8 April 2024

Podcast: History of the Church in Wales

This article is part of the Affinity Talks Gospel Podcast series.

In this episode of Affinity Talks Gospel, we explore Welsh Christianity with Jonathan Thomas, covering historical influences, Welsh language development, revivals, and shifts in the religious landscape towards unity and encountering God’s power.

Hosts Graham Nicholls and Lizzie Harewood, are joined by Jonathan Thomas, a minister from Wales. Jonathan takes us on a captivating journey through the rich history of Welsh Christianity, spanning from Roman times to the Age of the Saints. We explore the influence of Normans on Welsh Christianity, the role of education, and the impact of pivotal figures like Saint David.

Our discussion delves into the development of the Welsh language, the influence of revivals, and the tensions between Welsh and non-Welsh Christians. Despite challenges faced by mainline denominations, there are signs of growth in independent churches, signalling a shift in the Welsh religious landscape. Throughout our dialogue, we emphasise the themes of unity, spiritual hunger, and the transformative power of encountering God, reflecting on the enduring narrative of faith and revival in Wales.

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Topics addressed in this Podcast:

  • The Importance of Church History
  • The Beginning of the Church in Wales
  • Misconceptions about Celtic Christianity
  • Influence of the Normans on the Church in Wales
  • Impact of Translation of the Bible into Welsh
  • The Welsh Revival of 1735
  • Chapel Expansion and Denominational Growth
  • Language, Culture, and Church Heritage
  • Current Church Growth Initiatives in Wales
  • Unity, Spiritual Renewal, and Prayer for Wales


[0:00] Music.

[0:11] Welcome to Affinity Talks Gospel, the podcast to encourage and equip Christians to serve Christ, particularly across the United Kingdom.
My name is Graham Nicholls. And my name is Lizzie Harewood.
And we are delighted today to have Jonathan Thomas as our guest.

[0:30] And Jonathan, tell us a little bit about yourself. So I’m Jonathan Thomas.
I’m a minister of a church in Abergavenny, which is in Wales, but on the border with England and I’m married to Rebecca and we’ve got three boys between the ages of five and fourteen so yeah good fun stage of life does on the border mean you like do little cross-border raids to shops or is all the kind of central gravity going back into Wales well no it means that we’ve got church members who live in England which means I can technically call myself an international pastor which is wonderful yeah is it does anything culturally happen when you across the border yeah definitely and we’re in what they call the marshes so historically a kind of an in-between land between Wales and England and you definitely all of your well everything changes all the language of nhs and government and education qualifications it literally all changes over the border and the other thing that changes is you can put your foot down in your car tomorrow, just a little bit more, can’t you?
We can only do 20 miles an hour in Wales. So yeah, it’s great.
Does that affect you actually? I don’t know. This is not really a political show, but does that affect you in your actual locality?

[1:46] Yeah. So most of the roads around here are 20 miles an hour.

[1:49] I’m actually a big fan of it. So yeah, it’s great.
So you’re going to talk about church history, particularly in Wales, the history of the church in Wales.
Do you want to give us a reason why we should be bothered with this, why people should carry on listening, why it’s worth talking about?
Yeah, I hope no one’s switched off yet.
Look, I love history. I’m not a historian. I’m a kind of history hack.
I’m just a local church pastor who loves history.
And the reason, I think, is because, A, it’s good to look back and see what God has done. And that fills us with faith, I think.
As well, we stand in a stream of church history globally, and it’s good to see what the church has faced over the years, and I think it gives us great wisdom.

[2:31] But I think as well, to reach a people in any nation or in any culture, you need to have an idea of history, where the people have come from, what makes the people.
I remember once randomly sitting next to Jonathan Lamb on a flight, I didn’t realise who he was until the end of the flight, and finally got to speak to him. He was going to preach in another country.
And interestingly, he said he always reads two books on the country he’s going to preach in, so he understands the culture and the background.
And so for me, that’s why I think history is important. We see what God has done, gives us wisdom and helps us to understand people.

[3:07] Yeah, brilliant. Do you like history, Lizzie?
I do. I really like history. In fact, I mean, I’ve got to say, despite having lived in Wales for four years, I don’t know a lot about the general Welsh history, but no, my husband and I both have a massive interest in history.
I’m particularly interested in more recent history, kind of post-1900s, First, Second World War and then Cold War history in particular.
But I was just going to say that for Wales, there’s such a unique and distinct kind of set of church history, particularly with Welsh spirituality and the kind of the Welsh evangelical movement and Methodism, non-conformism, etc.

