Janie’s 40 year journey into community

Janie St John “WHEN I was little, I was quite ill and spent lots of time in hospital. One day my mother said, ‘Only Jesus can help you,’ and as a child I replied emphatically, ‘Yes!’”

Janie had a series of operations and, after one of them, the doctor commented, “This has worked out much better than I thought.” She said to herself, “God has answered my prayers. Jesus has done this!” Faith was stirred within her.

“My confirmation in the Church of England was a very serious moment for me. When the bishop laid his hands on me I was glowing, very obviously touched by the Holy Spirit.”

Janie trained as a teacher while living in the USA from 1963-65. Her stay coincided with a series of profound events: President Kennedy’s assassination (she had visited the White House three days before), the first hijacking and the Civil Rights Movement marches headed by Martin Luther King. These events caused Janie to think a lot about the way the world was heading and how her life fitted into that.

When she returned to England in 1965, after teaching privately, she redid her teacher training and this included studying the history of ancient Israel.

“I gained an understanding and a vision of God’s people being together, of God loving and investing Himself in a people. I had a revelation of what the New Testament calls the ‘Body of Christ’, Christians gathered together as one family, one people, with one purpose and one vision. I wondered, ‘why haven’t I learned about this at church?’”

In 1971, Janie went on to teach at her first school in London and found most of the staff were into black magic. She was scared and sought the help of the curate at a local church. He advised her to get in touch with other Christians. She joined the ‘Stewards Trust’, a Christian organisation for professionals.

“We read the New Testament book of Acts together and we were all baptised in the Holy Spirit. Koinonia (being together and sharing our resources) meant a lot to us and we visited the Fisherfolk Christian community in Coventry. I lived there for a short while.”

One of her friends from London, Lizzie Donovan, had also joined the Fisherfolk community. When the community fell apart she began visiting Bugbrooke Chapel in Northamptonshire and invited Janie there. Many people were trying out community living.

“A group of us rented a dilapidated house in Wimbledon in London. We wanted to explore and live our dream: living in community together.

“It was intense and we experienced the rawness of community. We were from very varied backgrounds, ranging from aristocratic, middle-class to working-class – a great mixture and it was good! We had a common purse and each of us paid a sum into it each month. We visited Bugbrooke Chapel regularly. We grew in numbers, with nine of us living in community and we had a congregation of about 30.”

When they were given one weeks’ notice, they moved up to Bugbrooke. Janie lived in a council house in Daventry in Northamptonshire for three months with a couple, Dave and Karen. She then moved to the newly-bought New Creation Farm.

“We were all in our 20s. It was exciting. Adventurous! We were all experiencing something new.”

“My friend, Lizzie, lived at the Farm too. When we first met we didn’t like each other very much. But we began opening up ourselves to each other: we talked about our thoughts and feelings in an intimate way and brought truth to each other. We discovered ourselves in a way we wouldn’t have done otherwise. This friendship continues after all these years.”

“In 1978, a young man called Steve who lived at the Farm, was tragically killed. Noel, our pastor, was amazing. Steve and he had been close friends and he led us into expressing our grief and everyone wept deeply. His death did a remarkable thing in terms of our relationships. We were so shocked. When he died we cared for one another in a new way. We became more accountable to each other.”

Janie was asked to move to a big community house just up the road from the Farm. It was a challenging move – only four of them had lived in community before. Within 6 months, there were 70 people living there.

“It was an amazing experience. Could seven families live together? Some thrived and some suffered; mistakes were made. The main leader left and there were many ensuing difficulties. I have found that such difficulties are all part of God’s plan to heal us deeply. It’s a journey He takes us through. Lots of lessons were learned and the difficulties caused us to throw ourselves on God. I’m grateful for that reason for the experiences of this time.”

“Starting up a women-only community house in Northampton was a new beginning for me – meeting new people and getting involved locally.”

In 2013, Janie moved to a newly-opened house, ‘Redeeming Love’, along with ten other people.

“It was incredibly challenging at first; we felt like we were holding on for dear life. It drove us to pray. We fell on our faces in our desperation for God to help us. It made us very close to each other. God honoured it; we now have new people coming to the house all the time and things are good.

“These difficult situations and circumstance shape us, deepen us and draw us closer to God. When I first moved into community many years ago, I wanted to experience what it means ‘to take up the cross’ and live my life for God, to live to lift Jesus high. I can’t think of any other way of living now.”

 

Also read True Community is An Adventure, an article published on the Forward blog in which Janie expresses some of her vision for community
Published 8th May 2015 with tags: faith sharing testimony

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