|Presbyterian Church 1867-1967|
|In the 1790’s Aberdare was a very insignificant place indeed, it was merely a hamlet in the midst of an agricultural district. The change came in the year 1799 when industry moved into the area, and iron works was opened in Abernant, with a further one at Llwydcoed. From then on the town had gradually progressed, to reach its present status as an industrial town.
As far as we can ascertain there was no properly constituted Nonconformist Church in Aberdare before 1751. As far as the Calvinistic Methodists are concerned the first mention of them appears to be in 1799. That was also the year that the Independent Bodies were formed. In 1799, the first Church Meeting was held in a building which stood to the rear of what is known today as the Mackworth Arms. Which are led to understand that it was only the five people attended this Meeting, three of these were Calvinistic Methodists, and the remaining two were Independents.
The first Church for the Calvinistic Methodists was built in Pentwynbach, Trecynon in 1806, and this Church and thirty members. Later this building was sold to the Wesleyans for the princely sum of £30. And then Carmel Welsh Church, Trecynon was erected in 1829. Therefore Carmel must be regarded as the Mother Church among the Calvinistic Methodists in Aberdare.
Writing this history at a time when so many Churches are closing one cannot help thinking of the change that has overtaken us. Because that is exactly the opposite of the early days of our Church and Denomination, in the town.For we must admit that our fathers in the Faith, made very rapid progress. So much so, that during the next thirty years or so, that is to say by the year 1862, nine other churches were in being, and each one had its own building.
Now this progress that was made in the town, with the advent of industry, brought with it certain problems. This was now a prosperous locality, and this prosperity attracted many people from England into the area, and hence there came the need for the English Churches, in order that these newcomers might be able to find provision for their religious needs.
It was arising out of this need that our own Church, Trinity came to be founded. And we must give credit, thanks and praise for this to Mr and Mrs, Walter Lloyd. He was better known in those days as the Publisher and Proprietor of “Y Gwladgarwr.” He arrived in Aberdare from Carmarthen where it is understood, he had been in temporary charge of a church. While in Aberdare he attached himself to the Church of Bethania, and became a prominent member there.Mrs Walter Lloyd came to the town in 1856; full of religious enthusiasm, which very soon found an exit. Because she was a member of the Tract Distributing Society, and had taken as her district, the area of Maes-y-Dre. Her first venture was the establishing of a Sunday afternoon and there she would gather a number of children around her, and would tell them Bible stories. Eventually she was able to rent a room in an empty house, for two shillings per Sunday and the work was carried on from there.
Such was the success attending this effort of Mrs Lloyd, that after a short period, about four to five months it became necessary to seek for a larger building. An approach was then made to a man was an important figure in the life of the town. This man was Rhys Hopkin Rhys of Llwydcoed, and it was a result of his efforts, that permission was given for the building which today is the Town Hall to be used as a Meeting Place for this Sunday school. This was a tremendous help. Although there was still the problem of staffing for the increasing numbers. An approach was then made to Bethania Church and this resulted in some friends form there coming to assist with the classes. The majority of these names unfortunately are not known to us. There was one however namely R.H. Miles, it was in this way that Mr Miles started was to be a faithful and conspicuous service to our church. At this time there were about sixty scholars and teachers in the Sunday school.
Mr Miles arrived in in Aberdare in 1864, arriving with no Welsh. This fact however did not deter this gentleman. He was determined to be associated with a church, so he attached himself to Nazareth Sunday school having made up his mind that he would make a great effort to learn to read the bible in Welsh. After a short time in Nazareth he transferred to and joined some friends at Bethania. He continued his association with Bethania while he was working with the Sunday school in the town hall he still continued to attend the services at Bethania.
The members of this school were full of zeal. They went out into the highways and the byways, and constrained the people to come in; and the people came in. One of the leaders in this field was a gentleman by the name of Mr Lynch he was a printer by trade, being employed by Walter Lloyd in the Gwladgarwr Office. He was able to render a great service by his singing and by his missionary zeal. Another loyal servant at that time, particularly as Precentor was a solicitor by the name of David Rosser. He lived at Danygraig and was a brother in law of Judge Gwilym Williams.After some time in the Town Hall, the vestry at Bethania was placed at the disposal of the English school, and it should be noted, that this time is where the first English Services were held. There it may be said our church started.
