Some Aspects of Welsh Congregationalism

Lecture on the history of Welsh Congregationalism given by Rev. Dr. Alan Argent at St. Fagan's, 6th October 2012

The year 2012 represents the 350th anniversary of the great ejections of Nonconformist ministers in England and Wales in 1662 and also the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Congregational Federation. It also marks the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Congregational Union of Scotland in 1812.

Congregationalists are Christians who join together to form a church on the basis of faith, freedom, fellowship and service. They conduct and decide their own affairs, including the appointment of ministers, all members being equally responsible and assisting as they are able. The origins of Congregationalism lie in the independence of the churches of the New Testament where no church, not even that of Rome, has authority over any other. Indeed there is no mention in the New Testament of a local gathering of Christians as being only a member or a branch of a large, all embracing institution or organization. The New Testament understanding of church is therefore almost always local and independent (75 times out of 80), as in Congregationalism. [R T Jones, Congregationalism in Wales (Cardiff 2004) 1, 294.] However the conversion of the Roman emperor led to an authoritative hierarchy which in the west came to be centred on the Pope in Rome.

Critics of the Roman Catholic Church in the early 16th century included William Tyndale, a Gloucestershire man, who spent his energies in translating the Bible into English and was killed for his troubles. Growing up in Gloucestershire, he would have known the Welsh seasonal labourers who worked in the fields and he may have spoken some Welsh. Had he lived, would he have encouraged scripture translations into Welsh?

The 16th century Protestant Reformation, with the Bible printed in English, resulted in an overthrow of clericalism and in worship being conducted in the language of the people, that is in English firstly but, a little later, in Welsh also. Those who wanted further reforms than the monarch would allow were forced to break with the Church of England and separatist churches grew up in London, Norwich and elsewhere. Some were imprisoned, some executed like the Englishmen Henry Barrow, John Greenwood and, a few months later the educated Welshman John Penry - all in 1593. Penry had called for preachers in Welsh to travel through his native land. Following their deaths and in the midst of the persecution of anyone who, like them, tried to organise separate churches from the establishment, some went into exile in the Low Countries, and some, like the Pilgrim Fathers in 1620, migrated to New England.

John Penry is an authentic Welsh hero. He was the son of a farmer, and was born at Cefn Brith near Llangamarch. He was probably brought up as a Roman Catholic, since the people of the remoter parts of rural Wales were slow to accept the new Church of England which to them was a foreign imposition and did not grow naturally out of their experience of God. So they stuck to the Roman Catholicism that they knew.

Penry attended Peterhouse, Cambridge 1580-84, there coming into contact with Protestant ideas and influences. He then went to Oxford and was awarded his MA in 1586. He bemoaned the state of the clergy and the pastoral care in his own country where many clergymen could not speak Welsh and where their congregations were shrinking. In Wales he gained a reputation for his skill as a preacher, being known as Telyn Cymru or the Welsh Harp.

At first Penry pleaded with the church authorities to improve matters, and petitioned Queen Elizabeth I. In 1587 he published A Treatise containing the Aequity of an Humble Supplication which called for more preaching in Welsh. The work was presented in parliament and, although it offered no challenge to the bishops, he was arrested and questioned on the orders of Archbishop Whitgift, although he was later released. In 1588 he produced two further titles which were denounced as treasonable. Penry was forced to keep on the move to avoid arrest.

John Penry was involved in the publication of the Marprelate tracts which castigated the bishops, causing the Church of England to become even more anxious to suppress the tracts. In 1589, again on the run, Penry fled to Scotland where he published further works, this time defending the Scottish Church against criticisms from the English bishops. By the time he left Scotland in 1592, he had abandoned his former adherence to Presbyterianism. In London again he joined the separatists under Henry Barrow, and he became responsible for a congregation of his own which met in secret, often in the open air, risking betrayal, arrest and execution. Informed against by the vicar of Stepney, he was arrested in March 1592/3.

Despite protestations of loyalty to Queen Elizabeth I and an interview with her chief minister, Lord Burghley, he was condemned to death and executed on 29 May 1593 at St Thomas a Watering, in Southwark. Although described by later historians of dissent as "the morning star of Protestant nonconformity in Wales", his influence was in truth limited. Yet he was probably the first puritan preacher in Wales. Puritanism and vital religion in Wales did not die with Penry however.