[3:56] That it’s something that is, I think, a heritage that is really important to share about.
However, one of the things I’d love to chat about a bit later is how the relaying of that and the fact that Wales is a bilingual country, how does that sort of complicate the transmission of that history as well?
But I’m sure we can get onto that a bit later and talk about that linguistic divide.

[4:24] Well, we’ll take it that you’re not an expert, but you know more than we do, Jonathan. So I’m going to ask you questions as though you know everything.
So let’s start at the beginning, not the beginning of the church so much,

[4:35] but the beginning of the church in Wales.
Kind of roughly speaking, a big, big, big view, potted history of how the church came to Wales and the fascination to me of Celtic Christianity.
Because I don’t know whether it’s real or it’s a good thing or it’s basically kind of druids talking about Jesus.
Us well yeah i mean look no one’s exactly sure when christianity came to wales um probably at the end of the book of acts you know christians were traveling around the world you know romana meant you know that ordinary christians uh roman christians could just get around the world i think in england for example you have cornhill saint peter’s which i think is like 179 a.d um so in In Wales, though, back in those times, Wales didn’t exist as it is now. The geographical area existed.

[5:22] It was a kind of Celtic area of kind of, you know, tribes and kind of rulers with a kind of Celtic language.
And so we think that Christianity came over with the Romans probably to kind of southeast Wales, where I am, in places like Caerleon.
But at the north as well like kind of Chester those kind of Rexham famous kind of Roman places, and we’re we’re definitely sure that Christians were here by 200 AD and one of the main reasons is if you go down the road from where I am to Caerleon there is evidence there of two martyrs Aaron and Julius who were martyred in 200 for the Christian faith so they were disturbing the peace of the gods so Christianity came over then now now.

[6:10] By the 300s, after kind of Constantine, we’re sending bishops to France or to Gaul, as it was called at the time, to represent.
So the church was quite established beyond.
Then, if you know your history, the Romans left kind of 410, is it 5th century?
And then kind of there was a big kind of attack and burning of the Christian churches across Britain.
But interestingly, not so much in what we now call Wales.
We kind of fared a little bit better. and then you know you to understand wales you’ve got to understand england in many senses then you kind of had the germanic kind of invaders come end of the 400s is it 449 something like that where you become kind of anglo-saxons but they didn’t make it into wales basically with our kind of tribes all over the place there was no one place to conquer with all of our mountains and i don’t think they really thought there was anything much to bother about with us anyway Anyway, so we kind of got left alone, which meant that Christianity in Wales started to develop separately from Christianity in England.
Very differently, interestingly enough. And so we had our kind of own language, our own background, which is where you come into what we call the age of the saints, 450 to 700.
So you get these kind of like monks going around in Wales.
The most famous is St. David, our patron saint.
But then you know you’ve got saint patrick and you’ve got all these kind of celtic saints now.

[7:38] There’s loads of stuff about celtic christianity i’ll be honest i’m not really i don’t think i believe in it um i don’t think there was like a centralized kind of group of people with meetings who were celtic christians but um one welsh church historian gwyn davis he talks about it more like a mood.
There was kind of a feel to Christianity in Wales at the time, which was Celtic.

[8:06] And actually, when you dig down and look into it, and it’s hard to look into it because everything we know about it was written in the 11th century.
So it’s all quite hard to unpack and unpick the truth. But what we can work out is they actually taught the Bible.

[8:22] Evangelism and mission was huge to them. They’d get in little boats and they’d travel all around the UK and into Europe, even as far as places like Russia.
And so they had a real kind of passion. they would teach creatively you know with stones and different things like that and they would open lots of kind of educational centers but interestingly as well they had a huge emphasis on free grace and the gospel so Saint David our patron saint actually spent a lot of his life battling Pelagianism that kind of heresy that was coming over from the continent coming and, you know, was denying kind of original sin and, you know, kind of teaching that, you know, you can kind of save yourself a little bit.

[9:07] The famous mythical story about Saint David, you may have heard of it, is when he’s preaching and the ground rises beneath his feet in a place called Llanfewi Brefi.
Well, look, I don’t think the ground rose beneath his feet, but he was definitely there in a kind of early synod preaching against this heresy of Pelagianism.
So So I don’t think of Celtic Christianity as this kind of weird kind of pseudo kind of pagan Christianity, but actually good, good gospel preaching men with a missionary heart.

