Culture Evangelism Theology

Peace in the Valleys? The Revival of the Church in Wales?

The Christian Church in Wales is not in a healthy condition.  The Church in Wales (the Anglicans) has gone from 90,000 members 20 years ago to 45,000 today.  It’s largely dying.  Ah, but what about the Welsh Revival, and all these singing chapels…..?  The Presbyterian church of Wales (the heir to the Calvinistic Methodists) only has 24,000 members and is also declining.   The Baptist church has 25,000 members.  (the population is just over three million).  51% of people in Wales say that they are Christian…in reality its doubtful whether 5% are.

Speaking to Welsh pastors I get a sense of despair and discouragement.  And I can understand why.  It seems as though the Welsh church has the same problems as the Scottish church and is also struggling to reach out and communicate the Gospel in an increasingly secular culture.  And there are the usual evangelical divisions, although in Wales these sometimes take a different path – for example Wales had probably the best preacher in the UK in the 20th Century – the Dr….that is Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones.  Although most of his ministry was in London, his influence was deeply felt in Wales.   Sometimes  though I think whilst that great men are truly great, its their disciples who spoil their name!

I have not been in Wales for a long time – so it was a privilege to be in Swansea for what is called the “Eccentrics” Conference.  It is aptly named!  Under the leadership of Steve getfileLevy, this conference of mainly Welsh pastors is held every year in Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Swansea.    It is one of the encouraging situations.  Steve himself is an inspiration (and his family! as were some of the other staff I met.  I have also never been at a conference which was so well catered for…..the women and men of the church did an outstanding job in providing good quality and plentiful food (although the seaweed for breakfast was a step too many for some!)    I am not going to write about the whole conference but there were ‘straws in the secular wind, which caused me to leave Swansea with a degree of thankfulness and hopefulness.  Let me give three examples.

Most of the pastors were from small churches – some of course are experiencing discouragement and loneliness (such is the nature of ministry), but they are working Dxh7gHMWwAIjxxthard for the Lord and looking to the future.  Their eye is not just on the revivals, or the Doctor, but on the Lord and on the future.   I was greatly taken with a young man, Rev John Funnell from Noddfa Baptist Church.  I have asked him to tell his story in the next edition of The Record but suffice it to say that he is the only minister in a declining community of 10,000 people in one of the valleys, and he is seeing his church grow and make an impact.  So much so that this Christmas 1,000 people came to a carol service they organised. 

The teaching from Paul Blackham and Stuart Olyott was excellent.  Paul is a wee bit unusual…and very stimulating.  Stuart was also a good bible teacher – and he continues to be so.  In fact old age means that he clearly feels, Dick Lucas like, that all the constraints are off.  In his own way he was as stimulating as Paul – and just as eccentric.  As I said the conference is well named!   What was good though was that the eccentricities pointed to Christ, not to the eccentrics!

I hope that the Welsh church will take seriously the work of 20 Schemes    And that it will454549893183480274761507 take root in the post-industrial communities of Wales.   I was so impressed with the guys who came down from Niddrie….including one recent Welsh convert.   They were a credit to 20 Schemes, Scotland and above all Christ.  As they say in the Highlands (and Northern Ireland) – the crack was good….and it was Christ centred crack!   It was a joy to travel with them…I think I’ll take them as my bodyguards wherever I go!

It was not revival…..but it was encouraging….good bible teaching, real ‘band of brothers’ fellowship,  bring the Gospel to the poor, a longing to see Christ glorified and a wrestling with how to communicate the Gospel in a decaying culture….all are good signs for the future.
Crist ogoneddu!

Quantum 25: Parliament and Brexit; Gillette and Toxic Masculinity; Cuomo and Abortion; Bishop Curry; John Finnis and Oxford students; LGBT Depression; Andy Murray

18 comments

  1. I used to live in Wales – St Athens.

    It is really heartening to hear you write that the church in Wales is ”…. largely dying.”
    You have written in a similar vein about the church in Scotland so it is reasonable to presume it is more or less the same story in England.
    Ireland , I have no clue.
    But I will refer to these posts every time you write that Christianity is expanding etc etc.

    And I remind you that in the more socially advanced nations – especially in Europe – that we are heading for a secular world eventually to be free of supernatural belief and chained to mythological religious nonsense.

