1880- Present Day
HISTORY OF CALVARY ENGLISH BAPTIST CHURCH, OGMORE VALE.
My sincerest thanks go to the late Mr. William Pope and Mr. George Richards who compiled and produced the history of our church from its origin to its Seventieth Anniversary Service on October 23rd 1950, to the anonymous compiler of our 100-year Commemoration Paper in 1977 and to the providers of the pictures used. Their writings comprise the bulk of this article. Some of the names from their writings have been retained as they may be of interest to friends and family who remain in the Valley. For a more extensive article please don’t hesitate to call. Finally, thank you to the Ogmore Valley Local History and Heritage Society for printing this article.
1880s - BEGINNINGS
The English cause of the Baptist Denomination in the Ogmore Valley started in 1877 with between twelve to fifteen members. It was a branch of the mother church, Bethlehem and was called Calvary English Baptist Church. The witness of the English Baptists began in two cottages on Llanharan hill, in High ST. Some of our founding members were Mr and Mrs David Rees (undertaker), Evan Kinsey, Henry Phillips, Thomas Jones (weighman), Thomas Rees, John Howe and wife, Richard Jones and wife, Charles Pevot and wife (who walked from Bryncethin), Mr Mitchell and William Edwards. Bert Williams was the first organist.
Having no building they started worshipping in the two bottom houses on the left-hand side of Llanharan Hill. They appointed a temporary pastor from Llantrisant, Mr. Hilton, who was an inspector on the GWR. At this period there was a large influx of miners from the Forest of Dean, into Ogmore Vale, among whom were several Baptists who joined the church. Thus with a membership of about thirty and a fairly large congregation, the temporary building became too small to hold the worshippers.
It was now necessary to find a site on which to build a church. After much discussion, the present site was the chosen spot, and the chapel was built in 1880 – 137 years ago. While the building was in course of construction, worship was held in the old Bethania Vestry.
Early in 1881 the church appointed Mr E. Aubrey as pastor, a student from Haverford West College. The membership more than doubled during his little over three years stay at Calvary. He married Miss Evans (Beehive) Nantymoel, and was the father of the Rev. M. E. Aubrey, who was the General Secretary of the Baptist Union of Great Britain and Ireland for several years.
At that time Mr James Williams (Forest of Dean) was appointed Manager of the Tynewydd Collieries. He and his family were ardent worshippers at Calvary, and proved a great asset to the church.
The Church of God is not for perfect people. It is for flawed people and flawed people sometimes squabble and fight. As Christians, we try to resolve our differences lovingly and amicably displaying forgiveness and patience as Jesus displays towards us. Calvary Ogmore has had its moments of tension too. At the end of 1881 Mr Aubrey called a special church meeting to consider the advisability of enlarging the building, but the church, at the recommendation of the Deacons, decided not to rebuild for a few years, and in 1882 Mr Aubrey tried again to induce the Deacons to reconsider the question but they were adamant. In 1883, they were so full, Mr Aubrey once more begged that something be done, but again the Deacons decided against enlarging. At this time, he received a call to Ton Pentre early in 1884, and much to Mr Aubrey’s and the church’s regret, he left Calvary.
ALL THINGS WORK FOR GOOD
In spite of our short comings, God promises to work all things for good for those who love him, says the Bible, and after a period of eighteen months without a pastor, Calvary appointed the Rev. W. J. John from Kenfig Hill, in 1885. Mr. John was a very able minister, and lots of people became Christians during his ministry. He delighted in singing and was also a very able Bard, his Bardic title being ‘Gwilym Cynfig’. Mr. Pope was one of the first three whom Mr John baptised.
During the ministries of the Rev. E Aubrey and the Rev. W J John the church was practically full every Sunday, and very often they had to borrow chairs to put along the aisle. Mr John left in 1886 and one his converts, Mr. Herbie Williams, went out to Punjab, North India, as a missionary. During Mr John’s pastorate, Mr Fred Pevot was elected organist, and Mr Lewis Kinsey Singing Conductor. Mrs David Rees was one of the Kinseys, and she was a beautiful singer and strangely enough she was a fine tenor; and Mr John often called upon her to help the tenors when they were few in number.
In 1865 Aber Coal Co. opened a drift mine at Ty-newydd, in the Ogmore valley, to work the No.3 Rhondda seam. Five miners were killed here in a localised underground explosion of May, 1887. In 1887, the Rev. W Bassett was appointed as pastor at Calvary. He was an excellent scholar, and a fairly good minister, although the church suffered a decline during his stay. He was pastor here when the Aber Explosion took place, and he took part (read and prayed) in the service at the graveside. A real church is not an ancient relic which has no contact with the real world. It is a community of Christians who actively serve and support people in their localities, especially in tragedies such as the Aber explosion.