By this time the religious needs of English residents in the Welsh communities had been noticed by the Welsh Monthly Meeting as they were called at that time. Today they are known as The Presbytery; the matter was discussed at length, in the Glamorgan Monthly Meeting, and as a result the Rev. John Davies was instructed to convey a message to Walter Lloyd , requesting Mr Lloyd to take steps towards the formation of an English Calvinistic Methodist Church in Aberdare, this was a tremendous step forward. It revealed a change of attitude on the part of significance of it today, unless we realise that it was not the custom of the Welsh Monthly Meeting to regard those who wish to establish an English Church with any degree of favour. They were anxious to guard their Welsh heritage, and they were afraid that the establishment of the English Churches would lead to a weakening of the Welsh Churches, and the decay of the Welsh language. By today we know that this fear was not without foundation, very many of the Welsh Churches have closed, a great number of them have turned to English. While others churches are struggling with dwindling congregations to maintain the cause in the mother tongue. Even today we can see the English section of the Church gaining ground on our Welsh Friends.
However this situation did not apply in Glamorgan at least not in the case of Aberdare, they made the first move to speak, a move that was readily accepted by Walter Lloyd, who immediately took up his task. English services were held regularly on Sundays, and an English Church was formed.
Trinity Church was erected and it cost £1300, the foundation stone was laid on October 7th 1867, it had been arranged for Mrs Williams, the wife of Judge Gwilym Williams to perform the ceremony. However in her absence the stone was laid by her mother-in-law. Copies of the Gwladgarwr and several local and denominational publications were place beneath the stone in a casket of white metal, together with some current coins; among those who took part in the ceremony were the Reverends W. Howells, Trefecca; W. Williams, Argyle, Swansea and J. Thomas, Hope Merthyr. A public meeting was held in the Temperance Hall, the President was Mordecai Jones of Brecon and the account of the rise of the Calvinistic Methodist cause in the district was given by one of the Elders of Bethania namely Mr Lewis Griffiths. At this open meeting £200 was promised towards the building fund.
The main supply for preachers for the Church was from Trefecca College. Trefecca was at that time the Theological College of the Association in the South, and the full training of the ministry was given there. One of these students namely Mr John Evans so impressed the members of the young church at Trinity, that it was decided to invite him to become the first Pastor. He however had decided to take a course in Glasgow University, and in order to allow him to do that the church waited. Then in July 1868 the Reverend John Evans was inducted as the first Pastor of the Church.
Mr John Evans was an able scholar and an excellent character he had a successful ministry, under which the church prospered. Unfortunately after seven years Mr Evans decided to join the Presbyterian Church of England. In order that they may retain his services the majority of the members decided to follow him. The first news of this was received in the Association Meeting at Fishguard in 1875. The Reverend John Evans gave notice that he and his congregation at Aberdare wished to transfer to the English Presbyterian Church. This was received in regret, and The Association were sorry that the English Presbytery of Birmingham had encouraged the Aberdare people to take this step. Although tributes were paid then to Mr Evans as a faithful minister there was still a great deal of analysing his motives.
Mr Evans stated that it was domestic, temporal and spiritual reasons that had moved him to make his decision; and that was purely his own decision. He was not going because he was at odds with the Welsh Church, he had not been approached by the English Presbyterians and he had not sought to persuade his congregation to follow him. But their decision was taken freely and unanimously, and he and his people were willing to vacate the premises of Trinity and seek to meet elsewhere in the town.
The main spokesman for the people was Mr Rosser who was a solicitor who did not actually share the views of his minister. It appears that Mr Prosser had neglected to hand over the deeds of the property of Trinity to the Calvinistic Methodist Church and so Mr Prosser claimed that the property was still the property of the congregation, and they could retain it and take it with them to the Presbyterian Church of England.
