Monday, March 30, 2009

Two Graves

Most people do not spend a lot of time hanging around graveyards, and probably have a bad opinion of those who do - which is really not fair, as graveyards can be fascinating. The inscriptions on graves tell us something about the religious beliefs of the population, and in Wales the language can tell us when a particular church or chapel moved from using Welsh in its services to using English. This morning, on my bike, I rode out to the small village of Talygarn. Talygarn is really an estate village associated with the mansion of Taylgarn manor. The parish Church of St. Anne started life as a proprietary chapel associated with the manor house, with the present church having replaced the orginal chapel, which now stands in ruins close to the present church building.

In the churchyard I found two gravestones with rather different inscriptions. The first was this one:

The inscription reads:

In Memory of Thomas, son of John and Sarah Evans of this Parish, who died Nov 16 1873, aged 18 years.

"My Jesus Beckons me away,
The glorious signal's given;
My blood bought spirit leaves its clay,
Friends follow me to heaven."

The second grave is this one:

It reads:

Henry Heke, Llanerch Farm, Pontyclun, who died March 25th 1907 aged 79 Years

"A sudden chance I in a moment fell,

I had not time to bid my friends farewell,
Think this not strange - Death happens unto all;
To day we live, tomorrow we may fall."

While both inscriptions follow a similar pattern, even with poetry, the nature of the poems are quite different. One is decidedly Christian, the other is not. I leave the consclusion to the reader.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Every Picture Tells a Story


Monday, March 23, 2009

Lisvane Baptist Chapel

The Baptist Church at Lisvane, outside Cardiff, dates from the final decades of the nineteenth century. In the 1780s, the church met in the house of Henry Rees, Tai Mawr, purchasing Fairoak farm, on the outskirts of the village, in 1789. The first chapel was built on the site in 1792, being rebuilt in 1818 and 1856. In 2003, the church moved to new premises in the village of Lisvane, and the chapel was sold for conversion to a private house. Sadly, on the Church homepage, there is little attention paid to this beautiful little chapel. The church seems to be charismatic and 'modern' without a thought for those who have gone before: I'm sure the church is wonderful, but it still feels as though something has been lost.

And those who have gone before have been left behind in a very tangilble way. The burial ground by the chapel is full of monuments to past members and their families. The stone to the Rev. David Edwards and his family gives his bardic name, 'Dewi Isan', indicating a literary, as well as religious interest. The gravestone is part Welsh, part English. With the datestone above the door, this shows that at one time the church worshipped in Welsh, although now they do so in English, the language changing as the language of the people changed. The son died aged only 5, a reminder of the high mortality of those days, as well as the griefs to which no-one in this life is immune.

The other gravestone pictured here represents the ordinary chapel member. Frederick Williams was the innkeeper at the Black Griffin Inn, opposite the church, in the village centre, a significant occupation for a chapel member in 1910, when many Baptists would have been teetotal, or at least professed teetotalism! More poigniant is the the second name, 'Arthur Llewelyn Williams, Gunner RFA/ Dearly Loved and only son of the above/ who fell in action at Poix du Nord France/ Novr 4th 1918, aged 20 years'. To have almost survived the Great War, dying in its last days, is truly tragic.
The last name is that of Jane Williams, the mother of Arthur Llewelyn, and widow of Frederick. She died in 1936, having buried the two men dearest to her.
The glory of the chapel is the most uncompromising statement of Baptist witness. The baptistry is located out door, behind the chapel. As the chapel faces away from the road between Lisvane and Rudry, however, Baptisms must have been visible from the road. The image of hardy Welsh men and women stepping down into the waters of Baptism, visible to any passer-by, is an inspiring one. And, on a beautiful spring day, not unappealing.

Now, however, the chapel is a house, and the visitor cannot linger for long without feeling that they do not belong here, even if the route is a public footpath. The job of the church is not to preserve history, but this building and its grounds are more than just history. They are a public witness to the lives and beliefs of generations of God's people. A few, ordinary members of that 'great cloud of witnesses'. The building is not large, and might have been preserved as a heritage centre, allowing the church to meet nearer to the centre of the village. One cannot help feeling that a chance was lost here.


Friday, March 20, 2009

Preaching this Coming Lord's Day

God willing, this coming Lord's Day I shall be preaching at New Life Bible-Presbyterian Church, Queen's Park, London. The morning service is at 11.00 and the evening service (we have agreed that it is evening) is at 4.00. There is a fellowship meal between the two services, and lots of food for visitors.
The building was originally St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Kilburn. Built to serve the Scots population in the Queen's Park area, the original building was a hall-church set back from the road. It still exists today, having been demoted to the status of a hall when the present sanctuary was constructed on the front of it in 1910. The handsome Gothic chapel is constructed in good Scots Presbyterian style, centred on an impressive pulpit, with a gallery at the rear of the sanctuary, and a rather splendid pipe organ behind the pulpit. It still works, and it sounds good as well.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Book Review: 'Scottish Puritans'

