Hundred years story of Bethesda Abercwmboi

A Cause that Began Humbly in a Miners’ Cottage


Yet another of the Valley’s churches has reached its centenary. Members and friends of Bethesda Welsh Baptist Chapel, Abercwmboi, have been celebrating a hundred years of Christian witness.

Actually, the cause started a few years older, having been started in 1857, but not been accepted into membership of the Gymanfa until June 1860.

The history of the cause was out-lined by Mr. Morlais Jenkins, secretary, at one of the celebration meetings held to mark the occasion.

Every man should know a certain amount about his ancestry he said, and the same applied to the church. One should know something of its origins. That was the true purpose of history.

Tracing the history of Wales from 400 years ago, when the form of Christian worship was Catholicism, down to the time when the nonconformist churches began to be established, he said that one of the first free, churches in Wales was built in 1639 at Llanfaches. It was said that in Olchon, on the borders of Hereford, Brecon, and Monmouthshire the first Baptist church was formed in Wales.

That was really, what Bethesda, Abercwmboi, and many other Bethesda’s took their roots from.
Bethesda, like other churches had romance, charm, and happiness in its history: “I hope,” said Mr. Jenkins, “that these celebration meetings will inspire and strengthen us anew to face the start of another century in our history.”

In Houses

It could be traced that the Baptist cause in Abercwmboi was started as far back as 1854, although officially it was dated 1857. In that year, the few who began the cause worshipped in the homes of William Thomas “Bach” and John Rees, in William Street. The reason given for the belief that the cause did start in 1864 was that in the official history of the centenary of Calfaria, Aberdare (1812-1912), at which chapel a Baptist Sunday School Festival was held in December 1854, proved such a success, it was stated that a second festival was held on Monday July 9, 1855, on the slopes of Ysguborwen mountain. The Sunday Schools taking part in these meetings were those at Pontprenllwyd, Hirwaun, Heol-y-felin, Cwmdare (Welsh and English). Cwmbach, Aberaman, Abercwmboi and Mountain Ash.

Prayer meetings we the meetings to be held at the two houses in Abercwmboi but for while these came to an end.

In that year, the few who began the cause worshipped in the homes of William Thomas, “Bach,” and John Williams, in William Street.

The reason given for the belief that the cause did start in 1854, was that in the official history of the centenary of Calfaria, Aberdare, (1812-1921), at which chapel a Baptist Sunday School Festival was held in December 1854, proved such a success, it was stated that a second festival was held on Monday July 9, 1855 on the slopes of Ysguborwen mountain The Sunday Schools taking part in these meetings were those at Pontprenllwyd, Hirwain, Heol-y-Felin, Cwmdare (Welsh and English), Cwmbach, Aberaman, Abercwmboi and Mountain Ash.

Prayer meetings were the first meetings to be held at the two houses in Abercwmboi, but for a while these came to an end. Later however they were revived by the following William Thomas “Bach” and his wife Nance, Francis Powell, and his wife Nance; Francis Powell, and his wife Elizabeth, Ivan Owen, Daniel Griffiths, Thomas Evans who was grocer Lewis Street Aberaman, and John Prothero. The last named two it is said, were two stalwarts, who had begun the cause at Gwawr Aberaman, in 1846.

More Members

As time went on the cause at Abercwmboi was strengthening and a Sunday School we had in two or three houses, and an occasional sermon was preached on a Sunday.

As the cause gained, so did the membership increase, and was found necessary to look for larger place to worship in the February, two houses (next door to each other), were obtained and used as a chapel.

The two names on the deeds of these properties were those of Howell Evans, Cloth Hall, and Thomas Lewis, (grocer) Aberaman.

All the actions and deeds contracted at that time were under the guidance of the mother church
“Gwawr,” Aberaman, and in March 1856, special services were held to mark the opening of Bethesda. Taking part were Rev Dr. Price (Penpound), Dafydd Ivan, minister at Gwawr, and William Williams, Rhos, Mountain Ash.

The ‘little’ church was very, fortunate at this era because it had three lay preachers John Beavan, James Bennett, and William Walters, and it was possible to give two sermons on the Sunday. The Sunday School too was flourishing.

In 1860 the little church felt that it was time it moved out from under the wings of the mother-church and had its independence and could partake of communion in its own place of worship and not have to go to Gwawr.

Special monthly meetings for the Aberdare Valley were held in Abercwmboi, for two days, and on Tuesday May 15, 1880, at 10 o’clock the fellowship was founded into church, a branch of Gwawr. Name of thirty-nine members who were released from Aberaman were read.

The first minister to be Inducted at this little church was Robert Owen, formerly of Berthlwyd. He was charged to take over the pastorate by the Rev. William Williams, Rhos Chapel, Mountain Ash, the fellowship of members was charged on its responsibility by the Rev. T. Nicholas, Gwawr.