This decision came as a great shock to the church at Bethania, but their minister the Reverend W. James, advised them that the people of Trinity should be allowed to go their own way, but he did warn them that they would have to face difficulties in the future, particularly in finding a successor to Mr Evans, since few minsters of the Presbyterian Church of England would be willing to take a call to the heart of Wales in Aberdare. He also admitted that the people in Trinity were not deeply committed Calvinistic Methodists. Most of them, he said, were former church people, tired of growing ritualism and classes of the Church of England, and also there former Wesleyans, Baptists and Brethren.
Rev. David Evans of Merthyr said that it was the policy of the Connexion to establish English causes, as they were the hope of the future and there would be need for the Calvinistic Methodists to have an English cause in Aberdare and so every effort should be made to retain possession of the building for that purpose.
The Rev. J.C. Gullan appeared for the English Presbyterian Church, and said that they had no wish to have friction with their Welsh Brethren. The issue had first arisen when Mr Evans made a personal application to join the Presbytery of London. Then came the representative of the people of the Trinity to follow Mr Evans, and they in England had decided that the proper thing to do was to receive them as soon as they could break their links with the Calvinistic Methodists in Wales. He also said that if the English Presbyterians had thought that the Calvinistic Methodists would raise another English cause in place of Trinity, they would not have received Mr Evans or his people.
In the weeks and months that followed, articles and letters and resolutions; some of these made bitter attacks on the English Presbyterians, for promising to receive the people of Trinity, others emphasized the wide gulf between Presbyterians and Methodism. Many others appealed for patience and restraint, while some pointed out the many similarities between Calvinistic Methodism and Presbyterianism, and others hoped that the trouble in Aberdare would not damage the growing friendship between the Calvinistic Methodists of Wales and the Presbyterians of England, and they looked forward to the day when the Calvinistic Methodists would be a part of the Presbyterian Family. There were those who said naturally that Mr Evans’ decision should cause much heart searching among the Calvinistic Methodists. Mr Evans said that he could not maintain his family on the wage that he received in Trinity; perhaps they should take this to heart. Many ministers had to live in straitened circumstances so as to give their children some education. Also, was there not some ground for the view of the people of Trinity that they would flourish more prosperously if they were linked to an English speaking church, rather than to a predominantly Welsh speaking Church.
When the next Association met at Crickhowell, Mr Evans sent a sharp letter to them, stating that he and his people had been received into the English Presbyterian Church by the Presbytery of Birmingham, and that Mr Prosser was taking steps to ensure that the buildings were also transferred.
An Association Committee decided to visit Aberdare, but the people of Trinity refused to meet them. Moreover, Mr Evans at very short notice, changed the normal night of the Mid-Week Service, hoping to avoid any unannounced intrusion by the Committee, but the Committee heard of this, and three members arrived at the Meeting. The Minister immediately closed the Meeting, and he and most of those present attempted to leave, there were about twelve people present at this meeting.
The Reverend D. Edwards persuaded a few to stay, while Me Evans and the others gathered around the door to see what would happen inside. Mr Edwards claimed the building for the Association, and entrusted the building to one man present, who said that he wished to be loyal to the Calvinistic Methodists. Mr Prosser then entered and ordered the three representatives out. They went, but told the member entrusted with the building to stay where he was until turned out by the police.
The Committee then met a Committee of the English Presbyterians. Mr Prosser suggested that the building should be retained by the present congregation for five years and then handed back to the Calvinistic Methodists. The Association Committee held that it was obvious that the building had been erected to be a chapel of the Calvinistic Methodists, and that people had contributed on that understanding. They said that Mr Prosser had no moral right to take advantage of his own delay in having completed the legal transfer to the Calvinistic Methodist Connexion in Wales. The Association Committee suggested that the people of Trinity should be allowed to use the church for one year, or even until they could get new premises. But, they should pay rent for the building, and thus acknowledge that the building belonged to the Calvinistic Methodists.
Then the Presbytery of Birmingham went ahead with the Service of Induction and Mr Evans was Inducted in Trinity, as the minister of the English Presbyterian Church in Aberdare. At that service representatives of the English Presbyterians got up and claimed that the building belonged to the Connexion, as was proved by an Inscribed Stone on the face of the church. There was quite an uproar, and it now seemed inevitable that the case would have to go to Chancery, to decide was the legal owner of the property.