The first Independent church in Wales was gathered at Llanfaches in Monmouthshire by William Wroth, assisted by Walter Cradock, and a Cardiff cleric, William Erbury. Wroth was allied also to the Welsh puritans Morgan Llwyd and Henry Jessey. Throughout the 1630s, Wroth’s preaching drew great crowds, with people travelling from Glamorgan, Somerset, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Radnor simply to hear him. It was said of the Llanvaches worship that from there the gospel went out ‘like fire through the thatch’. The parish church proved far too small for such a number and often he preached in the churchyard. The bishops took a dim view of the enthusiasm of Wroth and his colleagues and, anticipating exclusion, they set up the first Independent church in Wales, organised ‘according to the New England pattern’ (that is on Congregational lines).

A little known but stronger link exists between these Welsh puritans and the American colonies. Sometime between 1636 and 1638 Marmaduke Matthews, born in Swansea and then vicar of Penmain in the Gower peninsula, emigrated to New England to avoid censure by the church and state at home. He may have been among the ‘severall Welsh Gentlemen of Good note … procured’ by Edward Winslow of the Pilgrim Church of Plymouth, Massachusetts to assist there. Matthews later returned to Swansea and, refusing to conform to the Restoration church settlement, was ejected from his living in 1662 [Y Cofiadur vol 32 (Swansea 1962) 55-6].

The English Civil War and the interregnum (1642-60) saw the Independent or Congregational churches grow markedly in numbers and Oliver Cromwell, John Milton and John Bunyan were all affected by them. The English generally regarded the Welsh as conservative and pro-royalist, living in a backwater, “a poor oppressed people and despised also”, wrote William Erbery, from Cardiff. But, despite this, puritans grew in numbers and influence in the 1630s in the market towns along the Welsh borders.

At the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, Congregationalists were excluded from the church settlement and thus became nonconformists, with the Presbyterians, Baptists and Quakers. Subject to harsh laws they endured persecution, exclusion from public office, and their sons were barred from the universities. Consequently they set up their own schools and academies and many, including the hymn writers, Isaac Watts and Philip Doddridge, received first class educations there.

The evangelical revival of the eighteenth century benefited the Congregational churches in England, Wales and Scotland and new causes were founded. In Scotland the Haldane brothers, in particular, were keen to build Independent churches and in 1812 (200 years ago) the Congregational Union of Scotland came into being. The Congregational Union of England and Wales was later, being founded in 1831, and the Union of Welsh Independents (Undeb) was founded even later in 1872. It now has 450 churches.

At the end of the 18th century, in 1795, the London Missionary Society had been founded by a wide assortment of concerned men and this became the main agency for all Congregationalists serving abroad in the mission field. Among these were Scotsmen like Robert Moffat and David Livingstone who went to south Africa, the Englishman John Williams to the Pacific Islands, and the Welshmen Thomas Bevan in Madagascar, Evan Davies in Penang, and most notably Griffith John to China. The Scottish Olympic gold medallist, Eric Liddell, (whose story was told in the popular film Chariots of Fire) also went with the LMS to China where he died in a Japanese internment camp in 1945.

During the 19th century, Congregationalists campaigned for the better treatment and freedom of slaves, especially in Guyana and the West Indies. Livingstone in Africa was very active in the campaign to end the Arab slave trade which stemmed from Zanzibar on the east coast. They fought for political freedoms, for better education, for the better care of children, and for the opening of the universities to all – men and women. In Wales they led the campaign to dis-establish the Church of Wales which finally occurred in 1920. They were among the first to allow women to train to become ministers and Elsie Chamberlain was the first woman to broadcast in the BBC religious broadcasting department and also probably the first woman to lead a major denomination anywhere in the world when in 1956 she became chairman of the Congregational Union of England and Wales.