[9:39] And so, yeah, so that was kind of the age of the saints.
Yeah, that’s interesting. I was talking to someone about Irish Christianity because we’re doing an episode on that and I was prepping with this guy and I’d forgotten or never knew perhaps Patrick came from Wales. But also the…

[9:56] It’s very easy to see it through the lens of maybe kind of a cross between Catholicism and Greek Orthodox and paganism sort of, and just kind of put it in that bucket of, I don’t really understand this. I wouldn’t recognize this as Christianity.
It’s kind of superstitious, Christianized sort of stuff, which is clearly wrong of me from what you’ve just said.
So that’s helpful. for it’s probably christianity we would recognize we might not agree with everything all the elements but christianity we would recognize and think this is this is these are gospel people that’s what you’re saying isn’t it yeah hugely because actually we bypassed the whole kind of roman emphasis early on because we stayed so our relationship was more with kind of kind of gold and the kind of those kind of nations rather than the kind of anglo-saxon kind of Germanic influence.
We stayed very independent until about the 1100s with the Normans.
They’re the ones that really came in and gave us a good kick in at the church.
Really quick question, a short answer, please. Why were people burning churches.

[11:00] Right across, but not so much in Wales?
Yeah, I’m not quite sure if I’m honest.
Because, yeah, I think Wales are always slower to adopt things we were very slow to the reformation for example yeah we don’t like change fast so yeah i think we’re just quite slow okay uh did you have a question lizzie about that period before we jump forward to maybe the normers and then we’ll have to do another quick jump to revival period or something no i was just interested in what you were saying about education now i’m an i’m an an educator and I know that in the 1700s, Welsh Christians played a significant role in bringing literacy to Wales, but you’re saying it started far long before that.
I’m wondering, what do you mean and how? So the kind of what we call the saints.

[11:54] So, you know, places like Llanfadarn, just outside Aberystwyth, for example, there’s a church there, Llanfadarn Fawr, which was a big educational centre.
There was, you know, ones on the border in Hereford. So the monastic system and the church system, they would be the places of education, really, because the monks and the ministers, they were the ones who could read and write.
So people were sent there to learn. So interestingly, you’re right, you’re picking up on the 1700s and a guy called Griffith Jones from Llanfawro, and he actually made Wales probably the most literate country in the world in the 1700s.
I mean, it’s phenomenal. And he did it all from his church.

[12:37] So Welsh Christianity has always had a close relationship with education.
It’s a fascinating history in Wales. so what’s flambadum the place where your husband lizzie was in digs is that is that the same place am i picking up on the right name it is it absolutely is and um for the benefit of uh of listeners who weren’t privy to our our private conversation it wasn’t so private but yes we i met my husband at university in alberta and actually jonathan was our staff worker for the The first year of my studies there, and my husband, he did, he lived in Llanbadon.
He studied agriculture and countryside management.
So he lived out on that kind of a slightly more rural campus.
Yeah, and the story goes that Jonathan and him and others were having a whole dinner with the sleeves of LPs on their heads.
Is that correct? Which many people wouldn’t understand. Large records, gramophone records, I think you might call them. as historical artefacts, which are kind of back in for certain genres of music now, but the sleeves on their heads.
But I heard that bit of story before we actually started recording, but I didn’t know why that was the case.

[13:47] Why why they did that why they put those on their heads i think you’ve got to remember that the this was the the kind of the mindset the intellect of a of a 20 year old lad you know he lived in a bit of a quirky house a lot of christians who thought that they were um um yeah kind of living on the edge by making their their speaker for the for the mission week um come in and be fed and whilst whilst they’re eating they all just sit with these sleeves in the head they had you know this old-fashioned kind of record player as you do when you’re trying to be a bit quirky and a bit a bit different i mean that that that’s just the kind of the thin end of the wedge of the the crazy stuff that went on at that house it’s a house of seven boys basically yeah i studied in alberastruth as well and i was a student worker there i lived there for a long time and it’s a a unique place.
And eating and having record sleeves put in your head is not that unusual.
Going back to Wales, because you’re saying all these names of things, has the Welsh language sort of developed by this point, even in the Celtic period, the 400s, 500s, 5th century?
Well, the Welsh language has developed and that’s what you guys are speaking then?