By all this Trinity was reduced to a very small number, with Mr Walter Lloyd as the only deacon. However it was decided that now was the time to set up a fresh English cause with the Calvinistic Methodists, and a Meeting for that purpose was held in Bethania on November 25th, and a further meeting was held in Nazareth shortly afterwards. There were signs that the English Presbyterians would leave Trinity in a year’s time, and while this would be inconvenient it would be wise to exercise patience and show Christian Spirit. Meanwhile, a new English Cause should be launched, and it was decided to begin Services in Bethania Vestry on January 2nd 1876.
At the next Association in Aberystwyth in February 1876, it was reported that Mr Prosser had said that the building at Trinity, would be vacated at the end of the year if the Calvinistic Methodists paid the new English Presbyterian Congregation £200.00. The Calvinistic Methodists said that it was the English Presbyterians who should pay rent to the Connexion, failing which the case in Chancery would have to go ahead. However a message was received from the English Presbyterian lawyer, which stated that they were now ready to surrender the building and would pay £40 rent per year.
Meanwhile the new venture continued to prosper in the vestry at Bethania. There were 75 members in the New Cause, which included 20 former members, of Trinity, who did not wish to go over to the Presbyterian Church of England. They were now anxious to return to their own building, but there were difficulties because at this time there was a great deal of unemployment in the area, which was caused by the closure of the coal and iron works. Indeed by this time people had started to move away, many had left the district in search of work. The building at Trinity needed to be out in order, now that it had been restored to the Connexion, the estimated cost of this repairing and decorating; together with the payment of debt was at least £850. In order to meet this the church was given the permission to appeal to every Church in the Connexion for help.
By this time the Association met in 1877, it was reported that the membership of the new Church at Trinity was almost a hundred, with Sunday school of over two hundred and fifty. The former congregation who had gone over to the Presbyterian Church of England had left the building, but by this time it was in such a poor state that at least £1000 would be needed to put in order. Although £700 had been received in response to the appeal.
The English Presbyterians went out and built a church of their own as St David’s, which continued until almost 1950, but despite all the ill feeling of the moment, it must be said that there was no lasting bitterness between the Presbyterian Church of England and the Calvinistic Methodists if Wales.
After returning to Trinity, and autumn of 1877, the Reverend Edwin Williams, M.A., became the Pastor of the Church. After six years in which he exercised a very valuable Ministry, he left Trinity, to take up the appointment if Vice Principal of Trefecca Theological College.
During this time the church had always had the guidance and zeal of Mr Walter Lloyd, he had served the church with boundless energy, but on the 31st January 1883, Mr Lloyd was called to his rest.
The next few years might be described as years of coming and going amongst the ministry, the changes were so frequent. In 1886 the Rev. J.H. Parry commenced a ministry. Which unfortunately did not last two years, fortunately the church was soon able to find a successor, and in 1888 the Rev. W. Watkin Williams took the office of minister here. This was a successful ministry which saw a great increase in the membership of the church. He relinquished the charge of Trinity on moving to take up a post in Swansea.
This time they were not so fortunate and it was not until 1892, that a successor was found in the person of the Rev. R.R. Roberts, whose name is now associated with the hymn “Far off I see the goal” which he composed. During this ministry of nine years, extensive renovations were carried out, and the first pipe organ was installed, and this cost £1,500. In 1904 Mr Roberts accepted an invitation to Cathedral Road Church Cardiff.
After two years the Reverend J. Lewis Jenkins started what proved to be a very powerful and uplifting ministry in this church. It became necessary in 1908 to enlarge the building and it was at this time that the organ was changed, and the three manual organ was installed, and the lecture hall with several classrooms were added. The total cost of this was £3,500 and the work was completed by January 1909 when the enlarged church was opened by the faithful worker of the church throughout its whole history, namely Mrs Walter Lloyd. While the lecture hall was opened by Mrs T. Thomas, Graig House, the collection at that time towards the building fund realised £590.
