[Source: Northants Evening Telegraph Published: Tuesday, 25 June, 1974]
Tony Smith and Simon Reed report from a village in the grip of religious fervour
“Bless you brothers,” said a girl with long golden hair, extending a hand of welcome. She smiled, and gave both of us a hearty embrace which seemed to last for several minutes.
Another young girl of about 17 approached and gave us a similar reception. Then two men did the same, and a woman in her eighties. “Praise the Lord,” she said.
As we settled down in the comfortable padded pews, the entire chapel erupted as youngsters in mottoed T-shirts began to chant their praises over and over again.
The sea of smiling faces exuded a flood of emotion. One bearded man, eyes closed and seemingly oblivious to the world, stretched, his hands towards the giant wooden cross, rejoicing “Allelujah” in apparent delirium.
An old man played a tambourine. A woman sobbed. And then we waited for the evening’s sermon.
This was the village of Bugbrooke, the Bethlehem of Northamptonshire – home of the Jesus people. In the last five years, a new type of religious fervour has swept through the community there with almost fanatical support.
About 250 people of all ages flock to the former Baptist chapel five nights a week and on Sundays. Five minibuses are run nightly to collect converts from surrounding towns and villages.
Architects, teachers, doctors, and company directors are among the members of the Bugbrooke Chapel Fellowship. They come from all over the county and some from as far as Leicester and Leamington Spa.
The commitment of the converts to the Jesus revolution is so total that all other preoccupations become secondary. For they feel they have returned to a simple radical Christianity, following literally the instructions of the New Testament.
The movement has been built up single handed by its 48-year old minister, the Rev. Noel Stanton. He came to the village 18 years ago and his teachings have changed the life-style of hundreds of people.
“As with all Christian churches, we seek to follow the teachings of Jesus.” He said. “It is what I call the new Pentecostal. Half of our worship consists of Bible study, singing well-known hymns and what is generally accepted as ‘normal’ worship. But this is all in an atmosphere of Holy Spirit, joy, love and power.
“Our policy is love and joy to all. That is why we hug and kiss in our greetings. But this does not necessarily mean physical love. We obey laws like everyone else and abide by the same moral code.”
The Fellowship also cares for the “despised and rejected of men” said Mr Stanton. In co-operation with social and medical agencies, it has helped alcoholics, as well as people with deep-seated problems, including what Mr Stanton calls “bondage to evil powers”.
Jesus houses have been set up where senior members – or “shepherds” – look after needy members of their flock on a foster basis. There are three in Northampton and several in the village.
The chapel is also big business financially. Last week donations totalled £2,375, and the Fellowship recently purchased Bugbrooke Hall and grounds for £67,000. Weekly collections average £150.
But at least one man believes that the older people in the village have been disturbed by the Jesus people.
Mr Harold Ward is the owner of John Ward and Son, an undertaking business and he is respected throughout the community.
He is 60 years old and understands the feelings of the people who have been chapel-goers all their lives.
“If you had been going to the same chapel for 40 years, and your mother and father before you, then suddenly all the pews were taken out and a new electric organ replaced the old hand-pumped one, you’d realise the effect this had had.
“Now it’s all chanting and modern stuff – I don’t like it.”
In fact, the only thing that takes Mr Ward to the chapel now is his business.
Despite the fact that people from all over the area flock into the meetings at the chapel, Mr Ward thinks the whole movement revolves around Mr Stanton.
“It’s 99 per cent his own work, and if he died tonight it would all end.”
Mr Stanton, however, strongly denies that the Fellowship has divided the village in recent years.
“In village life there will always be those who are against changes, but very few are actually hostile,” he said. “To speak of a split in Bugbrooke is an attempt at sensationalism.”
Canon Charles Harrison, who has just retired as Rector of Bugbrooke, thinks that the appeal of the chapel is the informality of worship.
He says there is a core at the chapel who think it offers a new and real approach. “But I think there are hangers-on or drifters who are just trying it and then moving on,” he adds.
Mr Harrison claims that the Jesus people have had very little effect on his congregation. “We have never come into conflict, and no mature member of the church has gone right over to it.”
Mr Stanton is fulfilling a need, says Mr Harrison, but he doesn’t think a parish church could follow suit without causing serious repercussions among its own members.
Mr Harrison, who is now living at Harpole, has adopted a “live-and-let-live” approach to the Jesus people.
“This completely informal method of worship appeals to them but it doesn’t to my congregation, “he says.
But he does admit that there seems to have been some hostility towards the new chapel-goers from some non-churchgoing villagers.