Saturday, 2 January 2016

30 Evan Roberts and the 1904-05 Welsh Revival

30. Evan Roberts and the 1904 Revival - 2 January 2016 (photos: Moriah, Mal Pope)

The subject matter of both Mal Pope’s current musical ‘Cappuccino Girls’ and his documentary film ‘Jack to a King’ are totally different from that of his 2005 musical ‘Amazing Grace’, which concerned Evan Roberts and the 1904-05 Welsh Revival.

Before the twentieth century brought vast changes through two World Wars, the availability of motor transport and mass communication, Welsh society was very different from today.  In 1904 churches and chapels were still the social hub of communities, with good attendance at Sunday services and midweek meetings.  However, the influence of the social gospel and scepticism about the Bible were eroding the nation’s religious life, producing mere chapel-going with little spiritual reality.

In Loughor 12-year-old Evan Roberts left school to work in the mines – at first as a door boy, opening and closing underground doors for the trams to pass.  Converted a year later, he taught in Moriah Chapel’s Sunday School, and felt led to enter the Christian ministry.  Before going to college, he embarked on preparatory study at Newcastle Emlyn, and at a mission led by Seth Joshua in September 1904 he prayed ‘Bend me, O Lord’ - and experienced the reality of God’s Spirit.

After a month of praying and seeking God’s guidance, Evan Roberts returned to Loughor, where his minister allowed him to hold evening prayer meetings at Moriah Chapel. 

In the schoolroom (adjacent to the new chapel of 1898) on 31 October 1904 Evan Roberts spoke of four conditions for receiving God’s Spirit - confess sin, remove anything doubtful from one’s life, surrender to the Spirit, and publicly admit to being a follower of Christ.  Those present were caught up in the worship of God, and from a human standpoint the outbreak of the 1904 Welsh Revival dates from that time.

In other areas of Wales God’s Spirit was moving quite independently of what was happening around Loughor, and there were other ‘revivalists’ besides Evan Roberts – indeed some were ministers.  The 1859 Welsh Revival had been ‘led’ by outstanding preachers, but Evan Roberts never regarded himself as a great preacher. 

At the meetings there would often be spontaneous unaccompanied congregational singing, and women played a prominent part, singing and sharing testimonies of what Christ meant to them.  Annie Davies, one of the young ladies who accompanied Evan Roberts to meetings, would often sing ‘Dyma gariad fel y moroedd’ (Here is love, vast as the ocean), which became known as ‘the love song of the revival’.  Gatherings did not all just happen – venues were booked in advance when meetings were arranged in Liverpool in the spring of 1905.

Large numbers of people started attending meetings at places of worship, and the revival made an impact in various ways - pit ponies became unresponsive because they were used to language punctuated with oaths and blasphemies, pub trade lessened, sport fixtures declined, unpaid debts were settled, and the crime rate decreased.  Although the Revival mainly affected Welsh-speaking nonconformists, in Mumbles meetings were held in the back room of Tabernacle Congregational Church from December 1904, and 62 people joined the church.  In general few English-speaking chapels and Anglican churches were involved, and the Revival was criticised by some ministers.

The demands of Revival meetings, along with the publicity from the Western Mail and newspaperman W.T. Stead (who later drowned in the Titanic), caused a strain on Evan Roberts, who suffered a breakdown in 1905.  He withdrew from public life and moved from Wales, though he later lived quietly in Cardiff, where he died in 1951.  A memorial to him stands outside Moriah Chapel, Loughor. 
The impact of the 1904-05 Revival stretches far beyond Wales - in the Khasi hills of north-east India the Presbyterian Church of India builds on that foundation, while generous support for the Bible College of Wales comes from overseas Christians, grateful for the mission work that flowed from those times of Amazing Grace.   

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