Monday 9 October 2017

125 31st October

31st October
Next Tuesday will be the final day in the month, and for many people 31st October means celebrating Hallowe’en.  For decades the impact in this country of the Americanised Hallowe’en has increased, with “trick and treat”, and the wearing of all sorts of bizarre and ghoulish costumes - though we haven’t yet followed New York’s Greenwich Village with a huge Hallowe’en parade!
To some this is just harmless fun, but to others it is a sinister and unwelcome focus on the forces of darkness.  Yet I suggest two historical events on this date that are more worthy of our notice.  The first has already received much attention, for this year is the 500th anniversary of when German monk Martin Luther pinned up 95 theses on the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Saxony, in 1517.  This set in motion the Reformation, which led to the emergence of Protestant and Nonconformist Christian denominations. 
The second event is local, being the start (in human terms) of the 1904 Welsh Religious Revival, which we date from a prayer meeting in Loughor’s Moriah Chapel on 31st October 1904.  In the schoolroom (adjacent to the new chapel of 1898) a young man named Evan Roberts spoke of four conditions for receiving God’s Spirit – to confess sin, remove anything doubtful from one’s life, surrender to the Spirit, and publicly admit to being a follower of Christ.  Those present felt a move of God’s Spirit, which escalated into months of packed meetings throughout the valleys, in North Wales and in Liverpool, with people gathering to experience God.  Meetings often included spontaneous unaccompanied congregational singing, with women playing a prominent part - singing and sharing testimonies of what Christ meant to them.  Especially popular was the hymn “Dyma gariad fel y moroedd” (“Here is love, vast as the ocean”), which was called “the love song of the revival”.  Many people came to faith in Christ, hundreds joined chapels and churches, the impact caused the crime rate and drunkenness to plummet, and many pubs were closed.  Men’s lives were changed - even pit ponies had to adjust to miners’ commands that now excluded swear words and blasphemies!  Although the Revival mainly affected Welsh-speakers, it could develop independently of meetings at which Evans Roberts was present.  In Mumbles the Tabernacle Congregational Church schoolroom held revival meetings from December 1904, resulting in 62 people joining the church.
The reporting of these events in the Western Mail and by newspaperman W.T. Stead (who later drowned in the Titanic) tended to focus on 26-year-old Evan Roberts.  Born in 1878, this earnest young man had worked as a miner from the age of 12 and as a blacksmith’s assistant, before embarking on training at Newcastle Emlyn for the Christian ministry.  In September 1904 during a Seth Joshua mission at Blaenannerch, Cardiganshire, he had an experience of God which led him to return to Loughor and seek permission to hold prayer meetings.  Evan Roberts never sought the limelight, and whereas the 1859 Welsh Revival had been led by outstanding preachers, he had no illusion of being an inspiring orator.  Though he toured the country and addressed many meetings, the strain of publicity and expectations led to his breakdown the following year, and withdrawal from public life, moving initially to Leicester.  He later returned to Wales to live quietly in Cardiff, devoting himself to prayer and to writing, until he died in 1951, and was buried at Moriah.  Yet the impact of the 1904 Welsh Revival spread overseas, even to the Khasi hills of north-east India.
A memorial column to Evan Roberts stands outside Moriah Chapel in Loughor.  Mal Pope’s 2005 musical “Amazing Grace” gives a good idea of what occurred, and the fierce opposition encountered, even from certain ministers. 
So on 31st October I prefer to thank God for what happened on that date in Wittenberg and in Loughor, rather than concentrating on dark and unedifying aspects of Hallowe’en.         

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