[15:01] Yeah. So basically you’ve got this kind of Celtic language in Britain, ancient Britain.
But when the anglo-saxons come in they start to change the language in england and basically ancient britain gets pushed to the edges doesn’t it to scotland wales and cornwall so we’ve all got these kind of ancient languages which have been left um kind of forgotten although welsh is different to gaelic quite by quite a bit isn’t it yeah but there’ll be there’ll be some crossover so if you go over to breton there’ll be kind of words that are quite similar french and welsh there’s similarities so it was kind of developing kind of separately there but didn’t have the same influences and just the the abba route and the clan route do they have any religious histories so abba means mouth of the river so it’s always kind of like you know where there’s going in and yeah ultimately means parish of church of okay so yeah so when you look at wales Wales, most of our, lots of our place names are religious in kind of origin, which is amazing. Right.
Very good. What do you think next is significant? Cause we can’t cover everything, but another big milestone.

[16:13] Yeah. So, I mean, Wales and the church kind of developed and it developed in Welsh and.

[16:21] I guess the Normans came in and then that’s when that kind of more kind of Roman kind of stamp of the church came on Wales.
And we started to have, you know, Irish systems and everything that we now know kind of as the established church.
And I guess Wales then, like many areas, there was signs of health, but the church wasn’t exploding in those years.

[16:45] And obviously, kind of from the 1200s onwards, there was a decay in the health of the church.
In wales i guess um for various reasons the gospel was increasingly being taken away from the people a lot of it would have been spoken in latin or in english neither of which welsh people would have understood so we had like a double whammy um so the bible was taken away from people and this was all state church like as it were church of england which because church of wales was 20th century wasn’t it they got established church in wales yeah so at this point up until, Am I right in saying up until the 1500s, there was probably only one church?
There was nothing really outside of it. Pretty much. I mean, you’ve got a few other Anabaptists and various other things happening.
You’ve got the early church, which was Baptistic, Rita Baptist.

[17:39] But you’ve got this little aberration in between of 1500 years or so.
Yeah. And then can the 1500s come and then you start to get different movements and you get exciting things like translation of the bible into welsh um so you get absolute historic people like william morgan who translated the bible into welsh or william salesbury just before him and really once you get the church translating the bible into welsh that has a huge impact um and that really then starts to bring far more health to the church So what year would that have been then?
It was William Morgan’s Bible, 1588.

[18:18] Is that right? I’m saying that off the top of my head, but it should be right.
As a Welsh schoolboy, I should know that.
But yeah, and then really it was about making the Bible accessible.
And so you would have had the organisation, the SPCK, who would have been helping to get Bibles into the hands of people.
But the problem we had was then you had Bibles, but people couldn’t read.
Yeah. Which is where we came earlier on to early 1700s.
This guy Griffith John Slandhaura who was a vicar who was like right I need to teach people to read so he invented circulating schools schools would go into an area for a few months teach people to read and write Welsh and then they could read and write the bible they’re like pop-up schools yeah basically pop-up schools absolutely amazing he was in the diocese of Saint David’s which at the time you know had had a report which was famously terrible people were just you know flying through services in double speed but now he would preach and and thousands of people would turn up to hear him.
So they call him a Seren Vore, the morning star of the Welsh Revival.

[19:19] Because something was was stirring and and you’d had lots of you know the the baptists and the independents were already at work in wales you know you would have had kind of the early puritans, you know kind of craddock and these different people doing um amazing work sometimes there’s an idea that the gospel kind of left wales in the 1100s and didn’t come back until the reformation but actually there was lots of good things happening.

[19:45] And how do we then get to what what probably as an ignorant person i more think of as the welsh church which is more chapels and kind of independency and a revival kind of mentality which seems quite different to the church of wales that’s there currently so where did that all happen yeah so the kickoff for that would be 1735 so 1735 if you’re in england or wales you think of the wesleys or jonathan edwards but actually we were before them all in wales wales was slightly first with howell harris and daniel rowland and then a couple of years later a guy called william williams who’s the great hymn writer guide me william williams panther kellen exactly which was the farm he was you know he lived on and and so 1735 um basically howell Well, Harris experiences God in a powerful way and starts to share the gospel with people.
Daniel Rowland is a curate.
He experiences God in a very powerful way, starts to preach the gospel.
Although Daniel Rowland starts off very harsh.
He’s like a kind of, you know, they talk about the kind of, you know, the cage fighter stage.

[20:55] He definitely went through that. But an older man took him to one side and was like, you can preach the balm of Gilead as well, you know.
And he became a brilliant preacher. And then they got together, William Williams, really supported by George Whitefield.
And so what you started to see was people outside the church starting being converted to leave the church.