Wales experienced religious revival in 1904, and afterwards, and many Congregational chapels were revived in the years of excitement. In the 20th century among the most important Welsh Congregationalists who made a big impact on the world were the bard and minister, ‘Elfed’, Howell Elvet Lewis, scholars like C H Dodd, Pennar Davies and Tudur Jones, and the opponent of apartheid, Aubrey Lewis. We might also mention the Labour politician Harold Wilson who was brought up a Congregationalist in Yorkshire, married the daughter of a Congregational minister in Oxford, attended Congregational churches in Richmond, Surrey and Hampstead and, even when prime minister was still an active lay preacher. In politics too, Tony Benn is the son of serious Congregationalists and he derives much of his ethical attitudes from the puritan tradition. However in Wales the pioneering nationalist Gwynfor Evans (1912-2005) was a faithful Congregationalist and a pacifist.

Howell Elvet Lewis (Elfed 1860- 1953) was an Independent minister, hymn-writer, and poet. He was born on 14 April, 1860, the oldest son of the twelve children of James and Anna Lewis, at Y Gangell, near Blaen-y-coed, Carmarthenshire. His father's wage as a farm-worker at Pencraig-fawr was small and was supplemented by keeping a shop in the home at Pant-y-Waun. Howell learned the alphabet from the capital letters in his father's Bible and only his home and the Sunday school provided his education until he was eight when a school was opened in the chapel vestry. There Howell became a pupil teacher to his contemporaries. He was sent to the grammar school at Newcastle Emlyn when he was fourteen. He started to preach and was known as the ‘boy-preacher’. At school he was introduced him to the Welsh strict metres, cynghanedd, and to English literature. Two years later he passed the entrance examination to Carmarthen Presbyterian College, and won every prize during his four years there, adding German lessons to his other work.

In 1880 he accepted an invitation to the pastorate of Buckley chapel, Flintshire, a church where the English language was spoken. After four years, he moved to a church in Hull but here he turned his mind to Wales and to its prose and poetry. He wrote poems and essays that won prizes in many eisteddfodau. The national eisteddfod in Wrexham in 1888 is testimony to his gifts. It came to be known as ‘Elfed's Eisteddfod’ because he won on the free-verse poem, ‘Y Saboth yng Nghymru’, the love poem, ‘Llyn y Morwynion’, and an essay on ‘Athrylith John Ceiriog Hughes.’ At that time he also wrote The Sweet Singers of Wales and Emynwyr Cymru. At this time he composed many of his most popular hymns.

He returned to Wales in 1891 as minister of the English-language Park chapel, Llanelli. There also he devoted more of his efforts to national causes. He won the national eisteddfod chair in 1894 on the subject ‘Hunan aberth.’ He was one of the editors of the Congregational hymnal, Y Caniedydd Cynulleidfaol, published in 1895, the same year that the national eisteddfod came to Llanelli; Caniadau Elfed was also published and three years later Plannu Coed, a popular volume of sermons, appeared.

In 1898, he accepted a call to Harecourt, a well known Congregational church in London, with links to both Cromwell and David Livingstone. After several requests, he finally yielded to the insistence of the Welsh speaking congregation of Tabernacl chapel, King's Cross, in 1904 and he ministered to them until his retirement in 1940 when he went to live at ‘Erw'r Delyn’, Penarth, and became a member of Ebeneser chapel, Cardiff.

His Tabernacl ministry covered the revival of 1904-14 when Elfed devoted his talents to promoting and directing the religious zeal of those years, and the period of decline of 1914-24. He formed a ‘covenant’ with those church members who had been dispersed because of the war so that their relationship might be safeguarded. During the economic depression of 1924-40 many Welsh people received help and work through Elfed and his message of hope was a great comfort to those who came to London to seek work.

His contribution to Welsh life and culture was acknowledged by the university, the eisteddfod, the state and the church. He was the first person that the University of Wales honoured with three degrees, MA (1906), DD (1933) and LLD (1949). He received every honour that the eisteddfod could bestow as a competitor, as adjudicator and as archdruid. The church also honoured him. The board of the London Missionary Society appointed him its chairman twice, 1910 and 1922 , and he was one of three LMS representatives to visit Madagascar to celebrate the century of the arrival of the first missionaries. He was president of the Free Churches in 1926 and chairman of the Congregational Union of England and Wales in 1933.