Then at 2 o’clock and in the afternoon preaching services were held.

Bethesda was admitted into membership of the Gymanfa at Heol-y-felin, Trecynon, on June 19-20, 1860.

Two baptisms took place in 1860, when 11 persons were baptised in the Cynon River, somewhere between the Middle Duffryn Colliery and Peace Park.

With the growth in membership, the two houses in Jenkin Street now became too small and four years after the founding of the cause the foundation stone of Bethesda Chapel was laid, in June 1864. It took just over a year to build and in May 1865 special services were held to commemorate the opening. The cost of the chapel was £864.

Hymn Book

The second minister was James Jones, who was a product of the Rev. Dr. Price (Penpound) and two others published a hymn book for the use of the Baptists. The next minister, whose ministry
was short at Bethesda, was the Rev. Jenkin Rees, Brithdir.

Then an invitation was given to a student at Llangollen College to become minister. He was John Thomas, who was ordained on May 12, 1872.

Although Abercwmboi in this was a very, small village the indeed, about 40 houses, the church must have been bright and prosperous. A resolution from a church meeting held on August 11, 1873, agreed that a tea-party be as a held seven weeks from that day. It was decided to print 1,000 cards, and to send one card free of charge to every minister in the Valley.

In 1875. the Rev. David Davies, formerly of Hirwaun, was inducted as minister.

Next, and now within the memory of some of the inhabitants, we come to 1880, when William Ceinfryn Thomas, a student from Llangollen College, was ordained. He remained in Bethesda for 10 years, then moved to Hebron, Dowlais.

In the last ten years of the nineteenth century two other ministers, the Revs, Tobias John Roberts, and H. Neander Richards ministered.

The Rev. Mathias Jenkins was the next minister. He was Inducted in January 1900. He was faithful to the cause and remained minister until his health failed him. Then on Sunday, February 23, 1930, he was compelled to retire. He passed away May 10, 1930, at the age of 72, after a trying illness.

In the following October, Jubilee Services were held.

A proposition in the church minute book of 1901 was that the church, sell the two houses in their possession, the houses where the cause was founded but now, in 1960, these are still owned by the church.

In 1905 extensions to the chape and vestry were undertaken. Electricity was installed in the chapel and vestry in 1927

In 1929 an invitation was sent to a student from Pontygwaith to come and preach at Bethesda, He was Arthur Llewellyn, whose name became closely, associated with the church.

Another important year in the history of Bethesda was 1932. This was the year when the church became debt-free.

Ninth Pastor

In 1933 the church decided to Invite the Rev. Arthur Llewellyn to become minister. He was inducted In January 1934 and became the ninth minister of Bethesda.
In 1935 the church celebrated 75 years of existence and during that week a memorial tablet to the Rev. Mathias Jenkins was unveiled.

During Mr. Llewellyn’s ministry heating apparatus was installed in 1938, then ten years ago the Chapel and vestry were painted, and a service was held to mark the opening after re-decoration. Last year the heating system was changed from coal to gas.

Mr. Morlais Jenkins then referred to the passing of the Rev. Arthur Llewellyn.

A birthday was something to celebrate and be happy over, he said, but Bethesda’s birthday was darkened by the death in February, of this year of their minister. During the preparations of these Celebration meetings Mr. Llewellyn was taken seriously ill and could uke no further part.

Mr Jenkins then paid a warm-hearted tribute to their late pastor for his unfailing efforts for Bethesda.

“In paying a tribute like this to the past.” said Mr. Jenkins. “We must also pay tribute to those who
are still with us, and are still ir harness, as it were.”

Mr. David Morgan is almost as old as Bethesda, He is 87 and senior deacon. On February 8, 1910,
he was elected treasurer and after the death of Mr. William Daniel he was elected secretary with the late Mr. Evan Richard Evans as treasurer. Mr. Morgan relinquished n his duties, owing to falling sight, in 1948: 38 years faithful service.

In September 1917, following the death of Mr. William Evans, Mr. Joseph Jones was elected children’s conductor. This position he pulled with dignity until ill-health forced him to resign in 1938. Then, in 1944, he was elected financial secretary and later treasurer, a position he still holds: 37 years of service. Mr. Ben Daniel, too, was the church’s treasurer from 1944-1954.

34 Years’ Service

Mr. D. M. Rees was on July 26, 1926, was appointed deputy precentor. After the death of Mr. Tommy John in January 1930, Mr. Rees was appointed conductor. After Mr. Joseph Jones had relinquished his duties with the children, Mr. Rees took over this responsibility: 34 years of service, which is continuing.

Mr. Rees’s wife Bronwen, too, still plays her part at the organ after many years’ service. Mrs. Rees (nee Thomas) was appointed organist in 1929: 31 years of staunch service. Mr. Morlais Jenkins himself has been faithful to Bethesda, having now been secretary for a number, of years.