The history of the Scottish Church is full of inspiring stories and men and women of faith who have lived for God. Many volumes have been published on the history of the Church in Scotland. The seventeenth century, in particular, was an era of suffering and persecution. These volumes, Scottish Puritans: Select Biographies, edited by W.K. Tweedie, are reprinted from the Victorian edition of the Wodrow Society. They tell the stories of men and women who suffered for Christ, from the famous to the obscure, from John Weslsh, son-in-law to John Knox, to the labourer John Stevenson. These are excellent works, mostly written in their own words. Sadly, as the introduction says, some of those that are second-hand accounts are less than accurate. In particular, the first part of Vol. 1, the life of John Welsh, contains a great deal of apocryphal information, and must be read with caution. The autobiographical material is, of course, much more valuable, and this predominates. One complaint that might be made is that the material is partly in Scots dialect ('whilk' for 'which', for example), and seventeenth century spelling has not been corrected ('tyme' for 'time', for example). Read out loud, the strange spellings often become clear, and in context they are more easily understood. This increases the amount of work a reader has to put in, and to a modern reader the necessity of this is not obvious, except that the volumes were originally published for antiquarians more than for the general public. While appreciating that an entirely new edition would have taken more time and cost than a reprint of the Victorian edition, I think that it might also have increased circulation, though I hasten to add that only a minority of the writings in these volumes are in achaic spelling and Scots dialect.

As a miscellany of biography, the contents are of course of a rather mixed character. Nevertheless, they are valuable works, and works that so often speak of an experimental religion that very few of us can say is our experience. In volume two the spiritual autbiography of Fraser of Brea is reprinted. This work alone is worth the price of these volumes! It seems from these volumes that the persecuted Covenanters of the seventeenth century were given the greatest experiences of Christ's love to bear them up. These two volumes are highly recommended, and worth the work needed in some places.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Preaching this Coming Lord's Day

God willing, I shall be preaching this coming Lord's Day at our evening service at Tabor Baptist Church, Llantrisant. The service will be at 6.00 PM, and it will be held in Caerlan Hall, across the road from the chapel. Obviously the photograph shows the hall back in February, when we had heavy snow here.


Friday, March 06, 2009

Preaching This Coming Lord's Day

God willing, this coming Lord's day I shall be preaching once more at New Life Bible Presbyterian Church, Queen's park, London. Services are at 11.00 AM and 4.00 PM. All are welcome at both services, and at the meal between them.


Wednesday, March 04, 2009

'I Climb the Rainbow Through the Rain'. George Matheson -XXIII

The St. Bernard's years were years of great literary productivity. In addition to the major works that have already been referred to, Matheson published many other books during this time, not to mention numerous articles in magazines and periodicals. Among the books he wrote were The Distinctive Messages of the Old Religions, in which he explored the differences between Christianity and the world religions, and The Lady Ecclesia, an allegory in which he sought to explore the development of Christian experience. Another book of meditations, Words by the Wayside, and Sidelights from Patmos were also published. The latter book, as the titles suggests, was not an exposition of the Revelation, but a series of chapters in which the Revelation was made to speak to the modern world. Matheson stated the aim of the book thus:
"I believe the design of John in Patmos was to state the principles which would
regulate the good time coming. He wishes to indicate what in any world would be
to him the consummation of happiness. He does so sometimes in sober language,
sometimes in allegoric symbols. I have made a few selections both from the sober
language and from the allegoric symbols, with a view of testing the adaptation
of the picture to our modern ideas of optimism. The other question I wish to
consider in these, otherwise disconnected, chapters is, whether St. John's ideal
is still our ideal." (Quoted in Macmillan, George Matheson [New York,
1908] Pp. 285-6)

George Matheson lived, while pastor of St. Bernard's, in a house in St. Bernard's Crescent. As the picture above shows, St. Bernard's Cresent is an elegant example of Georgian architecture, reputedly designed by the painter Sir Henry Raeburn, at the suggestion of Sir David Wilkie. The street looks pretty much the same today, but of course with the ubiquitous parked cars lining the pavements. By the time George Matheson came to live there, the district was looking run-down, and his study looked out onto a slum. The house was, however, in the centre of his parish, and close to his church, and therefore most suitable for him. He shared the house with his sister, who was, in modern language, his 'carer', and who did those things that the blind minister could not. Matheson never married, so that his sister took the role usually played in a congregation by the pastor's wife. The other vital member of Matheson's household was his secretary. He had a succession of young men who worked in this capacity. It was the task of these men to read his letters, and the morning papers to him every morning, and then to assist him in the study by reading to him the books that a minister needs to study.
Four years after coming to St. Bernard's, Dr. Matheson learned to read and to write Braille. Before this, all his reading had been in the form of his secretary or sister reading aloud to him, and all of his books had been dictated. Alone, all he could do was to meditate on what was in his capacious memory. Braille writing was something he found a great deal of delight in, though his secretaries, who had to 'translate' the Braille into English letters, were not so happy, as Matheson did not exactle write genuine Braille, but his own modification of the system. The purpose of his Braille writings were mostly private, but his secretaries had to read the notes that he wrote in the script - and that took time for them to learn. The mechanical typewriter was another aid to writing that he acquired in these later years. Technology is not a bad thing, it too can be a blessing from God. Both Braille and typewriter gave Dr. Matheson a degree of independence in writing that he must have revelled in.
God willing, next time we shall continue with Dr. Matheson.