Thursday, March 01, 2007

John Pugh V: Pontypridd

Even at 35, there was something of the pioneer, the railway contractor about John Pugh. Once the work at Tredegar was established, he moved on to yet another new cause, this time the English church at Pontypridd, a rougher town than Tredegar, in the heart of the Welsh coalfield.

The English cause at Pontypridd had been started in 1878, but no chapel had been built. The church met in a school-room seating 300 people. Like the church at Tredegar, they were 'at ease in Zion.' Again, Pugh showed no desire to follow their example, but instead took the fight to the territory of the enemy.

This time the venue for open-air preaching was 'The Tumble,' a square in the town surrounded by public houses. It was rough, tough and dangerous. It was also the perfect place to find sinners. Pugh told his church that he would prech there at seven o'clock on a Saturday. This time, no-one turned up to assist him.

Many men would have taken this as the signal to scuttle away, resolving to berate their congregation the next day, but not John Pugh; instead, the big man approached a gang of miners who were coming out of a pub, eagerly discussing a forthcoming fight and spoke directly to them:

"Men," he declared, "I purpose preaching on this spot this evening, but I don't see any saints about here to stand about me, only some poor sinners like myself - for I once belonged to your school - but I have given up knocking men about. I have taken to fighting the devil and his imps. Will you stand by me, for I am a stranger here?"

Taken aback by this unconventional approach, the men agreed, forming a ring around the preacher. At the end of the open air service, this little congregation were so impressed that they agreed to attend a service the following Sunday. And that was only the start, for the open-air work went from strength to strength. The inn-keepers saw so much business lost that they hired first a town-crier, then a brass band to drown out the preacher. But it was to no avail, everything they did could not hold back the Word of God.

Within two years, Pugh's ministry had borne such fruit that the church had to build a chapel at last. St. David's Pontypridd (pictured below) was a monument to the enthusiasm of Pugh and of the blessing of God.

In 1884, Pugh organised a conference at this church to discuss the best means of reaching the increasing numbers of English-speakers moving into Wales. Pugh worried that the Welsh-speaking Calvinistic Methodist church was neglecting these people, and was anxious to win them for Christ, to meet these people on their own ground, to go out to them, not wait for them to come into the chapels. Among the men Pugh recruited to aid this project were Edward Davies, son of the coal-owner David Davies, and Thomas Charles Edwards, now a respected scholar and academic, author of an English-language commentary on 1 Corinthians.

In short, the work at Pontypridd was thriving. so perhaps it is no surprise that Pugh had begun to consider moving on to a new work. This time, he was seriously considering moving out of Wales.

We shall consider this in due course, but tomorrow's post will address a subject dear to Pugh's heart: Gospel Temperance.



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