suggest that when people leave a church it is simply a 'clearing out of dead wood', and this would not be the attitude of the present church leadership. Charismatic worship is not to everyone's liking, and a number of people who left because they preferred a more traditional style of church life. Naturally the church was sorry to lose them. Almost certainly some of the 43 people would have been lapsed members from previous years.'

The Jesus Fellowship Church (Baptist) had been well and truly launched. The Jesus Fellowship Church (Baptist) became the constitutional name and was agreed by the membership in 1977 as being more correct than the localised Bugbrooke Baptist Church.

In 1973, they had enough money to but terraced houses in Argyle Street, and Harlestone Road, Northampton, which were known as 'Jesus Welcome Homes' where young Christians from disturbed backgrounds could be encouraged in their newly found faith.

And the pattern of life in the Fellowship was also being set out now whereby each member was assigned an elder for 'spiritual covering.'

The whole structure of chapel meetings was also changing, and between 1974 and 1977 the one-hour meetings on Sunday mornings and in the evening vanished.

There are now three assemblies, on Saturday evening, Sunday morning and Sunday evening, all presided over by Mr. Stanton and lasting up to three hours.

'Mr Stanton admonished the flock to share their possessions, to leave the kingdom of the world and to enter the kingdom of God.' said a former community member.

'This is rather overstated,' said Mr. Hawker. 'When people are converted to Christ they desire to follow Him because they have found God has given them new desires.'

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