    When the pastor is telling you the christian church is dying it’s time to sit up and take note.
    Keep it coming , David

    1. Why is it heartening that the church is dying in Wales? Because when the church dies the culture dies….And Wales and Scotland are not the world….in general all over the world the church is growing …. As for Europe – you will note your prejudice – you think that the European nations are more socially advanced….you don’t seem to realise that Europe is dying….Try reading Douglas Murrays “The Strange Death of Europe” It will help…

      1. The Strange Death of Europe is a great book and as Douglas Murray points out originally there wasn’t much difference between Christianity and Islam – both have blasphemy laws, prevent freedom of religion, oppose homosexuality, oppose equality for women, support slavery, believe in divine command theory. The difference is as Douglas notes we have had the Enlightenment so the majority of Christians no longer support blasphemy or homophobia (Douglas is gay himself).
        So what we need is the Enlightenment in Islam as in Christianity.
        Douglas Murray explains some of this in his talk with Matt Dillahunty:

    2. Arkenaten,

      Is your memory a bit faulty? Did you, perhaps, live in St Athan?
      As to your description of some nations as being ‘more socially advanced’ this is, of course, rather arguable. It is correct to say that they follow the views of a certain group of people who might be called ‘social liberals’ and it might be claimed that they have followed the ever-changing agenda of ‘social liberals’ to a greater extent than other nations so it could be said that they have advanced along the lines of ‘social liberals’ more than other nations. But the claim that they are ‘more socially advanced’ is, I take it meant to imply that they are superior as a result of the degree to which they are promoting the ‘social liberal’ agenda’. But to make that claim you also have to argue that the agenda is objectively superior in a moral sense. That would imply the rejection of moral relativism. That rejection is to be applauded but it is unclear on what basis the ‘social liberal’ agenda is objectively superior to any other. On what basis, for example, is the approval of the wholesale slaughter of unborn children considered ‘superior’ to the view that these unborn children have a right to life?

      1. @Mike 17

        By more socially advanced I was referring to those democratic nations that are slowly but surely turning away from the supernatural nonsense of religion, and moving toward secular humanism.
        As a comparison,if you look at stats from the USA, ( which one would not generally consider socially advanced in this regard) the states which have the highest levels of religiosity (for want of a better word) score lower in almost every category from such things as teen pregnancy, education, poverty etc etc, than their more secular counterparts.

        I’d offer links but you probably wouldn’t read them.
        However, if I have jumped the gun in this regard let me know and the links will be forthcoming, no problem.

        Yes, St Athan. Typo. Apologies. I lived on the RAF base there for two years.
        My dad was a chief tech.

        I know if no countries that allow the wholesale slaughter of unborn children.
        Maybe you could enlighten us as to which nations these are, please?

    3. Ultimately nominalism is dying and that’s a good thing. The Christian church is growing but more liberal secularised denominations are dying. This really is not something to mourn, as false Churchianity dies with them.

      Unfortunately for your claim that people are going to become civilised and not believe in supernatural nonsense, what you actually get when you deviate from the truth of Christianity is a vague spirituality, combined with a hefty dose of materialism i.e. “I’m spiritual but not religious”. As to the wholesale slaughter of the unborn in the UK, USA and pretty much every Western country, this is well known. Your “enlightened society” is no more enlightened than the Pagan Romans-and will die.

  2. Thanks for this article, David. It would have been interesting to have statistics on the specifically evangelical church in Wales, e.g. the Evangelical Movement in Wales and other similar bodies. The denominations you mentioned are, at best, mixed and in many cases espouse non-evangelical theology. I wonder whether there is analysis on the causes for the decline of the evangelical church besides the obvious (liberal theology). For example, were earlier generations (including ministers) able to pass the faith on to their children? In the context of secularisation were other, new institutions able to take on responsibilities once carried by the Chapels? Did the revivals of the past have a negative after-effect in terms of burn-out? Was the decline of the Chapels also part of a broader social and economic decline in Wales? Also, I am wrong in thinking ‘crack’ is spelt ‘craic’?

  3. An excellent account of what sounds like a really blessed time. Unfortunately creeping secularism is a growing problem everywhere. We face an up hill struggle in the future. I’m not sure about Scotland enjoying the “crack”, but here in Northern Ireland we enjoy the “craic” lol. Possible typo? Anyway thanks for update. An enjoyable read as ever. God bless.