[21:18] Nobody at that time would have thought that you could reach Wales outside the church because the church had buildings in every community.
And they had the law to meet and to reach out as well.
There were certain legal constraints on Christians in those days, still in the 1700s. And people were very nervous about rebelling against the crown, you know, eyes to French Revolution and things like that.
But an amazing work happened in Wales.
So 1735 began a series of revivals like the Methodist revival in England, kind of alongside it.
But it was far bigger. And ultimately, to take a long story short, they ended up leaving the established church.
Think of it a bit like Luther, if you know your Reformation history.
You know, Luther didn’t want to leave the church. He wanted to reform the church and had no option.
These guys, they just wanted to bring life to the church. But, you know, bishops and others just made their life impossible.
And so in the end, they kind of, by the late 1700s, early 1800s, under a great guy called Thomas Charles, they ended up becoming their own denomination.

[22:26] So you’d already had the Baptists and the independents but really what you got out of the revival was the methodist church or the calvinistic methodist church which to confuse matters i’ve already lost people haven’t i but to confuse matters it’s the presbyterian church in wales today but basically they came out which meant that in the 1800s you come to the golden age of golden age of non-conformity and churches which is outside the established church, outside the Anglican church, just exploding growth.
So would there have been like, I don’t know, chapels popping up in every village and town, multiple chapels, perhaps?
Oh, yeah. I mean, the chapel building programme from kind of, you know, the late 1700s to the early 1900s was phenomenal.
If you drive around Wales today, there’s just chapels on every street.
And sometimes three or four chapels next to each other.
You know, yeah, I mean, it’s just phenomenal. I grew up in a small village and we had 11 chapels and that’s just in a small village.
But they predominantly would at that time have been what became the Welsh Presbyterian Church, what was the Calvinistic Methodist Church at the time.
So they would have been Peter Baptist and similar-ish to Anglicans.

[23:46] Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, they didn’t want to throw out the doctrine of the church in Church of England.
You know, it was it was more about having freedom to preach the gospel.
So, yeah. But I mean, the Baptist would have been growing as well.
And the kind of the kind of independence, which is actually a which is a denomination, even though it’s called independence.
Yeah. Yeah. So was there a particular I don’t know, a particular year, a particular kind of cluster of years where there was some significant revival?
Revival, you know, in that kind of late 1700s, 1800s.
I remember when I was at university in Aberystwyth, there was some kind of centenary or something, and that would have been in, say, 2004, 2005, something like that.

[24:29] And so, yeah, I’d love to hear more about those kind of quite spectacular events that happened.

[24:37] Yeah, I mean, there’s loads. Look, I mean, if you want to watch a film on it, there’s a great film called Welsh Awakenings by a guy called jonathan thomas and he kind of covers it all in there i’ll just put that for free but i mean there’s i mean we’re called the land of revivals so from 1735 to like 1810 uh one historian says that there was something like 15 outstanding revivals which is fascinating because what he’s saying is lots of other revivals so there was kind of these ripple effect revivals so it wasn’t just one revival it was one and then another and then another so there was like a hymn book revival with william williams in clangaito and then the 1800s you get a revival in 1817 and then you get another revival in 1859 um and things start to change then we get influenced by charles finney and american in kind of evangelicalism so if you know the kind of whole revival and revivalism this idea that you can kind of work up a revival and cause it that kind of finnism came in in kind of 1859 and then the the revival you would have kind of been celebrating in 2004 would have been the 1904 revival which is the last revival in wales which is probably the most well known with a guy leading it or people say he led it called evan roberts but actually there was loads of other people but he was making a poster boy could you give us a working definition.

[26:05] For revival that’s a good question i was just gonna say what does it mean what what does revival mean or what did it mean yeah well if i can quote i think a scotsman is it duncan campbell he would call it a community saturated with god um so i like that so um.

[26:24] I guess revival as a word isn’t in the Bible, but to revive is, particularly in the Old Testament.
So for something to be revived, it must have been in declension or dying.
So really revival is when the church is revived.
And in that reviving, there’s also a great kind of number of people coming in.

[26:45] But I think I would be very similar to other people like Ray Ortlund’s written a book on revival and others. And they would say that revival isn’t anything different from normal church.
It’s just normal church, but more so. So it’s kind of the ordinary means of grace. It’s just preaching and conversion and baptism.
But it’s kind of in greater measure.
Yeah. So what impact? Sorry. No, you go.
I was just going to say, what impact, what kind of fruit of this then was seen in Wales, up and down, you know, in these villages and towns?
And because I guess we can think of you know we can very much think of people kind of responding to the gospel in the heat of the moment and you know professing faith and and turning their back on their old way of life and I guess that’s what I think of as as revival but you know, Was there a clear kind of working of the spirit in people’s lives?
What happened in Wales that kind of proved that this was something?

