Thursday, March 25, 2010

Cardiff Churches 2: Roath Park Congregational Church

Many of the churches of Cardiff stand witness to the remarkable work of God in Cardiff and District between 1880 and the outbreak of the Great War. The fate which has overtaken a great number of these is a reminder of how the spiritual climate has changed since those heady days.

Roath Park Congregational Church was one such church. The church owed its existence to the efforts of John Gore, a member of Richmond Road Church, who began a work among the children of the Roath Park district in 1896. Following a ten day mission, Roath Park Congregational Church formally came into existence on 16 June 1897. The missioner, John Thomas, was called as the first minister, for a trial period, but left after three months when the church was unable to pay his stipend. The motto of the church at this time was 'thank God and take courage'.

The situation had improved somewhat by 1898, when the Revd Silas Charles, minister of the English Congregational Church at Ferndale, in the Rhondda, was called as minister. A tin church was erected at the end of Mackintosh Place, opposite the present buildings. The service was conducted by the Revd Urijah Thomas of Bristol, and presided over by D. A. Thomas, MP for Merthyr Boroughs, a generous benefactor of English Congregationalism in Wales.

In 1902, Silas Charles left the church for Chepstow, and was succeeded by W. Whittington of Griffithstown, who remained minister until 1912. Under his ministry, the church experienced a period of steady growth, leading to the construction of the church building (on the right of the photograph), which opened in March 1910. The speaker at the opening service was J. D. Jones of Bournemouth, who chose as his theme, 'Christianity and Socialism', an apposite subject, given the industrial unrest which was at that time blighting the mid-Rhondda coal mines (largely owned by D. A. Thomas, by that time MP for Cardiff). The building seated 650, and the tin hall remained in use by the Sunday School.

In 1913, R. E. Salmon of Porth was called to Roath Park, where he would remain until the 1950s. Under his ministry, the church experienced further growth, membership passing the 400 mark by 1920, apparently unaffected by the disruption of the Great War. The church was open every day, its busy programme including Scouts, Girl Guides and a drama group. Early arrival on Sunday was recommended in order to secure a seat. The building of a substantial hall next to the church in 1928 reflected the community-focused ethos of the church.

The Second World War was a challenge for the Church, which suffered some bomb damage. However, the church 'did its bit'. Again, young men from the church marched off to war, while the ladies mended kit for the soldiers from nearby Maindy Barracks.

A thorough refurbishment of the church took place after the war. In 1944the present pulpit, enclosure around the Lord's Table and front to the choir gallery were erected as a memorial to Sir William James Thomas, a liberal benefactor to the church. Renovations in 1950 saw the removal of the pinnacles on the roof of the tower and the rear of the organ loft.

The Revd Glanville Jones replaced Salmon in the mid 1950s. In his turn. he was succeeded by the Revs Bale, Forecast and Ploughman. The church continued to serve its community, focusing particularly on the young people of the district, albeit with declining congregations. In 1972, the church became Roath Park United Reformed Church, following the union between the English Presbyterian Church and the Congregational Church.

The 1990s saw major repairs to the church buildings and halls. With the financial strain this entailed, it was increasingly difficult to support a full time minister. On the retirement of Bob Banner, the Revd Alison Dummer took pastoral oversight of the Roath Park and Minster Road United Reformed churches.

It was only a step from this to the decision to merge the two churches, and in 2008 it was decided to sell the Roath Park buildings and consolidate the work on the Minister Road site, where the church shares space with the Wales Synod offices of the United Reformed Church.

And there the story of the Christian witness on the site could easily have ended, the Grade II listed buildings becoming a community centre or a mosque. However, the buildings were acquired by Tabernacle, a splinter group from Heath Evangelical Church, who have embarked on an ambitious programme of restoration. On 24 March, 2010, the centenary of the building was marked by a special service. Alison Dummer gave a short talk on the history of the building, to which part of this post is devoted, and Alun McNab of Great Bridgford preached on the sin of despising the word of God.

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