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 Levy, 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 hard 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 will 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.