[27:54] I mean, obviously, I know it happened over a long time. Yeah, and I think that would be the mark of the revivals, would be people converted.
So people who would have lived for the pub or would have been foul-mouthed or whatever, they were converted and then their lives were changed.
So there’s, you know, there’s stories in some of the revivals where the miners would go back down the pits and the ponies wouldn’t work. Yes, I heard this, yeah.
They didn’t understand anything because the miners had stopped swearing.
So they had no idea what to do.
We talk about the revival of the white glove because the judge didn’t have anything to judge because crime had stopped in the area.
Um you know education increases standards of living increase because you know men are no longer spending their money at the pub at the end of the week but actually are spending time with their families and investing in their families so yeah so it’s it’s it’s you know it’s it’s real lives changed um i think the 1904 revival a hundred thousand people in one year were added to the church which is a which is a huge number that’s why they had to build all those chapels well yes Yes, exactly, exactly.

[29:06] So does a church like the church you lead now, does that kind of trace its heritage to that?
Or the church that Lizzie went to, or her husband went to at least, Aberystwyth, the Grace Baptist Church there, does that have a kind of connection with that period?
Or are they both kind of imports from Baptists or something?
Yeah, so I guess my church originally would have come from the Presbyterian Church in Wales, and then Aberystwyth and Alfred Place I guess would have come from Grace Baptist so but you can look around and in same as other countries every church will have the year it was built on the front so you can pretty much work out where it came from then right but but I mean the your church is does it feel Welsh and does it trace its spiritual history back I suppose what I’m trying to say there may be some denominational reason why what kind of church is it yeah so ours is an fic church where yeah you know we meet in a school hall and we’re in we’re on the marshes we’re on the border so yeah very unique we lots would feel welsh and some would speak welsh um.

[30:13] But if you go further into Wales, lots of churches would be really aware of their heritage.
And usually heritage is bound up with language.
Culture and Christianity got merged in the 1800s because Christianity became so big through the revivals and so powerful because it had such an educational front.

[30:38] Really welsh culture became christian um if you if you know what i mean i know it’s a debate about whether that can happen but ultimately to be welsh was to be christian to be christian was to be welsh right and really what happened then was when you had the mining boom and the kind of industrial revolution and lots of people had to move into wales what you found then was a kind of disconnection between the church and community because it was a welsh speaking kind of educated culture and a very powerful one um and yeah and so that caused a whole host of problems in terms of reaching people so by now there’s a mix but lots of welsh-speaking christians and lots of non-welsh-speaking christians would definitely feel a revival heritage, and it kind of goes all the way back to the age of the saints and the celts, wales has always been slightly different and we’ve never been completely in step with our neighbours us.
So there is a kind of sense of identity there.
Sorry, Graham. There you go. It’s good.
I was just going to say something I was acutely aware of whilst I was at university was perhaps a bit of tension that arose within Christian communities amongst Christians who perhaps some were Welsh and some were English or non-Welsh.

[32:03] Sometimes that manifested through kind of not wanting to associate together or meet together.
And there was definitely a linguistic divide. I mean, there was a linguistic divide anyway amongst many students, students who were studying through the medium of Welsh or felt that they wanted to associate with Welsh people would have their own halls of residence, Pantykellen.
And I guess, although I noticed at the time, it was the same with Christians, with the christian union with welsh evangelical church i know we’re talking now about the current day but could you maybe elaborate on on on some of those tensions if they still exist and how you deal with them yeah and their historic tensions you know we talk about kind of you know i joked earlier on about when the normans came in and finally you know well you ended up having what what they call the Acts of Union, where basically Wales was kind of merged into England.
And then really our language was suppressed.
Every Welsh child in school learns about the Welsh knot, where basically, even though we only spoke Welsh, we were forced to speak English.
And if you were caught speaking Welsh, you had to put this Welsh knot around your neck.
And, you know, if you heard another child speak Welsh, you could hand it to them. And whoever had it at the end of the day was beaten. And those kind of acts kind of live in the national psyche for a long time.
And so…

[33:33] Within the welsh kind of background there is a desire to defend the language because the language is is linked to the culture and then that’s our identity um and so unfortunately that does spill over into the church you know it’s it’s like the new testament with jew and gentile kind of you know the difficulties of of coming together um in many senses that that happens here in wales as well and so um i always struggle to know how to explain this without offending anybody on either side um but what tends to happen is some think well the answer clearly is to give up the language in favor of the bigger language um which seems sensible until you’re in a minority and then you realize actually that’s not quite right is it um but then the The other one then is to say, well, we’re in the minority, so we should have everything and you should, you know, whereas really it’s that thing of compromise and respect and love and unity.

