DAVE LEE sat in the church pew and listened as his father preached a sermon on ‘the faith of my father and my father’s father before him.’
“I was fifteen,” Dave explains. “Listening to Dad, I found myself thinking: ‘If your faith is your grandfather’s and your father’s faith then it’s a second-hand faith and therefore no faith at all. I need my own faith.'”
Dave’s grandfather had been refused work because of his stand as a conscientious objector in the First World War. Dave’s father had left behind a career as an industrial chemist to be obedient to God’s call to be a full-time minister. His mother was from a Quaker family and famed locally for her kindness. They had given Dave an example of costly Christian sacrifice – but what about his own faith?
Dave didn’t have to search very far, or for very long. At his school in Daventry, near Northampton, there were active Christians in his year, who introduced him to the Jesus Fellowship. At that time the Fellowship could still fit its entire congregation inside Bugbrooke village Baptist chapel – where Dave now found his spiritual home.
“As the son of a minister, who didn’t like sports, other kids tended to put me in a special category, so I was a rather withdrawn teenager and I hadn’t really fitted in at school,” explains Dave. “My personality was very reserved and introspective – I was a bit of a boff, I suppose, without many real friends. I gave myself to the things I knew I could cope with like chess and maths: things like these were my hidey-holes. Then I walked into the chapel and found a place where I felt totally accepted – not as ‘the minister’s son’, but as myself. That was important to me. Now I had my own identity.”
As soon as he was 18, Dave was baptised. A small number of the congregation had begun to pioneer all-things- in-common community and forty days later, Dave left home to join them. He lived at the very first big community house, New Creation Hall, later moving to Living Stones just six months after it was started.
“No sooner had I moved into community than I started to pick up practical responsibilities in the church. At first they were small ones like duplicating the notice sheet. Then, in 1985, we bought a marquee and I took on responsibility for sorting out the electrical power for the events, starting with floodlights and progressing to fluorescent lights attached to beams.”
Soon the marquee was being taken all over England and Dave was travelling to ten different venues between April and September, with many of the campaigns lasting for ten days.
“I would leave work at lunchtime on Friday to go straight to the marquee to set up for the big Saturday night meeting and return the following Sunday to take everything down.”
Dave, now 48, is the longest-serving member of the ‘tent team’ and still shins up 28 feet of king pole to fix lights. He estimates that since he joined the church, 32 years ago, he has probably worked on the marquee for 155 campaigns, normally sleeping in the marquee.
Campaigns in some places required a punishing schedule, often leaving home in the early hours to arrive on site for 8am, sometimes after three hours driving, but nowadays these are infrequent.
Dave’s practical contribution is indispensable to the church but he says that his true role is not up a ladder, far away from people, but with his feet firmly on the ground among other people – as a shepherd and a friend.
“Living in community has kept me human. If I wasn’t in community, given that I’m so ‘things orientated’ I would be a technical geek, knowing every last detail of all kinds of practical gismos, but having no real relationships with any living person.”
Much of Dave’s ability to relate to those who are having a hard time with their walk with God comes from a time some years ago when Dave himself had something of a crisis.
“Our spiritual ‘dad’ on the tent team, Pete, died suddenly of a heart attack. The whole church was devastated, especially those like myself to whom Pete had been such a wonderful friend and role-model. We relied on him so much. And this followed two leaders that I was close to leaving.
“Everything seemed to be falling apart. Things seemed very bleak for a while, but in that bleakness I began to realise that I didn’t have to be ‘Wonderman’. For years I had taken the line: ‘God is on our side so everything will go well.’ Finding out that this was not always so was devastating. One Sunday night I cleared off from the community house I’d moved to in 1985 and went to stay at Living Stones where I spent hours just sharing my heart with a trusted brother there. In the end, I stayed at Living Stones and I’ve been there ever since.
“Through it all, I came to accept that God loves me in spite of my failings – and from this came a much deeper acceptance of others who haven’t done everything completely right.”
And vision for the future? “My biggest concern about the future is that we may lose our edge – which has happened historically to thousands of churches. We must make sure that God’s Spirit is free to move, turn things upside down and change things. If I ever get to the stage when I think ‘I don’t want things to change’ then I’ll kill the very thing that attracted me to this church in the first place.
“Over the last couple of years, I’ve been really blessed to see the younger ones at Living Stones, a new generation, moving the church forward. The grandfather’s and the father’s faith has been passed on to sons. We have a future.”
‘Living Stones’ is the name of a large New Creation Christian Community house in Flore, Northamptonshire. One of the Jesus Fellowship’s first big community houses, started in 1977, Living Stones has now produced a second and third generation and started a ‘daughter’ house in Northampton called Living Light. Read these other stories of three generations of living stones: ‘76 years of friendship‘ and ‘Dream home‘. Separate stones – one building. Separate accounts – one story.
“You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house…” (1 Peter 2:5)