      1. Doesn’t wiki rely on input from the public at large and as such can be subject to error? I’m not sure myself just asking. The link you provided may well be totally correct, but could equally be the bias of a contributer. Either way it doesn’t really matter. Just asking. Thanks.

  4. Thanks for this report, Pastor David. As I mentioned in a comment on another article the other day, I have a deep affection for the people of Wales so it is good to hear this report on the state of the church there. I will definitely pray for the Welsh people.

    “It seems as though the Welsh church has the same problems as the Scottish church…”

    So the Presbyterian Church of Wales has made the same mistake of going down a very liberal and politically correct path as well? That is tragic. Could you maybe give us some more historical context one day on why Calvinistic churches began rejecting Calvinism? What prompted them to start doing this?

    By the way, a while ago I discovered on the internet an independent Welsh Baptist pastor named Dewi Higham. I often download his sermon mp3s now. He is biblical but he has quite a unique preaching style – he almost mulls or meditates over each passage as he preaches it. Have you ever come across him? If I understand it correctly, his father was quite a famous Welsh preacher too with links to Lloyd-Jones.

    1. Yes, Dewi Higham is great. He has a very different preaching style from Pastor David but both are very faithful to the Bible. Pastor David is a clear cut expositor of doctrine whereas Dewi us more meditative as you righty note.

      IMHO Dewi is the best pastor in Wales today.

      His father’s name was Vernon Higham and he spent many years as a pastor in Cardiff with links to Lloyd Jones. There is a web archive of Vernon Higham’s sermons available online as MP3 files for free download.

  5. O! Iesu mawr, rho d’anian bur
    I eiddil gwan mewn anial dir,
    I’w nerthu drwy’r holl rwystrau sy
    Ar ddyrys daith i’r Ganaan fry.

    Those are the words of the first verse of the Welsh hymn, ‘Llef’. Stirring stuff.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uh0cD8siSRY
    If you follow that link it takes you to one of the hymns sung on a LP record produced in 1969. It is ‘Gymanfa Ganu’. A Gymanfa Ganu is a festival of sacred hymns. This one is, perhaps, the most famous one of all. It includes the newly-created Prince of Wales speaking in Welsh. (I still have that record.)
    For some reason you will only find ‘Llef’ from this album on YouTube but other rousing Welsh hymns include
    “Tydi a Roddaist”
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oCpY7vsaFPc
    and Calon Lan
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZfWiDA9_ch0

    I studied at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth from 1965 to 1968. While in Aberystwyth I became aware of the many chapels of the various Non-Conformist denominations. One striking difference was between those which worshipped in English and those which worshipped in Welsh. Aberystwyth is in ‘Welsh Wales’, so called because of the large number of Welsh-speakers in the area – in contrast to ‘the Valleys’ (South East Wales) where very few Welsh-speakers lived.
    On coming to Scotland in 1969 I was a bit bamboozled to discover that up here it was Catholics who went to ‘the Chapel’. I’ve never been able to discover the reason behind that Scottish usage.

  6. I was surprised and pleased to see the name Stuart Olyott, which I hadn’t come across for many years. He was one of a group of young people mentored by my parents at their church in Chester in the early 60s and often visited us when we children were very young. Good to know he is still going strong.

  7. I was made a Reader in England and even ran a Church Plant there. I am now a Reader in Pembrokeshire and my licence was transferred by the previous Bishop of St Davids, Bishop Wynn.

    In the transfer service I swore an oath before the Bishop and the entire congregation that I accepted Scripture as the primary authority (please note, not the secondary or tertiary – but primary authority).

    I will not break that oath and I am dismayed to find clergy all around the UK who seem to take an oath as being an irrelevance for which they seem to have sworn an oath with their fingers crossed. Simultaneously I am completely confused by the Bishops collectively in the Church in Wales and the governing body for worshipping secular society instead of Jesus Christ.

    To be a Christian means we follow Jesus Christ – no “ifs” or “buts” about it. So I am struggling, but I will stand firm and I would rather lose my licence than stop worshipping Jesus Christ.

  8. April 28th we will be in Pembroke. We are looking for a Presbyterian Church of Wales in that region to attend a service conducted in English. We are members of an orthodox Reformed Congregation in Rotterdam. Could you give us an advice where to go on Sunday in that region and at what time the service(s) will be held. Thanks in advance

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *