The New Creation Christian Community represents roughly one-fourth of the membership of the Jesus Fellowship Church.
It’s made up of people who have felt God call them to live shared lives, as in the book of Acts. There are marrieds, children, committed celibates, and singles, living in properties ranging from ordinary three-bedroom houses right up to a former hotel with room for sixty people.
The Community has grown and developed from quite humble origins. The Baptist chapel at Bugbrooke, Northamptonshire, came alive in the charismatic renewal of the early 1970s. From day one, God planted in people’s hearts a deep love for one another. We wanted to be together seven days a week! So even on evenings where there wasn’t much on, folk would gather in someone’s home and spend literally hours sharing their hearts and praising God.
We were quite a mixture, too! Village chapel-goers, Pentecostals, converted drug addicts from Northampton, intellectual seekers from Oxford, and hippies from almost anywhere, found that Jesus broke down dividing walls. As we gave ourselves to this, a love was born, and the foundations of a whole new society were laid. There was a two-way influence: the ‘straights’ parented the ‘freaks’ into a more ordered lifestyle, and the hippies (who were used to communes) convicted the middle-class by their emphasis on simple living and care for one another.
Around 1973, some families took in a single or two and started living in ‘extended families’. Someone had the idea of buying food in bulk at the cash and carry, then sharing it around the church, as a way of living more simply and leaving more money for God’s work. There was a notice board in chapel where people could pin notes: ‘Sheila needs a sofa’, ‘Fred has time to mow lawns on Fridays’, ‘Barry has a carpet to give away’. We were starting to share what we had (Heb. 13:16).
Suddenly Acts 2 and 4 came alive! The first Christians had shared everything in common. The love of Jesus had abolished the social injustice of ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’.
Here was a new culture, a ‘city on a hill’, a ‘Zion of God’, where brotherhood and equality reigned. We were already half way there, so shared community living was the logical next step. So, as God provided the funds, we bought one or two larger properties, and folk sold up their own homes and moved in.
That was 1974, since when we have grown to the point where there are around 80 community houses, large and small, spread over much of the UK. The road hasn’t been easy, but it has certainly been blessed by God. We’ve had to learn many things. How to live at close quarters with all kinds of people, even those you don’t like! How to respond when trials come and love burns low, and how to overcome with faith and devotion. How to arrive at a right ‘mix’ of people. How to manage finances and ensure everything is done fairly. Above all, how to ‘take up our cross daily’, lay down all that shouts ‘Me!’, and embrace the ‘Us’ of brotherhood in Jesus.
In the early days, as we laboured to restore old properties, we realised that working together was a good thing! So the vision was born for several businesses, owned by the church and staffed from the Community, which could provide a service to the neighbourhood and bring in an income for the Lord’s work. After all, Paul made tents to finance his ministry. So we founded a building supplies firm, a farm, a health-foods wholesalers, and a painting/decorating/plumbing service, all of which are still trading, with over 200 of our own people employed there.
We soon realised that if we were to continue in existence long-term, we would have to organise ourselves in a way that was recognisable to outside agencies like the taxman! God raised up among us people with the gift of ‘helps and administrations’ (1 Cor. 12:28) to guide us through to the structure that we still have today. Jesus Fellowship Community Trust owns the community properties, furniture, equipment and vehicles as well as the House of Goodness Group of businesses. Day-to-day running costs are met from Common Purses at each house. There are separate funds for charitable church activities.
Most of the members of the Community live together in large houses, pooling their goods, income, resources and abilities in God’s service. Others live in their own place but are still part of the common purse of the large house to which they belong.
The New Creation Christian Community is only one part of the Jesus Fellowship Church as a whole. Many Church members who are not part of the Community also take steps to live more shared and accountable lives, often including the area of their finances. Some try to buy or rent houses in the same street as other families, so they can operate a ‘neighbourhood community’ model, with a fair degree of sharing.
The Community members aim to serve the ever-growing and diversifying membership of the Fellowship as a whole. They seek not to be superior or elitist, but rather to add their love, commitment and servant-heartedness to the whole church. They can be counted on to ‘be there’ when needed. Church members also bring life to the Community by keeping its horizons broad and its members rooted in the real world!
Community doesn’t exist for itself. Having premises with space available, and a community team that has learned to love one another, warts and all, means that we can invite people to come and stay a while with us. Our street outreach to the disadvantaged can be backed up by the offer of a time of restoration and growth in a family atmosphere.
Christians searching for a New Testament way of living, and for relationships that go deep, can also come and stay in our houses for some ‘hands on’ experience of faith that works through love (Gal. 5:6).