Friday, July 24, 2009

Coleg Trefeca

Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit Coleg Trefeca in Breconshire. Coleg Trefeca, known in English as Trefeca Colleg, was for many years a training college of the Calvinistic Methodists. Today it is the lay training centre of the Presbyterian Church of Wales.Coleg Trefeca is located in the buildings formerly occupied by Howell Harris and his Trefeca 'family', a sort of Christian community who were practically self-sufficient. The 'family' built the structures seen here, although they have been somewhat modified in the course of the 19th century.The building today has two wings flanking the central entrance. Originally the wing in this picture was a tower, but the upper floor has been removed.The further wing is still more or less as it was built, with the original Georgian 'Gothick' windows.The back of the college is built on to Howell Harris' house, in which many of the leaders of the Great Awakening in the 18th century stayed.Now the warden's house, the details on Howell Harris' house are neo-classical, not Gothick. The elegant house speaks of Harris' social standing by the end of his life.More of Harris' house, and the college. It is a beautiful location to study, as well as a pleasant place for a home.There is a small Howell Harris museum in the college buildings. Among other things, it contains Howell Harris' pulpit. Its rather unusual appearance is due to the fact that it was made of re-used 16th or 15th century timber, probably discarded during renovations at a Church. This is a portable pulpit made from iron and wood. George Whitefield preached from it at the opening of the Countess of Huntingdon's College at Trefeca, which was just down the road from Harris' house.
This is the monument for Harris that used to stand in the now-demolished Memorial Chapel on the site. Harris was God's instrument in revival, a preacher of the Gospel. But Harris would point up upwards to his God.
Coleg Trefeca is available for hire to Church and other Christian groups, and also offers bed-and-breakfast at a very reasonable rate for Christians visiting the area.

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Friday, July 17, 2009

Preaching this Coming Lord's Day

God willing, this coming Lord's Day I shall be preaching at Bethel Evangelical Church, Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent. Bethel is an historic Evangelical Church that stands on the historic Reformed Faith. Services are at 10.30 in the morning and 6.30 in the evening. Further details, including details of other meetings, can be found on the Church website.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Ichabod in Blaengarw

The South Wales valleys were deeply affected by the revival of 1904, as we have already seen in the chapel photographs from Maesteg. The next valley to the Lynfi valley in which Maesteg sits is the Garw valley. Blaengarw is at the top of the valley. It has a number of impressive chapels - but oh, what a state of desolation they present to the modern visitor!
The first place of worship in Blaengarw was Tabernacle Calvinistic Methodist Church. Not the chapel in the background, but the building now occupied by 'Shear Artistry' hairdressers. Built in 1885, it was later turned into a Sunday school when a larger chapel was needed.

This stone tells us that old Tabernacle was indeed the earliest place of worship in Blaengarw.

The old Tabernacle soon grew too small for the needs of the Church, and it was replaced in 1891 with this elegant chapel. It too has closed.

The language of worship at Tabernacle was Welsh, this was one of the strengths of the old Calvinistic Methodists, they spoke the language of the people. But with an influx of English-speakers, it was necessary in 1904 to build an English chapel in Blaengarw. This was Mount Zion, built in the latest style, Gothic with Art Nouveau undertones.

Mount Zion too is now shockingly derelict, its elegant staircase has collapsed, and the building is now unsafe.
The Baptists too shared in the blessings of the revival, so that in 1912 they built, also in the Gothic style with Art Nouveau undertones, Bethania Welsh Baptist Chapel was undoubtedly the grandest building in Blaengarw when it was opened. In some respects it still is!This amazing piece of Edwardian architecture, that would not look out of place in a city, is now derelict! It has been left to fall into ruin, while it is surely an important part of the Welsh architectural heritage!Even the modest Anglican Church of St James has not been left untouched. With increased mobility and decreasing congregations, it was closed in 2004, having served the village since 1890.
And finally, this is all that remains of Nebo Welsh Independent Church, Blaengarw. And of Trinity English Calvinistic Methodist there remains neither stock nor stone. Truly Ichabod can be written here, the glory has departed.
Some more (out of date) information on Garw Valley churches is here. The URC in Pontycymmerhas closed since this page was last updated, and is sadly derelict. The closed chapels have become even more derelict.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Cathedral of Maesteg

That's what the locals call St. Michael's Church, Maesteg. Of course, that only means that it is the most impressive Anglican Church in Maesteg, but there you go. The High Victorian church is built of local stone, and its tower ensures that it is a very real presence in the town. It also shows something of the rivalry between 'Church' and 'Chapel'
This is St. David's, the original Parish Church in Maesteg. Small, quite typical for the area, and not at all exciting. Although located in the centre of town, by the marketplace, it is a low-built structure that is really quite humble. With all these impressive chapels around (though most of the chapels around when St. Michael's was built have since been replaced by larger and even more impressive buildings), it says of the Church of Wales (as it was then), "we're really rather irrelevant." So what's a Church to do? Well, with the town growing, what better time to build a new Church, really large and impressive, to out-do the Nonconformists! And here it is...
The Church of St. Michael and all Angels! It is decidedly an Anglican Church, not a chapel, and it is built in the Early English style, with lancet windows. While the Decorated was more popular, the simplicity of the Early English often makes buildings in this style more impressive. Like most Victorian churches in the Early English style, St. Michael's impresses by its simplicity of form, and its massiveness.
The west front of the Church contains the main entrance, with five lancets of equal size lighting the west end of the building. Above them is a statue of St. Michael. The Early English is also the style of St. David's, so St. Michael's suggests a sense historic continuity.