Elfed was also fortunate in his home life. He married Mary Taylor of Buckley, in 1887. This was a happy marriage and they had seven children. However she died suddenly in 1918. He married Elisabeth Lloyd five years later but she was in poor health and died in 1927. By 1930 Elfed believed that his public life was coming to an end as his eyesight had failed completely, he was 70 years old, and travelling became impossible. However, Mary Davies, one of the members of Tabernacl, King's Cross, came into his life. Their marriage in 1930 allowed him to continue to minister both in King's Cross and further afield. She enabled him to travel to preach and lecture until his death on 10 January 1953. His ashes were interred in his home village of Blaen-y-coed.

His most famous hymn in English, included in Congregational Praise, is probably the following.

The light of the morning is breaking,
The shadows are passing away;
The nations of earth are awaking,
New peoples are learning to pray.
Let wrong, O Redeemer, be righted,
In knowing and doing Thy will;
And gather, as brothers united,
All men to Thy cross on the hill.

Thy love is the bond of creation,
Thy love is the peace of mankind:
Make safe with Thy love every nation
In concord of heart and of mind.
Thy pity alone can deliver
The earth from her sorrows, dear Lord:
Her pride and her hardness forgive her,
Thy blood for her ransom was poured.

Thy throne, O Redeemer, be founded
In radiance of wisdom and love;
Thy name through the wide world be sounded
Till earth be as heaven above.
Though hills and high mountains should tremble,
Though all that is seen melt away,
Thy voice shall in triumph assemble
Thy loved ones at dawning of day.


The son of a Wrexham headmaster, C H Dodd (1884-1973) was the leading New Testament scholar of his generation. His eminence was such that Cambridge had to change its rules to enable him to become professor at the university (previously only Anglicans had been allowed to occupy this post).

Charles Harold Dodd was known for promoting realized eschatology, the understanding that Jesus' references to the kingdom of God meant a present rather than a future reality. He was Rylands Professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis in Manchester University 1930-35, in which year he was elected to the Norris Hulse Chair of Divinity at Cambridge. He retired from the chair in 1949.

Dodd was the eldest of four sons of Charles Dodd. One brother, A H Dodd, became professor of history at the University College of North Wales, Bangor, and another, Percy, became a fellow of Jesus College, Oxford, 1919-31. He won a scholarship in classics at University College, Oxford, entered the college in 1902, and gained first-class honours. He briefly lectured in classics at Leeds University and undertook research under Adolf von Harnack in Berlin. Having been elected senior demy at Magdalen College, Oxford, he researched early Christian epigraphy in Italy. He also studied theology at Mansfield College, Oxford, although he never in fact took a theological degree, and was ordained as Congregational minister at Warwick in 1912.

In 1915 he returned to Mansfield College as Yates lecturer, and later Professor, in New Testament Greek and Exegesis. In 1927 he was appointed a university lecturer in New Testament at Oxford and Grinfield lecturer in the Septuagint. Three years later he moved to fill the Rylands Chair of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis at Manchester University, and then in 1935 he became the first non-Anglican scholar to occupy a chair of divinity at either of the ancient universities of England when he was elected to the Norris-Hulse Chair at Cambridge, which he held until his retirement in 1949. He was also a fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge.

His first major publication was The Authority of the Bible (1928) in which he concluded that authority resides in truth alone, namely the revealed will of God mediated to us in the bible. He also stressed the search for unity in the New Testament writings. In The Apostolic Preaching and its Developments (1936) he outlined the main elements in the proclamation (kerygma) of the early church in Paul's epistles and Acts. In Gospel and Law (1951) he found in the New Testament epistles an ethical teaching (didache) which, like the kerygma, was traceable to the early church.

He explained his term ‘realized eschatology’in The Parables of the Kingdom (1935), where he claimed that Jesus's most characteristic sayings about the Kingdom announced that it had already come. He also argued that those sayings which suggested that the Kingdom belonged to the future referred to a world beyond time and space. Later, in The Coming of Christ (1951), he explained that the second coming refers to an age beyond history. He also qualified his earlier position by conceding that something more might still be hoped for. Indeed his mature view was summed up in the Johannine phrase ‘the time is coming and now is’. In his first book on the gospel of John, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel (1953), he showed his pleasure with a German saying, translated as ‘eschatology in process of realization’. He held that eschatological beliefs had affected strongly the ethics of the first churches. Given that all in this world appeared transient, the early Christians concentrated on values which would survive the present and were eternal.

