Northamptonshire Police are investigating a number of allegations of historic sexual and physical abuse involving members of the Jesus Army.
According to a statement released by the force, officers are investigating a series of complaints against members of the county-based Christian movement, also known as the Jesus Fellowship, relating to alleged incidents in the late 1970s through to the late 1990s.
A police spokesman said many of the allegations were referred directly to the force by the current leadership of the Jesus Army.
He said the investigation involves claims of sexual and physical abuse and that the alleged victims were a wide range of ages at the time.
The police statement reads: “We have arrested a number of people after receiving a series of historical complaints of physical and sexual abuse from various individuals, many of whom were referred directly to us by the Jesus Fellowship leadership.
“Some of those arrested were members of the Jesus Fellowship; others frequented their premises on an ad-hoc basis.
“We are working closely with the current leadership of the Jesus Fellowship and our partner agencies to investigate these allegations.”
The Jesus Army is an evangelical Christian movement founded in 1969 by Noel Stanton, a lay pastor of the Bugbrooke village Baptist chapel.
The church said its definition of member was “anyone who had chosen to identify with the church through membership”, adding that it had about 2,500 ‘active members’.
One in four of these live in some form of Christian community with a shared lifestyle.
Other members “may participate infrequently, perhaps just coming to a mid-week friendship event”, a spokeswoman said.
Anyone wanting confidential help and support in relation to this inquiry can contact Northamptonshire Police on 101 or call the 24-hour helpline run by the sexual assault referral centre, Serenity, on 01604 601713.
LEADERS APPEALED FOR ANY ABUSE VICTIMS
The allegations surfaced after Jesus Army leaders invited any members who had been abused to come forward.
In 2013 it asked for disclosures of any abuse which might have occurred in the church, or during its activities, since its foundation in the 1970s. It is a similar process to that undertaken by the Methodist Church, which published a report recently.
Mick Haines, national team leader, said: “We believe that openness and transparency is very important.”
All the information received during the process was passed to police, the Jesus Army said.
A spokeswoman said: “Officers have been following up all possible cases of abuse, both inside and outside the church, with current members, ex-members and sometimes with people who were only associated with the church in a very temporary way.
“The welfare of children and young people is of paramount importance, so the Church has also commissioned an audit of its current safeguarding procedures and practice, which is being conducted by an outside independent agency.”
The Jesus Fellowship Church is a UK evangelical Christian group with Baptist roots, emphasising the work of the Holy Spirit and miracles.
It developed from Bugbrooke Baptist Chapel when its pastor, Noel Stanton (1926-2009), led the church to embrace the Holy Spirit-based charismatic movement in the 1970s.
The church particularly aims to help homeless people and drug or alcohol addicts, “helping people to find themselves and stand on their own two feet”.
A charity, the Jesus Army Charitable Trust, has been founded by the church, which has also opened Jesus Centres for worship in Coventry, London, Northampton and Sheffield.
About 500 members live as the New Creation Christian Community in about 60 houses around the UK. Each house consists of anything between six and 24 people, who “live as a large extended family”.
Some of the church events attract two to three thousand people from around the UK, including an annual youth event called Real and Wild, aimed at people aged 15 to 35.