Many people will want to mark his passing. For those of us who live out the vision of the Jesus Army – a vision largely initiated and propelled forward by Noel Stanton himself – it feels like the end of our founding era. Challenges lie ahead. But we’re in it together.
In this blog, as a rule, I don’t mention people by name. “Washing one’s clean linen in public” (as Oscar Wilde put it) is one thing. Even washing my own dirty linen in public seems fair enough, if odd. But to air someone else’s linen, soiled or spotless, seems wrong to me, and I’ve avoided it.
It is ironic to break my self-imposed anonymity rule today for Noel Stanton, particularly as Noel himself avoided the limelight. Indeed, it is one of the marks of his humility that today the Jesus Army is far, far better known than Noel is. That is how he wanted it. For Noel, it was all about Jesus Christ, not about Noel Stanton. We are not called “Noel Stanton ministries” but Jesus Army, or Jesus Fellowship.
But Noel’s forty years of faithful leadership deserve some celebration and here’s my small part.
Noel Stanton was an inspiring leader. He was wilful, single-minded – at times maddeningly so! – yet compassionate. He could roar at what he perceived as compromise or hypocrisy, and yet he won the hearts of many, many people through his self-evident commitment and care. Many will miss him as a father and a grandad, particularly those who lived with him in Christian Community at New Creation Farm.
Indeed, it is a mark of the integrity of Noel’s lifestyle that he lived simply in community with his brothers and sisters. His was no life of privilege. He exemplified simplicity. For all Noel’s fire and tenacity, he never sought to feather his own nest. Quite the opposite: the second-hand, iron bedstead that was his throughout his years in community says it all.
One of the things I particularly valued about Noel was his unwavering commitment to those that few others would believe in. He was determined to see some of “the worst” becoming the best that they could be. At times, my hair stood on end as I watched Noel invest trust in young people who (quite obviously in my sensible eyes) were not worthy of it. (And sometimes I was “right”: Noel was hurt more than once by those who let him down.) But, of course, in every way that mattered, it was Noel who was right all along. He was determined that a generation of youth who had been written off as “Generation X”, the “lost generation” should be believed in and championed. He took risks to see it happen.
And happen it did. Some of those young men and women are leading movers and shakers in the Jesus Army today.
This belief in those with few of the natural advantages of wealth or education was a trait he shared with another holy army’s founder. William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, declared, “Go for souls and go for the worst.”
Noel lived a similar dream. And he would have heartily concurred with some other famous words spoken by Booth:
“While women weep, as they do now, I'll fight; while children go hungry, as they do now I'll fight; while men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do now, I'll fight; while there is a drunkard left, while there is a poor lost girl upon the streets, while there remains one dark soul without the light of God, I'll fight, I'll fight to the very end!”
Noel Stanton fought till the very end. Now we fight on.
And Noel – we salute you.