[34:35] And so, you know, it has been difficult, but I think over the years, I think Christians have learnt and, you know, there’s a big emphasis on bilingualism, kind of things like simultaneous translation devices make it really easy.
Now so sometimes I’ll go and preach somewhere and they’ll say right in the first session I want you to preach in English and then in the second session I want you to preach in Welsh and then someone will translate through simultaneous translation and when we sing people can sing in English or in Welsh as we sing along and so there are ways and I guess it has a huge impact missionally, in terms of reaching Wales particularly Welsh-speaking Wales because Welsh is their heart language yeah actually if if they don’t hear the the gospel in welsh it seems more like a foreign import than the kind of the gospel so so missionally it’s really important to to kind of to have the welsh language i don’t know if that yeah it’s really helpful i i was speaking to someone this morning who’s living in canada now he was living in england and he was asking me about the state of the church in england and i said that’s a really hard question and i fumbled around for about 10 minutes giving various little pieces.

[35:49] So what do you think the state of the church is in Wales? Just to ask you the question I was asked.
Now, given all that heritage, which sounds amazing and God-glorifying and really encouraging, and you think, I’d like to have lived through one of those eras, but it doesn’t feel like Wales is now much more Christian than England, in some ways more secular in terms of the government and so on.
So yeah, what does that all mean now and what’s the state of the church in wales.

[36:16] Yeah, so I guess it’s a double story.
So on the one hand, you know, the church in Wales started to decline in the late 1800s, even though it was increasing in numbers.
Because, as I said earlier on, culture and Christianity merged.
And actually, once that happens, it’s game over for the church.
And so, you know, the first generation kind of declares the gospel, you know, the old kind of Carson thing.
Next generation assumes it. The third generation kind of rejects it.
And that’s what we’ve seen in Wales.
So as soon as you come to the early 1900s, although you have this big revival, 100,000 people saved.

[36:54] Actually, it’s not the healthiest of revivals. I’ve already said we’re kind of affected by Finneas.
But also, liberalism was taking hold of all the Bible colleges in Wales.
Wales, criticism from the German theologians was coming in and non-conformity was huge.
We ended up having our own prime minister, a Welsh non-conformist, which was amazing, which meant actually we battled for the disestablishment of the Church of England in Wales.
So now we have the church in Wales, not the Church of Wales.

[37:28] So non-conformity became huge. And And even though there was lots of good gospel people in there and good gospel preaching, there was a huge amount of liberalism, social gospel, and a kind of pride in culture.
And then, you know, you get this kind of age of kind of professional preachers where people would just go around and kind of preach their, you know, polished sermons and people would tour these sermons and go and listen to them.
And it was all very external and fake. and so really even though the church was growing the health of the church was already declining which means world war one comes and and you know the church in wales were like recruitment offices for world war one and when so few came back um the kind of rejection of the church was sharp then you get kind of the rise of modernity you know which hit us all but in wales off the back of that kind of World War I and then World War II and the kind of rise of liberalism.

[38:32] Basically everybody starts to reject the church slowly but surely um so actually all these churches that were built for revivals were never full um they were all built for bigger growth that never happened and so what you’ve seen since 1945 is a phenomenal rate of decrease in the church i mean you know we’re losing tens of thousands every year so to by now the mainline denominations are all in free fall um you know church in wales methodists presbyterians baptists they’re all in they’re all in free fall um there’s some notable exceptions you know there’s a few great you know evangelical anglican churches like saint mark’s in cardiff um you know there’s there’s a few notable examples of kind of baptist churches and you know and even within the denominations there are some some amazing church planting initiatives going on and there are some amazing kind of moves of God.

[39:31] But really by now, the main church growth seems to be outside of those, in the main.
Not exclusively, there are still really good things happening in the denominations.
I don’t want to be unfair to my brothers there.