Dodd insisted that the parables should be understood within a certain context in Jesus’s ministry, namely the conflict in which he was the chief figure and which in truth his appearance had occasioned. He was keen to stress the historical element in the gospels, as in his History and the Gospel (1938). He recognized that the gospels were written ‘from faith to faith’, but he believed that it was possible to discover the Jesus of history. His implicit faith in the reliability of the historical traditions in the gospels is present in his last book, The Founder of Christianity (1970), based on lectures delivered at Aberystwyth sixteen years earlier. He concludes his second volume on John’s gospel, Historical Tradition in the Fourth Gospel (1963), with the statement that behind it is an ancient tradition, quite separate from the synoptic gospels, in fact another source of historical knowledge about Jesus. However, apart from popular works like The Parables of the Kingdom and The Founder of Christianity, Dodd is perhaps best remembered for The New English Bible. He was the General Director of the NEB project from 1947 and oversaw its complete translation and publication in 1970. Dodd was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1946, became a Companion of Honour in 1963 and received honorary doctorates from universities in Britain, France, the USA, and Norway. He died on 22 September, 1973, and a thanksgiving service was held in Westminster Abbey on 25 January, 1974 - the first time a Free Church minister had received such treatment.

Also notable among Welsh Congregationalists in the last forty years have been Pennar Davies and Tudur Jones. William Thomas (Pennar) Davies (1911-1996), novelist, poet, theologian and scholar, was born in Mountain Ash, Glamorgan in 1911. His father was a miner from the Rhondda valley and his mother was from the English speaking part of Pembrokeshire. English was the language of their home.

William Thomas (he assumed the name Pennar in the 1940s) was educated in local state schools, at the University College of South Wales, in Cardiff, where he graduated with first-class honours degrees in Latin in 1932, and in English in 1933. He then proceeded to Balliol College, Oxford, gaining a BLitt. In 1936 he was studying for a PhD at Yale University. In 1938 he returned to Wales, continuing his studies on Elizabethan literature as a fellow of the University of Wales, in Cardiff.

Previously an agnostic, he became a Christian in 1938 and then became a candidate for the ministry with the Welsh Independents. Back in Oxford, now at Mansfield College, he studied theology 1940-43 and there met his future wife, Rosemarie Wolff, a nurse at Oxford and a Lutheran, who had escaped from Germany because of her Jewish ancestry. Also in 1943 he was ordained minister of the English Independent Chapel, in Windsor Road, Cardiff.

After his Christian conversion, Pennar continued creative writing, whilst dedicating himself to support Welsh religion, society and culture in general. His early poems were in English, written under the name of ‘Davies Aberpennar’, but now, he began to write almost exclusively in Welsh. His verse revealed his great knowledge, vivid imagination and spiritual and love interests. He was professor of church history at Bala-Bangor College in 1946, and moved to Brecon Memorial College in 1950, becoming principal there in 1952. He was principal of Swansea Memorial College 1959-79 when he retired. A supporter of the Welsh language, he was sentenced at Carmarthen in 1979 for helping to turn off the Pencarreg television transmitter as part of the campaign to establish a Welsh broadcasting service.

Although active in retirement, his later publications lacked the dynamism of previous books, and in old age he suffered from Alzheimer's disease. Pennar Davies died in Swansea on 29 December, 1996.


Robert Tudur Jones (1921-1998), theologian and church historian, the son of a railway worker and a nurse, was born in Llanystumdwy, Caernarfonshire in 1921 and raised in Rhyl, Flintshire. The family were Welsh Independents and Tudur’s parents had been deeply influenced by the 1904-5 revival. Tudur was educated at Rhyl Secondary School from which he won a scholarship to Jesus College, Oxford, but chose rather to enter the University of Wales, at Bangor, to study Welsh and philosophy. He graduated with first-class honours in philosophy in 1942 and then trained for the Independent ministry in Bala Bangor College, becoming a Welsh nationalist and later an advocate of Karl Barth’s neo-Calvinism.

After graduating in theology with the highest marks ever recorded in the University of Wales in 1945, he began studies at Mansfield College, Oxford, researching Welsh puritanism and submitting his doctoral thesis in 1947. His book Vavasor Powell (1970) was the result. After two semesters at Strasbourg University, Tudur was ordained minister of Seion Chapel, Baker St, Aberystwyth in 1948.