Others who had been responsible for keeping the cause of Bethesda alive’ were named. They, were, William Morris, John Evans, Richard Williams, William Richard Ward, Thomas Davies, John Wills, Joseph Morton, William Phillips, Evan Phillips, David John Thomas, Taliesin Evans, William Richard Morgan and David Thomas Evans and Many others.

To end, Mr. Jenkins posed the question: “What of the future?”

Celebrations services

Presiding over the meeting, which was well attended by members and friends of the churches in the Valley was Mr. D. M. Rees, who said he deemed it a great privilege to preside, although, he said, if it was not for the death of the minister he would not be presiding.

Scripture reading was by Kenneth Parslow and the Rev. Meredith Morgan, Heol-y-Felin, offered prayer.

Hymns sung at the service, two of which were composed by deacons of Bethesda were “Arglwydd melys ydyw cerdded” (Islwyn) and “O Arglwydd Dduw ein tadau, Ein Craig i’n Twr wyt Ti” to the tune “Dilwyn,” composed by Mr. Joseph Jones, AT.S.C., and “Disgwyl ‘rwyf ar hyd yr hirnos” to the tune “Margaret” by Mr. D. M. Pees, LT.S.0. and “Diolch i Ti yr Hollalluog Dduw. Am yr Efengyl.”

The Rev. Morgan Price, Abercwmboi, spoke on behalf of the village and offered his sincere congratulations to Bethesda. The Rev. T. E. Thomas, Ynyslwyd, pronounced the benediction.

Mr. D. M. Rees was to have spoken at the meeting on the musical background and tradition of Bethesda. He has now offered to give his talk at some later date. This too, should be interesting.

Other Services

Other services which were, connected with the centenary celebrations were: Preaching services on Sunday, June 12, when the guest preacher was the Rev. Emlyn R. Richards. Merthyr Vale.

On the Tuesday, a united prayer meeting with representatives from Bethesda, Calfaria, Aberdare (the mother-church of all the Baptists in Aberdare area), Gwawr, Aberaman (Bethesda’s mother-church), and Seion Cwmaman (sister-church) taking part. Presiding over this meeting was the Rev. Garfield Eynon, Cwmaman. This was a memorable meeting. Taking part were Scripture reading, Mrs. Megan Jenkins, Prayers were offered by Tom Roberts, (Bethesda). Idwal Rees (Seion), Ben Phillips (Gwawr) and John Davies (Calfaria).

On the Wednesday afternoon prior to the meeting reported above a celebration tea for all members, friends, and children of the church, together with friends in the village, was held. It was noticed that some members and past members had made a special effort. Some had travelled quite a long way to be present at the celebration. This is a clear indication of their love and regard for Bethesda.

The final meeting in the series, was held on the Thursday, when a stalwart minister honoured Bethesda with his appearance. He was Rev. John Thomas, formerly of Blaenwaun, and now retired in the sense that he has no pastorate, but he is still active as he possibly can be now of his age.

Presiding was the Rev. Huw Thomas, Calfaria, Aberdare, and the devotions were by the Rev. T. Arfon Jones, Gwawr, Aberaman. The Rev. Morgan Price closed the meeting in prayer.

Present officers and deacons of Bethesda were, David Morgan, John E. Morgan, Ben Daniel, Tom Roberts, David D. Watkins, David M. Rees, (precentor), Joseph Jones, (treasurer), and Morlais Jenkins, (secretary). The organist was Mrs. Bronwen Rees.

12-Year-old’s Winning Poem

This poem “The River” which won first prize at the Aberdare Juvenile Eisteddfod recently under the non-de-plume, Bardd y Faenor (a Poet from Vaynor), to the work of 12-year-old Gareth Hopkins, son of Mr. and Mrs. Tudor Hopkins, Gilwern.

Mr. Hopkins, a schoolmaster, hails from Hirwaun, and his wife comes from the Glynneath district. Gareth is a frequent visitor to the Aberdare district, where he has many relatives at Trecynon and Hirwaun.

Gareth has made verse-making one of his chief hobbies and by now he has built up quite a selection of admirable poems on a variety of subjects.

The River

When first my sparkling waters ran,
Through creak and valley small.
A myriad fish of varied hue.
Played in my waterfall

The wildfowl roamed along my banks,
In rushes near the pool.
And trees which all around me grew,
Gave shelter dark and cool.

But with the passing of the days,
My trees were cut away.
And loftier buildings took their place,
To hide the light of day.

I flow no longer crystal clear,
My waters dark with mud.
Heave dingy trails along my banks,
When I have been in flood.

Oh, how I miss those far off days,
When I was young and gay,
For I am doomed to carry filth,
For ever and a day.

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