Pontypool Circuit, Monmouthshire
Transcription of Article in the Christian Messenger by T.G.
The corner of our vineyard which comes under review this month is, if not extensive in area, at least well-stocked and very fruitful. Pontypool Circuit comprises five societies, each a centre of spiritual activity, with plenty of willing hands ready unto every good work. Many Circuits have their weak and struggling societies. Pontypool is an exception in that respect.
Pontypool is one of the larger towns of Monmouthshire, and an important centre for the mining industry on the one side, and the agricultural interest on the other. Monmouthshire is often referred to as the thirteenth county of Wales; as a matter of fact one half of the county is thoroughly Welsh and the other half as thoroughly English. Pontypool being on this racial border, it is at once both Welsh and English. Here we find some important educational institutions – one of the Welsh traits, because England lags a long way behind the Principality where education is concerned – chief among which are a ladies’ school, and an intermediate county school, which is one of the landmarks of the town.
If we were to make a list of such architectural landmarks our Park Terrace Church would certainly be included, and if an order of merit were observed it would demand a prominent place. Situate on the hill-side, it can be seen from afar, and its imposing appearance is at once an ornament to the town and a credit to the Connexion. While, in some respects, Primitive Methodism is yielding to Welsh ideas and ways, in one, at least, it is creating a new departure. Welsh Chapels are usually square stuccoed buildings, without form or comeliness, or trace of architectural ambition. If earlier our chapels were of this type, more recently they have followed English modes. Park Terrace Church, as it is locally designated – again a departure from local usage – is a fine gothic structure, with a good-sized schoolroom of the same type at the side. It seats about 500, and was built in 1877.
The first chapel (now turned into cottages) is in the heart of the old town, and its situation is a testimony to the work our fathers sought to do. They would be right among the people. The date of removal is one associated in the minds of South Walians with serious industrial disturbance and depression, and one is not surprised to learn that the building of the new place was attended with difficulty, and even embarassment. These seasons, owing to the peculiar social and industrial conditions in the Welsh valleys, come upon us with the suddenness of our equally characteristic mountain storms. The pressure would have been too much for the courageous little church but for the late E.B. Ford. He placed his credit at the bank at the service of the trustees, and by deeds of self-sacrifice known to but few even to this day, he forced a way through, and saved the situation. The church is his monument. More than three years now Mr. Ford has been with the Lord, but his influence pervades the church and his work abides. A memorial tablet of white Sicilian marble, placed in the church by friends, records that Edward Beeke Ford, who died February 13th, 1901, in his fifty-eighth year, was for thirty-three years a faithful member of the church, and an honoured citizen of the town of his adoption. In the church he filled, among others, the offices of local preacher, school superintendent, and trust treasurer; he also took a deep interest in the affairs of the South Wales District. He was a member of most of the governing bodies of the town, and sat as Justice of the Peace in Pontypool Court. Mr. F.B. Ford has succeeded to some of his father’s offices and there is promise of the same ripe qualities that distinguished his honoured parent.
The town cause is fairly strong, having a good congregation and a membership of 112. Some time ago the school over-flowed its borders, and classes had to be taken into the church. For two years or more a work of grace among the young people has been steadily deepening and widening. It began (so far as its beginning can be traced) in a new experience gained by a few of the officials at a convention they attended in a neighbouring town. They manifested a new disposition, and engaged in church work with a new enthusiasm. Conversions soon took place, congregations increased, and over one hundred new scholars were added to the school. The work spread, and at the March Quarterly Meeting the Circuit found itself in a position to report an increase of fifty on the membership. What is perhaps the best result of all is that the revival, with its delightful atmosphere and hearty cooperation, has become the normal condition of church life.
This movement was chiefly among young people. The young people in this Circuit are very much in evidence. One reason of that may be because at the head is a young people’s minister. Rev. G.H. Southall believes in the Christian Endeavour movement. To the one society he found on the Circuit he has added four, and every society is worked on distinctively spiritual lines. The Christian Endeavour meetings often out-number the week-night preaching service, and that service on Welsh Circuits is largely attended.
Turning from the central church to the societies on the outskirts of the town, we first notice Abersychan, where we have an imposing structure, the chapel last built on the Circuit. Here is a society of one hundred members, one that steadily increases year after year. Reference cannot be made to this church without recalling the names of Mr. W.B. Mitchell, of “Brynderwen,” the synonym of kindly hospitality, and Mr. R. Ashman, whose genial goodness and sound judgment have made so deep a mark upon the society. Brother Ashman is the oldest local preacher on the plan, and a fine specimen of the old Methodist layman. He is a Christian optimist: the keynote of his preaching is the “glorious hope,” and he lives out his own sermons. A rhetorical brother once said of him: “He is one of those sunny Christians who believe in opening the windows of their soul to the south, that they may catch the soft breezes and echo the song of birds.”
Pontnewydd has more than doubled its membership during the past year, largely as the result of a mission held in June last by Rev. J. T. Parr. With a membership of 131, it stands numerically first on the station. At Pontnewynydd also there is rapid increase, to meet the needs of which the premises have been enlarged, and new vestries built. The present industrial prosperity on the Welsh coalfield is a splendid opportunity of Christian aggression and extension, which our churches are successfully utilising.
If the Pontypool Circuit is one of the strongest in the district the fact is largely accounted for by the quality of its official life. Among its leaders are strong men, too numerous to name. Mr. G. Pearce is the lay head of the Circuit, and has been for many years. Some men are born preachers, Mr. Pearce is a born steward; for is he not trust steward, and, until recently, society steward, besides being Circuit steward? A keen disciplinarian and an acute logician, but withal kindly and genial, he watches over the church as a steward of God; and his greatest joy is to see the repeated lengthening of cords and strengthening of stakes made necessary by increasing prosperity. Like many other valued officials on this side of the Severn, he comes from the Brinkworth district.
The ministry of Rev. G.H. Southall has synchronised with the opportunity of Circuit aggression afforded by the industrial development common to the valleys on the Welsh coal?eld, and he has had the joy of the ingathering of new members, and of the re-organisation and building necessary to meet the new prosperity. That our churches have gained the interest of the people and been, under God, successful in bringing them to Christ is due in large measure to his enthusiasm, devotion, and diligence. He is devoted to his work, and does not spare himself in seeking the advancement of his Circuit. His sermons are marked by robust thought, and have plenty of “body” in them; clear thinking, and a well-marked outline make them easy to follow, and they are lighted up by frequent illustrations from biology and botany – his favourite sciences. During most of his ministry he has had as his colleague Mr. E. Langdon, through whose labours here and in many parts of the Connexion souls have been led to God. The continued increase in the membership – again this year over fifty additional members are reported to Conference – has placed the Circuit in a position to call out an additional minister.
Christian Messenger 1904/198