Tudur Jones was professor of church history at Bala-Bangor from 1950, succeeding Pennar Davies, and there he remained for the rest of his life, becoming principal of Bala-Bangor College in 1966 and an honorary professor in the university in 1989. In addition to his standing for parliament for Plaid Cymru in Anglesey in 1955 and 1959, the 1950s and 60s were years of considerable academic achievement for him. His first weighty books, Congregationalism in England, 1662-1962 (1962) and Hanes Annibynwyr Cymru (1966, English translation, Congregationalism in Wales, 2004), offered new understandings of popular Protestantism in the two countries. His command of the sources, his analysis and clear language, and his sympathy with faith, shone through. In his journalism, he wrote on politics and society, aiming to steer public opinion, especially when the future of Wales and the Welsh language commanded attention. For Tudur Jones, Christianity, especially Calvinism, was not essentially about the development of piety, but rather about the proclamation of God's dominion in an increasingly secular age.

In the mid-1970s it was apparent that his interests had moved away from puritanism and eighteenth century evangelicalism to the Victorian age and the beginnings of the modern religious crisis in Wales. In his Yr Undeb (1976), he not only traced the history of the Union of Welsh Independents but also, at a deeper level, he analysed the intense anguish of Welsh nonconformity when seemingly it was enjoying its highest success. His chief work on this theme was his two-volume Ffydd ac Argyfwng Cenedl: Crefydd a Chymdeithas yng Nghymru, 1890-1914 (1981-2; English translation, Faith and the Crisis of a Nation, 2004) which examines the steep decline of Calvinistic Wales. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Tudur encouraged evangelical Christianity, mainly in Wales, but also in England. In 1986 he received an honorary DLitt from the University of Wales (having gained a DD in 1968) and in 1988, when Memorial College and Bala-Bangor College united, he remained in Bangor. Tudur Jones was the leading historian of Welsh Christianity in the twentieth century. He died unexpectedly in July, 1998 and was buried in Bangor.

One less well known Congregationalist was the Rev Aubrey Lewis, a missionary who became an outstanding witness for Christian inclusiveness, and who was born on April 1, 1917. He died on December 26, 2002, aged 85. He was called to minister in South Africa in the years before apartheid. Aubrey David Lewis was born in Caerphilly, and the spirit of the Congregational Church was to guide him all his life.

From Caerphilly, he studied geology at King's College, London, with a scholarship linked to teacher training and he also took a theology course. In 1940 he was accepted by the London Missionary Society to teach in Bangalore, and went to New College, Oxford, to study Indian religions. However, possibly because of his pacifist principles, he was refused entry to India, and instead he became the assistant minister of Whitefield's Tabernacle in Tottenham Court Road, London. In 1943 he married Peggy Belgrove, and in 1945, with their daughter, they were among the first missionaries to leave the UK after the Second World War.

Aged only 28, Lewis was appointed the principal of Tiger Kloof in the Orange Free State, one of the most prominent educational institutes in South Africa. He took charge of nine separate schools, managed an estate of 1,250 acres, was responsible for a staff of Africans and Europeans and for their pastoral and spiritual care. Like other missionary institutions, Tiger Kloof provided an education for Africans that helped them to think and to do and the National Party Government, coming to power in 1948, wished to change this with the coming of its policy of apartheid. In 1953 Hendrik Verwoerd, the minister of native affairs, introduced a bill to take away control of the education of black people from the missionaries to his department.

A number of schemes were proposed, all rejected by Lewis because they necessitated some compromise with the government. Lewis remained firm and guided the London Missionary Society in its attitudes so that the LMS eventually in 1956 came to end its connection of 51 years with schooling at Tiger Kloof. The LMS’s decision was a protest against the Bantu Education Act, which wanted to ensure that black South Africans could not rise above their lowly status in life as “hewers of wood and drawers of water”.

Tiger Kloof for a while continued to operate under the state, with resistance against political manipulation coming from both Old Tigers and the school children. However several of its buildings were burned down and the school eventually closed in 1963, with the whole area being declared a “black spot” under the Group Areas Act.