When I visited the Church was being decorated for a wedding, so I was able to get inside. The internal dimensions are impressive, with a large nave and separate choir and chancel arches (most Anglican churches have just a chancel arch). As the Latin over the chancel arch, and the presence of a high altar indicates, St. Michael's is Anglo-Catholic, it even has a set of modern wood-sculpted stations of the cross around the walls of the nave.

There are some other Maesteg pictures that may come if I feel they are worth while.

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Friday, July 10, 2009

Some Chapels in Maesteg

Today's post is a series of pictures of nonconformist chapels from the town of Maesteg, Bridgend County. This is a small valley town, yet these are not all the Churches in Maesteg (there are also two Anglican Churches and a Roman Catholic Church, plus other chapels). First up is Zion English Baptist Chapel, built in 1884, a very simple stone building with no real decoration on the facade.
This is Central Church, Maesteg, occupied by Baptists, Methodists and URC. It was built in 1847 as Bethel English Baptist Church, and enlarged in 1859. It was renovated in 1947.
Peniel Evangelical Church, Maesteg, has 'Tabernacle' written on the building. An old-fashioned Welsh Baptist Chapel, with the date 1856 on the facade. I have met the pastor of this church, and he seems a good sort.
Maesteg seems to have been a centre of the Welsh Independents. This is Carmel Chapel, one of the few Welsh Independent Chapels in Maesteg still open. It has a rather nice early 20th century facade.
And this is Canaan Independent Chapel, built in 1903. The architecture is still pretty typical.
Tabor Calvinistic Methodist Church has closed and been converted into flats. It was built in 1907, no doubt in part to contain the converts from the Welsh Revival. In the latest style as well.
This is the Victorian Zoar Independent Chapel, now owned by a funeral director. Zoar means 'small', but this chapel is anything but!
This was Bethlehem Calvinstic Methodist Chapel. The Calvinistic Methodists were effectively the alternative Establishment in Wales, yet not one CM Chapel remains open in Masteg! And finally we have the gem of Maesteg, Bethania Independent Chapel, designed by local architect William Beddoe Rees and built in 1908. The last hurrah of the Nonconformists, the building seems today to be far too big.
These chapels are the results of revival. They are mostly closed now, and only revival can re-open them and fill them.

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Monday, July 06, 2009

The History of a Historian - A.R. MacEwen. VIII

When we last saw MacEwen, he was faced with the choice between a pastorate in London, in Glasgow, or in the rural spa town of Moffat in the Borders. MacEwen took the sensible route and accepted the call from the smaller, rural town, deciding that it would be best to get a start in the ministry in Moffat, where the pace of life was slower, rather than in the bustling idustrial city of Glasgow, or the Imperial capital of London.

Moffat is a beautiful little town even today, located at the foot of the great rampart of hills in which the river Tweed rises. When A.R. MacEwen came to the little United Presbyterian Church in the town, the permanent population of Moffat was about two thousand, although in the summer, then as now, tourists swelled the population! The Spa, which had operated for nearly 200 years, meant that the town was well supplied with hotels and boarding-houses. With the growth of tourism, the various denominations made every effort to supply places of worship that could accommodate the tourists in the summer - often leading to buildings that were half-empty the rest of the year.
The Moffat United Presbyterian Church had an attractive building, and one of the attractions for MacEwen as a young pastor must have been what the history of the United Presbterians calls the "stately manse." Better still, though, was the friendly rural congregation who welcomed their new pastor enthusiastically and pulled wholeheartedly behind him.
The ordination took place on a misty December day, when there were no visitors to the town, and the moors high above seemed particularly bleak and gloomy. A large company of those who knew the young ordinand gathered to ask God's blessing on his ministry. But as we all know, an ordination is only a beginning. The real test was just starting - and MacEwen must have known that when he decided that Moffat was the place where his ministry ought to begin.
Despite the huge difference between the city in which he had been brought up and the town in which he now found himself, MacEwen threw himself into the work of a country pastor with all his thoroughness. He was a devoted visitor of his people, as he sought to understand the people among whom God had placed him. There was nothing stuffy or stand-offish about him. On the other hand his family connections and university reputation attracted visitors in the summer. In those days when Sunday-School and Bible-Class did not take place at the same time as the services, he surprised people by actually taking an active share in these parts of the Church's work! He was an athletic young man, and like the stereotypical 19th century 'varsity man, a good all-rounder, even a good boxer, a skill that had been of great help when he was attacked by a gang of thugs in Berlin and been forced to fight his way out - leaving two of the thugs stunned on the gound.
As the manse was too large for a batchelor living alone, MacEwen invited his youngest sister - who was unmarried at the time - to live with him. They would often be seen riding together among the hills around Moffat. While he kept up interests outside the Church, his main focus was the small country congregation - small in Glasgow terms, anyhow, for there were Church buildings in Glasgow that could have easily accommodated the entire population of Moffat!
God willing, next time we shall continue to see MacEwen in his first pastorate at Moffat.