Noel Stanton became the pastor of Bugbrooke Baptist Church, near Northampton in 1957. A dozen years later, following an overwhelming spiritual experience, he revolutionised worship at the village chapel and led the small congregation into the charismatic movement.
Under his leadership the group (renamed the Jesus Fellowship or Jesus Army) grew in size and expanded across the United Kingdom. Noel Stanton and the fellowship explored large-scale communal living and engaged in effective outreach to many on the margins of society.
Born on Christmas Day 1926, Noel Stanton grew up on his parents' farm in Bedfordshire. While serving in the Royal Navy, a man approached him in Sydney, Australia and asked him, 'Where do you expect to spend eternity?' This struck home and, not long after, Noel Stanton became a committed Christian.
After leaving the Navy, he was baptised as an adult believer, and received a call to the ministry. Noel Stanton went to All Nations Bible College and was approved by the Ministerial Committee of the Baptist Union. The Baptist church at Bugbrooke, near Northampton, called him to be their pastor and he was duly inducted into the pastorate in March 1957.
Noel organised Bible weeks, evangelistic drives and missionary weekends. However he was disappointed with the apparent lack of results. The turning point came when he was praying on his own and had an overwhelming spiritual experience. Later he wrote of the effects of that moment in 1969:
"It was so intoxicating, so exhilarating, and so intense that I felt I was just not going to live any more. I became filled with the intensity of God. This went on for hours and hours. It was a tremendous experience of life and fullness from which I didn't come down for a long time - and this was the changing point in my life."
"Things began to happen. What we had failed to do by strenuous endeavour came to pass without labour. The experience gave me the key to all my thinking, all my service, and all my life."
Along the way Noel Stanton encountered a period of some opposition in the media and from a number of other churches, which resulted in the Fellowship leaving the mainstream Evangelical Alliance and the Baptist Union. The Fellowship rejoined the Evangelical Alliance in 1999 after Noel had made strenuous efforts over more than a decade to allay suspicions and rebuild bridges with fellow Christian leaders.
In recent years, the Fellowship gained widespread acceptance and commendation for its work through its Jesus Centres. In particular it has gained awards for rehousing homeless people, supporting former prisoners, and helping new arrivals to speak and read English.
Noel Stanton continued to head the leadership team of the Fellowship into his eighties, before handing over to Mick Haines in 2009 due to failing health.
He died peacefully on 20 May 2009 after an illness of some months.
Noel Stanton lived simply in Christian community, in the same manner as those he sought to lead. He never married, viewing his life as dedicated to Jesus Christ as a committed celibate.
A tribute to Noel first published in Jesus Life magazine shortly after his death in 2009.
A personal tribute to Noel from the blog of a Jesus Army member.