In 1910 Trinity Church had 274 members, and everything looked well for the future, but this happy condition was to be short lived, because in 1911 another cloud came over the Cause at Trinity and the church was compelled, although with reluctance, to take legal proceeding against the Empire Company Ltd, Aberdare. This was for the removal of a gas engine which disturbed all meetings that were held in the Lecture Hall. The church was successful, but the company went into liquidation and this meant that the Church at Trinity had to bear all the costs of this case.
This again did not deter the spirit of the Fellowship here, and in 1913, they took upon themselves the task of entertaining, what was the called The English Conference, or what we know today as the Association of the East. This was an honour for the church, which was made even happier by the fact that one of their former ministers was in the Chair, namely the Reverend R.R. Roberts. He paid tribute to the church from the Chair b saying that he had spent nine delightful years breathing the inspiring and exhilarating air of Aberdare. Although the times have changed during the fifty four years that have passed since then, and despite the fact that we have been through two World Wars, his words on that occasion still ring fresh and true. He said, “The Church is not on a voyage of discovery, but it is to distribute the merchandise with which she is loaded, Christ has come, Christ has died, Christ has risen and lives for everyone, and the church’s task is to reflect His light, whatever the outcome of the labour of the critics, Christ will be found more real and unique. We shall judge everything in relation to Him, and we shall count nothing authoritative that is not sanctioned by His spirit. An absolute faith in Christ will fear no new light.”
In 1916 the Reverend J. Lewis Jenkins left the church and the town for Liverpool, and in the year of their Jubilee, the Reverend W. E. Roberts took up the ministry here. The outstanding event of the Jubilee was the work done in the reduction of the building fund debt. The enthusiasm of the Jubilee Fund Committee, and the faithfulness of the members together with the assistance of friends from outside of the church, made it possible to effect a substantial reduction.
The Jubilee Celebrations were held on Sunday November 25th 1917, when the preacher was the Reverend Richard Jones Llandinam, with services at 11 a.m. 2.30 p.m. and 6.30 p.m. On the following Sunday December 2nd the former minister the Reverend J. Lewis Jenkins preached in the morning and the evening with a special service for young people at 3.15 p.m. This was followed on the Thursday December 6th by a tea and social gathering in the afternoon, which was followed at 6 p.m. by a Musical Programme arranged by Mr J. Arkite Phillips and then at 7 p.m. there was a public meeting which was Presided over by the Reverend W. E. Roberts, the Pastor and the following people spoke; Mr R. H. Miles as one of the oldest members of the church gave the history of the cause. After this the Reverend W. Watkin Williams of Swansea spoke, and he was followed by the Secretary of the Jubilee Fund, Mr F. Preece, who gave the history of the Jubilee Fund.
It was stated that to date the collection had reached £1,070 the present debt on the church stood at £2,145 and it was intended to clear £1,145 of that with the Jubilee Collections. There were two more speakers namely, The Reverends T. M. Jeffreys and J. Robertson, after which the Reverend J. Lewis Jenkins gave an excellent address.The Jubilee Service were continued on Sunday December 9th when the Reverend R. R. Roberts preached morning and evening and in so doing brought to a close a very memorable celebration, with the final total of the Jubilee Collections standing at £1,154.
August 1918 brought a great loss to the church, when one who had served with faithfulness, right from the days of the Sunday school on the Town Hall was called to a High Service that was R.H. Miles who had been an Elder for twenty years, and almost the same time, the Reverend W. E. Roberts moved to the Heath Cardiff. Then during the time of the church was without a Pastor, it was to receive another loss, in the passing of the Senior Elder, Mr Daniel Jones.
In July 1919 the Reverend G. Humphrey Evans commenced his ministry in Trinity, now the First World War had ended and the attention of the church was directed to placing a Memorial to the Fallen Heroes. It was also decided that a framed “Roll of Honour” be placed in the Vestibule of the church.
In December 1921 Mrs Walter Lloyd dies at the age of 90, have served the church for 54 years.
It was now felt necessary to widen the interest if the church, and in order to have a wider range of talent, the Church Council was formed as an advisory body, which was to meet the Elders, to discuss matters arising concerning the church, in order that the Elders may know the views if the members better. All matters discussed in the Church Council must be agreed to by the Elders Court, before they were submitted to the church. This was the time when unemployment was rife, and the church helped in this situation by collecting money, and sharing it out among the unemployed members of the church.