[39:43] You know, God is doing some amazing things in particular areas.
But really now in Wales, it would be mainly the kind of independence, attendance particularly the kind of you know pentecostal churches um charismatic churches you know if you’re going to go really wide you know hdb is starting to do work here in the way that they do it um you know you’ve got advance kind of the old kind of terry virgo’s um uh grouping you know there’s a lot of church planting happening there there’s a huge initiative at the moment canty gumry which means 100 for wales which is christians from across the board no matter what denomination getting together to support each other, to plant a hundred churches, kind of feels a bit like if you remember the Birmingham 2020 stuff, and Neil Powell and those guys, and there’s things like that happening. So.

[40:35] There are encouragements and there are pockets of growth in wheels.

[40:39] But in terms of the established structural denominational, it’s not good.

[40:47] To end on an encouraging and a sort of equipping, what’s the word, a call to action.
What would we be praying for?
What should we be praying for, sorry, for the church in Wales?
Particularly, obviously, making disciples and teaching them is what we pray for all churches everywhere, that they fulfil the Great Commission and love one another. So all those things.
But is there something particular that would be good to pray for the church in Wales, given all of your history and cultural peculiarities?
Peculiarities in a good way.
I’ll take that. Yeah, I think the top things for me would be unity.

[41:26] We need to come together. We need to love one another and work together.
Together. I think that’s huge.
I think, you know, secondly, is a desire for God.
You know, even though I’m quite obsessed with revival, I’m not convinced we should pray for revival.
I think we should pray for God and want to know him more. And I think that’s what I’ve seen in church history, is that actually when people know God and are living for him, they stand out and, you know, we live out the faith.
So unity, more of God.
And then, you know, it’s the Lord’s prayer, isn’t it for more workers for the harvest you know yeah can I just get you to pass again on the unity one because I understand what that means but I don’t understand what that means, who do you want to be united with.

[42:14] Well, just Christians. I mean, even in Wales, it’s a small country, but every once in a while I’ll meet like an evangelical believer who I’ve never come across before.
You know, and we’re an interesting country of valleys and communities.
And, you know, sometimes, you know, we don’t we don’t know what’s happening across the board.
And so, yeah, it’s just great to know, you know, what God is doing.
Yeah are you in favor of sort of cut you off i got excited at that point are you in favor of organic sort of unity in the sense of just recognizing another evangelical and being united another person who who you know who loves christ who understands the gospel or or more into confessional unity in the sense of here’s a set of things that we say we believe so now we can be friends did you have a feeling about that yeah both and am i allowed to say that Yeah, I think we definitely need confessional unity, particularly if we’re going to engage, you know, with Welsh Assembly government and, you know, we’re going to take a stand on things like that.
But ultimately, I think there’s another unity that even if we can’t kind of cross all the T’s and dot all the I’s together, surely we can pray for one another and reach out for one another in a kind of generous spirit.

[43:26] Lizzie, you get a final question. Oh golly, a final question.
I was actually just going to make a comment about your point about revival.

[43:35] We heard last year about what was happening in the US at Asbury and it seemed that there were lots of extraordinarily encouraging encounters that people had with the gospel, with people becoming Christians.
And I think it’s interesting because I read something recently where someone did a bit of research and actually the churches around Asbury haven’t seen any real additions to their numbers.

[44:09] Haven’t seen much evidence of changed lives and people seeking to live for Christ.
I suppose that’s the thing, you know, God has no grandchildren, does he?
And we’re already seeing that um what we think can be revival can be and blow away in the wind so I suppose um it’s wonderful that we can look back on what happened in Wales and give thanks for that time for those people that were saved then but as you say you know we want to be praying for for God to be our work for us to to love God more and I’ve got a special place I’ve got Wales has a special place in my heart it’s just um that’s really where I became a Christian and it was through the work of people like yourself, Jonathan, that I was really encouraged in my faith and came to understand the gospel for the first time.
So for me, Wales did lead to revival in my life because I don’t think I was a Christian before I went to university.

[45:09] I love that and I think honestly you know Lizzie I’ll if I can have one last comment I think me reviving you know is in my it’s in your own heart isn’t it and I think do you know I’m as encouraged by one person coming to faith or one backslider kind of coming back or one church turning around as I am in a huge revival I think it’s it’s just about um you know yeah that kind kind of knowing God, drawing near and seeing him reach out. That was brilliant.
Compressed a lot of history into a few words in under an hour.
So thank you so much, Jonathan.
It’s been a pleasure to have you on. It’s been great to be with you. Thank you.

[45:51] Music.

[45:57] Thank you so much for listening to Affinity Talks Gospel podcast.
Affinity is a network of evangelical churches churches and Christian organizations working together, sharing stories in order to encourage and equip God’s people to preach and live the gospel in this generation.
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[46:31] Music.


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