In 1890, the church (although in rather a weak state financially and numerically) appointed Rev. W E Robinson. There were many additions during his little over two year’s ministry. He worked chiefly among the young people and formed a large Bible Class of young men. The average attendance of this Class was between fifteen and thirty.
I wish to pause here to make an appeal. In 2017 young people are the most entertained young generation ever. They have all the information in world on their mobile phones but yet, they are also the most bored and empty generation ever. The bible says that they’re made for more than gadgets and gizmos and to have a relationship with God is what they really need. At Calvary church we know the living God in Jesus and have a great sense of community together and all people, young and old are welcome.
1892-1899 - TIME TO BUILD
From 1892 until 1899 we were without a Pastor. In 1898 a special Church Meeting was called to consider moving the little mountain of earth and stone that was behind the Chapel. It was unanimously decided that it be done, so about twenty young men banded themselves together to do the work. We engaged carts to take the earth away, and walled the stones one side. We quarried enough stones from there to build the Vestry, as well as to build a large part of the road wall on one side of the road. In October 1899 Rev. W. D. Young became pastor and during his time the debt incurred on the building of the church, £180, was cleared. When he left, the church had £80 in hand.
EARLY 1900s – REVIVAL IN WALES.
In 1904 something very special happened in Wales. It had happened a handful of times before and has not happened since. The country experienced something called a Revival. Revival is when God visits his church in a particularly special and clear way and it causes people to fall deeply in love with him. Not only does it affect Christians in church but, in 1904, it resulted in over 150,000 new people becoming Christians and filling churches and chapels. It is said that “Whole communities were radically changed from depravity to glorious goodness. The crime rate in the country dropped, often to nothing. The police had little more to do than supervise the coming and going of the people to the chapel prayer meetings. The underground mines echoed with the sounds of prayer and hymns, instead of nasty jokes and gossip. People who had fallen out became friends again.”
The Revival had a significant impact on Ogmore Vale. Thousands of people had become Christians. By 1906 Mr J. W. Treharne of Pembrokeshire became pastor and during the first year he baptised several and drew large crowds to the services, so large, that at one time Calvary was too small to hold them, and the Sunday evening services were held in the Old Workmen’s Hall for a few months. Our church made nationwide appeals for funds to develop our building. The need was expressed in a booklet Calvary made and sent out to other churches. It serves as a stark reminder of how deeply steeped in Christianity our valley was. It reads: “At every meeting we are over-crowded, whilst many who would come are unable to find standing room…Our Sunday School again is held in the same building, with the result that one class interferes with another…the cost [for the new building] would be £2,300. The Chapel will seat 800.”
Interestingly, the records show that the church received a lot of proposed support but the building never materialised and we are not sure why.
POST REVIVAL YEARS; MINER’S STRIKE
After a period of three years without a Pastor we appointed Rev. D. J. Davies, Garnant, late of Ton Pentre, in 1912. Mr Davies left for Argoed in 1921. It was a very lean time in the history of the church, especially during the latter part of his ministry. Although the Sustentation Fund came into being in 1913, and helped us considerably, with the 1921 Miner’s strike and other things, the church suffered very badly indeed. We paid Mr Davies’s full salary during the strike; that, and other reasons, left us with a debt of over £400. That’s about £16,500 in 2017. In October 1923, during the ministry of Mr. Samuel Jones the debt was reduced from £400 to £300 and at the end of that period we held our Jubilee.
OGMORE VALLEY SINGING FESTIVALS
Singing Festivals were held annually on Easter Monday in turn at Blaengarw, Nantymoel, Pontycymmer and Ogmore Vale. As Calvary was too small to hold these Festivals we always borrowed Bethania for the purpose, holding lunches and teas in this building. Unfortunately, the attendances at the Festivals diminished during the late 1920s, and they were discontinued in about 1930 after being held by the four churches for at least twenty years.
1930s-1950s - MARRIAGES
From 1929 to 1947 we were without a pastor but our debt was cleared, and we also purchased the ground rent of the church. The Deacons were approached by our young people in 1936 to get a marriage licence for the church as they felt that it was in Calvary, where they were reared, that they would like to be married. So early in that year a licence was obtained, and the first marriage was solemnised on March 1st 1936. The first four married couples were – Lewis Lewis and Margret Pope, John Davies and Clarice Lloyd, Bryn Reed and Dill Pope and Oliver Morgan and May Palfreman.
Women have always enriched the life of Calvary church with their godliness, faithfulness and gentleness. May I name a few from the past – Mrs Palfreman (mother of brother Alf Palfreman), Mrs Evans (Washington), old Mrs Darby, Mrs Waters, Mrs Mark Hole, Mrs Wilkinson (wife of A. Wilkinson), Mrs Reed, Mrs Coombes (Fronwen), and that very remarkable woman Mrs John Milton, who, while the rest of the church slept on Sunday morning, would be writing texts and verses on the road at the Workman’s Hall Square – big bold hand writing to catch the eye of the passers-by.