The legal proceeding of 1911 now seemed a very long way away, twelve years had passed since then, but the church had never been allowed to forget it, for the whole of this period they had carried the burden of the costs, and as yet not been able to clear them. In 1923 great joy was brought to the church because the burden was then taken over by the Denomination.Though it is very much doubted whether that relief brought as much joy to the church, as did the fact that one of their young men, Stephen J. Jones had decided to offer himself for the Ministry of the Church.
So the years go by and once again the fabric of the church called the attention, and in 1925 the interior was decorated at a cost of £103 1s. 3d. While this work was being carried out the services were held in the Palladium, at the same time there was practically a new lighting system installed.
Having served the church for six years, the Reverend G. Humphrey Evans left the church to take up the Pastorate of Trinity Barry, and in 1927 the church secured the service of the Rev. D. O. Calvin Thomas. This ministry commenced with the Diamond Jubilee Celebrations, on Sunday October 23rd the Reverend J. Lewis Jenkins was the Guest Preacher. On October 25th a Public Meeting was held in the church when the speakers were the Reverend J. Lewis Jenkins, Mrs Emrys Evans and Mr H. A. Jones. On the Sunday following October 30th the preacher was the Reverend J.M. Jones of Merthyr as the Guest Preacher.
Twelve months later the church enjoyed and privilege of seeing their own child the Reverend Stephen J. Jones, who by now completed his training for the ministry, inducted into the Pastorate of the Old Walls Church, and in 1931 this joy was increased when the second candidate for the ministry namely Mr W. H. John entered Trefecca College; then shortly afterwards Mr W. Ewart Jenkins also entered Trefecca. Further joy was brought to the church when in 1933 it again had the privilege of entertaining the Association.
There was a difficult period in the life of the area, for these were the days of the depression, and it caused many churches in the area great difficulties. The church at Trinity saw this challenge and in 1938, the church set the task to collect £1,000 to aid these churches. It must be said the credit of church that despite circumstances by June of that year £760 had been promised.
So time moves on and in 1938 the Reverend D.O. Calvin Thomas, left Trinity, Aberdare to become minister of Trinity Wrexham and consequently the church faced the next few years-trying years, which brought the outbreak of the Second World War without a Pastor, this continued until the services of the Reverend S. Ifor Enoch were secured in 1941. During the war years the church made several efforts to raise funds for comforts for His Majesties Forces and in 1943, the railings along Canon Street were taken as part of the war effort. But the spiritual life of the church was still strong as can be seen from the number of men who entered the ministry of our church during these times.
The Reverends David Silvanus, Lyndhurst E. Wales and J. Howard Williams all entered the ministry from the church. In June 1945 despite all the difficulties of the time, the church was able to entertain the Association yet once more, and having done that successfully, they once again turned their thoughts of themselves. In 1947 the external of the church was decorated and the outside wall facing Weatherall Street was painted.
Here is a church that has offered six young men from the membership for the ministry. It is a fine record, but that record was improved yet again in 1949, when there was a unique event in the history of Trinity. Miss Betty Williams offered herself as a Missionary for the work in India.
1951 brought yet more alterations to the church and these included the Memorial Chapel, in which situated the Christening Font, in memory of those who gave their lives in the 1939 to 1945 war. At this time the heating system was converted coke was dispensed with and the gas boilers were installed.
After ten years the Reverend Gwilym Evans left for Brecon, and the church was once again without a Pastor until the present Ministry started in July 1966.
During recent months the outside of the church has been painted in readiness for the Centenary the wall along Canon Street, which was erected in place of the railings taken away with the war effort in 1943, has been removed, and new railings have been erected.
So the story goes on we have received a heritage from the past, we are witnessing in the present. May we do it in confidence, perseverance, humility and joy. May the honour and Glory of Christ our Lord shine forth in our worship, in our daily life, and on into all the years that are to be.
Our church has without question, enjoyed the blessing and the guidance of God in the past. May His Presence be manifest among us during our Centenary Celebrations, and may grace be given to us to labour faithfully in the establishment of His Kingdom.