The anniversary of the Welsh-language evangelical church in Aberystwyth
In June 1967, four men came together in Aberystwyth to pray for guidance. Three of them – Ieuan Jones, John Ifor Jones, and William Morgan – attended different chapels in the area but were increasingly uneasy because the Word of God was not being preached there. The other man was Gordon Macdonald, a native of Bebington and now a Welsh Wesleyan Methodist minister at Comins Coch, near Machynlleth.
Gordon found himself in a particularly difficult dilemma. Contrary to the teachings of his denomination, he had come to believe that salvation proceeds from God’s sovereign grace rather than from a sinner’s ‘free will’ and that the New Testament teaches believers’ baptism. However, he was expected to receive young people into full membership of the church even though he (and they) knew full well that they had no saving faith in Jesus Christ. Added to this, he was grieved that the biblical teaching on basic questions such as ‘What is a Christian?’ and ‘What is a church?’ was being ignored in the pursuit of unity.
Eventually, Gordon came to the conviction that the correct response to the theological and moral error within the church was to separate from it. This was not a mere negative reaction, indeed in October 1966, Martyn Lloyd-Jones had issued a powerful call to evangelicals to come together in positive cooperation.
Since 1964 a Welsh-language evangelical ‘seiat’ had been meeting at the home of Bobi and Beti Jones in Aberystwyth and Gordon was asked to lead it and set up similar groups. It was a natural step for him to move to the Aberystwyth area, but where would he and his family worship on Sundays?
Founding a church
This was the background to the meeting in June 1967. Independently of one another, the four men and their wives were in a predicament concerning their relationship with their denominations. They therefore prayed for divine guidance. At the end of the meeting, the four were in full agreement that it was God’s will that they should establish a non-denominational Welsh-language evangelical church, with Gordon as minister. The first services of Eglwys Efengylaidd Aberystwyth were held on Sunday, 1 October 1967, in the YWCA building on North Parade.
This was a landmark event in twentieth-century Welsh-language evangelicalism. The new church – the first of its kind – attracted critical press comments and marked hostility from some ministers. But on a more positive note, Keith and Rhiain Lewis moved to Aberystwyth in the summer of 1967 and joined the congregation. Gradually the church grew. There was a spiritual awakening among some of the Welsh students at the university, with a corresponding increase in the number of worshippers. By 1974 the YWCA had become too small, so the church moved to the Urdd building on Llanbadarn Road.
Although Gordon experienced periods of illness, he was able to minister faithfully until his retirement in 1997 – thirty years after the founding of the church. It is impossible to measure the church’s debt to him and his wife, Rina.
Ifan Mason Davies was invited to fill the gap left by Gordon (although Gordon and Rina remained members of the congregation). Ifan had spent the years 1977–86 assisting Gordon before becoming a minister in Cardigan. He took up his new responsibilities at Aberystwyth in 1997.
In 2001 the Urdd decided to sell its building, and the church moved to Saron Chapel, Llanbadarn Fawr, with the kind cooperation of the congregation already meeting there. When he reached retirement age in 2005, Ifan announced that he wished to step aside to devote more time to evangelistic work (although he and his wife Anne again remained in the congregation). Derrick Adams, then minister of Capel Fron, Penrhyndeudraeth, was invited to take his place and in 2007 he moved to Aberystwyth with his wife Llio and their family.
‘In season, out of season’
While remaining non-denominational, the church has enjoyed healthy links with other congregations both within and outside the denominations and has sought to encourage evangelical preachers in all kinds of different situations.
Over the years it has also held and supported a wide range of activities:
- local ‘seiadau’
- evangelistic witness in fairs and shows
- services in old people’s homes
- meetings for children and young people
- evangelistic suppers and barbecues
- opportunities for those learning Welsh.
From the outset, it has also been keen to encourage missionary endeavours of all kinds. Within Wales, it has contributed to the witness in the National Eisteddfod, the evangelistic trailer and UCCF as well as supporting those working in other lands (including at present a member of the church and another who was a student here).
There has been a particularly valuable relationship with generations of students, some of whom have stayed on in Aberystwyth contributing to the life of the congregation. Moreover, the church has also sought to be a spiritual nursery to students (including some who have gone into the ministry) by preparing them for Christ’s service in other places.
Yesterday, today, tomorrow
In common with all other churches, there have been ups and downs during the last fifty years. A number of the ‘building blocks’ of the early days have since died – including Gordon in March this year – and others are feeling the burden of age. Many of the church’s young people have had to leave the area to find work. And while an encouraging number have come to faith in Christ over the years, there have been no large-scale conversions.
Fifty years on, there is certainly no room for triumphalism or complacency. As a recent poster outside the church declared, ‘Sinners worship here’. But they are sinners saved by God’s grace, and they seek to bear witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ to bring others to a living faith in him.
Like the founders, they have the conviction that God’s Word should be believed, preached and applied in all its fullness. This was a brave stance to take in Welsh-language religious circles in 1967, and it remains of key significance today
On the church’s twenty-fifth birthday, a plate inscribed with the following words in Welsh was presented to Gordon and Rina: ‘Hitherto has the Lord helped us’ (1 Samuel 7:12). As the church gives thanks now for the last fifty years, we trust that the Lord will grant his help and blessing again in days to come.