It was once said by a pastor that at church “all of the best men are women”. In 2017, faithful women still comprise the backbone of the church and of the other valley churches too. They’re prayer warriors and hard workers and we thank God for them. It can be argued that many men in the valley are in a prolonged state of adolescence, often lacking in responsibility and that it would benefit the valley if they took a more active role in their communities, families and jobs.
POST WORLD WAR II
Rev. Arthur Harris was appointed pastor in 1947 and his godly, warm character, his preaching and teaching abilities, and his wife and children are still fondly remembered today.
1960s-1970s - BREAKING AWAY FROM THE BAPTIST UNION
These decades proved to be a seminal period of our history. Many churches in the UK broke away from their parent associations; the Baptist Union, Presbyterian Church of Wales and Congregational Union. They did so for many reasons but chiefly because of the associations’ affiliation with the “World Council of Churches.” The WCC is an ecumenical, global fellowship of churches which seeks to officially unite Protestant and Catholic churches under a “Christian” umbrella. However, it’s arguable that this “unity” comes at the expense of biblical and doctrinal agreement on one of the bible’s key teaching; namely, how someone becomes a Christian.
In 1969, during Mr. Harris’s pastorate, the church officially cut its ties with the Baptist Union and became an Independent Baptist Church. Independent churches came under fire for their secession which appeared “divisive” but they carried on with the conviction that their interpretation of the Bible was correct. They believed unity at the expense of truth was no unity at all, it was only uniformity. Furthermore, they believed that breaking away was the loving thing to do because it would harm and confuse people to unite with churches that were teaching conflicting messages.
While Calvary church warmly extended welcome, love and peace to all people from any background or religion they felt they couldn’t officially unite with them. It’s worth mentioning that the Bible commands Christians not to unite theologically with people we judge to be veering from core Christian teaching. Here are some verses: John 7:24, 1 Cor 2:15, 1 Cor 5 (esp v12), Rom 16:17, Gal 2v4-5, Matt 18:17, 2 Thess 3:6, 2 Tim 3:5, 2 John 10-11, Rev 2:14-16.
On May 15th , 1977 we held a special service to commemorate 100 years. The preacher was Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, of London, who was the most “famous” preacher in the UK at the time and who had supported Calvary’s decision to secede from the Baptist Union.
END OF AN ERA AND NEW BEGINNINGS
Rev. A. Harris pastored Calvary for 23 years. His excellent spiritual ministry was often interrupted by poor health and this ultimately forced his retirement in 1970. He entered into the presence of His Lord in 1974 and Rev. D. Ian. Childs was inducted in 1972. Although still small in terms of membership, the church supported the ministry without any outside help. During this time the church provided facilities for travelling from Lewis Town both for services and Sunday School.
1985 TO PRESENT DAY
In 1985 the church appointed Rev. Brian Nott and he, his wife Ann and his family served the Lord here until his retirement in 2012. Mr. Nott, like all the pastors before him, spent his pastorate telling people that Jesus Christ is Lord and can save sinners. The Notts continue to put others before themselves; helping people in the valley who are need. Along with the hard work of faithful stalwarts like the late Mair Humphreys, John and Tricia Lewis, the late Ray and Mary Smith and many others, the church remained a significant part of the life of the valley.
Since 2012 Owen Batstone serves as pastor of the church and lives in the village with his wife, Rita and two children. Calvary currently reaches a significant amount of people with the good news that guilty and flawed people can have peace with God and that he can fix their broken lives. There’s two services on Sunday, Parent and Toddlers on Tuesday, Bible Study and Prayer Meeting on Wednesday and Youth Clubs on Thursday. There are special events through the year like Macmillan coffee mornings, charity events, Alzheimer’s Awareness classes, Parenting classes, Carol services, quiz nights and visits to the poor and needy. We are also undergoing grant applications for a disabled access ramp, though we are not having much success with it.
I would urge the readers to reflect on how rich a Christian heritage this valley has been blessed with over the centuries. Over Calvary’s 130 years many served the church who are now with their Lord, and others are scattered here on earth – many of them your friends and families - living happy lives for their Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. I would press the readers to think the absolute joy that can be had in knowing God and being part of local churches. We are no longer a chapel-going culture; we know very little about Christianity compared to a generation ago. But our thirst for something deeper than the things of this world can’t be suppressed. We are each made for a relationship with God and nothing will fulfil us until we find him. And to that end, Calvary church is open and ready to receive any and every one with the love of God, and we pray that people who are lost, lonely, happy, sad, rich or poor will join us.