Lewis was to become the assistant headmaster of Prempeh College, Kumasi, in Ghana, where among his students was John Kufuor, the president of his country 2001-2009 and an Oxford educated barrister, with a fine reputation for honesty and morality. In the UK in the 1960s Lewis was assistant education officer for Huddersfield and also the minister of Norristhorpe Congregational Church.

In 1966 Lewis moved with his family to London, as schools inspector for Greenwich, and as an inspector for religious education within the Inner London Education Authority. He was also to serve as educational advisor to the Free Church Federal Council. On retirement, Lewis and his wife lived near her home in Felixstowe and for a time he was interim moderator of Tacket Street Congregational Church, Ipswich.

In 1991 a meeting of Old Tigers, initiated by Revd Joe Wing, a former LMS missionary and a United Congregational Church of Southern Africa minister, discussed the re-opening of Tiger Kloof. A portion of the original property was acquired, buildings were renovated, and the official opening of the new Tiger Kloof Educational Institution occurred on 1st October 1995, (17 years ago) eighteen months after the first democratic elections in South Africa.

Lewis, then in his 80s, went back to lay the rededication stone at Tiger Kloof with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, to play his part in resolving his life's toughest challenge. Forty years earlier, he had stood against apartheid, refusing to sign away the missionary link with the school which had set the standards for African education. He told his hearers that, on leaving Tiger Kloof 40 years earlier, he had said farewell with the words “until we meet again”, without thinking that he would ever again see Tiger Kloof or his colleagues. “There was hardly a dry eye in the assembly,” said one Old Tiger. “It was time to start again. The school we see today was reborn on that emotional day.” The strength and morality of Welsh Congregationalism gave Lewis the courage to defy the politics of racism [The Times 25 March 2003 (Link), accessed 3 October 2012].


In the 20th century Congregationalists were often zealous for church unity which led to failed attempts to bring most mainstream Protestants together. One Congregationalist who advocated unity but was critical of the way it was promoted in England was the Welsh theologian, Daniel T Jenkins (1914-2002), who was a proponent of the teachings of Karl Barth and Reinhold Niebuhr [Who They Were, ed J Taylor and J C G Binfield (Donington 2007)]. For much of the 20th century, Congregationalists were among the keenest to unite the denominations. In 1972 some Congregationalists joined the English Presbyterians to create the United Reformed Church, (England and Wales) and in 1996 (Scotland), but some 500 English speaking Congregational churches opted to retain their freedom and rejected this centralising measure. Outstanding among those who defended the autonomy of local Congregational churches was the Welshman, Reginald Cleaves (1915-1980), then minister of Clarendon Park Congregational Church, Leicester [Who They Were, ed J Taylor and J C G Binfield (Donington 2007)]. The Congregational Federation has provided fellowship for most Congregational churches since 1972, without infringing their right to respond directly to the Holy Spirit in whatever way they believe called by God to act. However some conservative evangelical Congregational churches joined together in the Evangelical Fellowship of Congregational Churches, in which Alan Tovey (1942-2002), born in Monmouthshire, played a leading role.

Congregationalism seemed and seems particularly suited to the Welsh character, in that it encourages initiative, open mindedness, free speech, the expression of diverse opinions and lay leadership, and in its stressing autonomy and self-government, but also it respects the wider fellowship of the family, in this case the family of Christ in the household of God. The independency of a Congregational church accords with the Welsh people who have tended to live, not so much in large sprawling towns, but in smaller compact communities in the valleys where roads and transport, especially in the winter, are not always easy. In such smaller communities, a spirit of self-reliance and self-determination is often engendered.

Congregationalism also enables the Welsh to be free of external control whether from Canterbury, London or Rome. The long standing Congregational opposition to the church-state link of having an established church also accords with nationalism and it is perhaps not surprising that many Welsh Congregationalists have sympathised with greater Welsh political independence.

Congregational churches still conduct and decide their own affairs, including the appointment of their ministers, with all members sharing equal responsibility and assisting as they are able in chapel life. They find their authority in the Bible, and especially in Christ's promise, "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them". In this anniversary year, we give thanks for the courage of the past and pray we may have similar courage, if need be, in our own generation.

Alan Argent

Further Reading

What is the CF in Wales?
Albania Project