Jesus people, loving people

The power and the glory of old style prayer

[Source: Daily Mail Published: Wednesday, 26 June, 1974]

Shaun Usher The Mail TV Critic

'Well,' opined the disapproving, yet fair-minded, villager, 'they sing at the tops of their voices – you wouldn't think it was a place of worship.'

That was just one of the voxpop gems from The Lord Took Hold of Bugbrooke (ITV), a straightforward documentary which managed to pack in more jokes and social comment than many plays.

Bugbrooke is a little village near Northampton. Noel Stanton was its 'very acceptable' Baptist minister until he took to dunking people, fully clothed, in a drastic form of baptism, encouraging the converted to hold hands, kiss each other, and enjoy unstarched praise of the Lord.

Obviously, he is an effective evangelist and, from cameraman Frank Hodge's lively, yet never fun-poking, coverage of the chapel's Jesus freak-outs, a magnetic leader of men.

Unfortunately, in Britain at least, fervour over anything except Sport (and, latterly, sex) is considered bad form. Religion is no exception, and comes into the snobbery game as well, loudly evident worship of God being taken as a lower-class foible.

So many villagers deprecate Mr Stanton and his congregation, which includes young former drug-takers and delinquents.

Discotheque

'You get a bad name, going down there,' giggled a teenage girl who has switched loyalties to the nearby discotheque – surely a comment on the status of late-20th century religion.

(The same girl, incidentally, shared her mystical experience by explaining that a good session at the chapel had been rather like getting drunk, only better.)

One could have done with some direct interviewing of Noel Stanton, who remained a fairly mysterious, though far from sinister figure. Instead, reporter Jenny Wilkes made this an outsiders' view of old-style religion in a modern world.

The very term, Jesus Freak, though accepted with pride by its targets, holds something of a sneer, I found them an engaging, touching set. For an hour or so, that is; no doubt, swinging devotion to their Maker, at the tops of their voices, sometimes for days at a time, can be tiresome.

Director-producer Chris Goddard kept the viewpoint neutral, letting doubt and criticism of the cult arise naturally, rather than setting up a cumbersome debate.

Rufus, a young actor turned carpenter ('Jesus Is a tremendous chippie'), was shown spreading the light among workmates.

Bible-puncher

'Glory!' he exclaimed at one point, transported by joy. 'Do you have to say that all the time?' demanded a joiner, over his mug of tea.

The programme was full of such collisions between rapture and everyday scepticism, making it one of the funnier dossiers of its kind, as well as mildly unusual.

A lay preacher said that coming face to face with death, in the instant of falling from farm machinery, had made him find faith and desert his boozy ways. His brothers, unrepentant patrons of the local, took a less dramatic view: 'Fractures his hip, and comes out a Bible-puncher,' they grumbled.

Although Bugbrooke gave a vivid impression of the swaying, swinging, non-drugs trip available at chapel services, I was crestfallen at not seeing devils cast out as promised by TV Times.

No demons, but, much love. 'Just love one another, all around the chapel,' cried preacher Stanton. Adding, with a ghost of dry humour,' As far as that's possible.'

Very naive, of course. His congregation seems to be making staunch attempts to love neighbours, cleanse sin, and share their material possessions.

And that is no way to behave. An old Socialist friend of mine always claimed that Jesus, brought back to life, would soon be clapped in jail as a political agitator – and seeing the manner in which the Bugbrooke Christians worry and scandalise Northants, I catch my friend's drift.

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