Church history. Sound dull? Yawning already? Read on... this one is guaranteed NOT to send you to sleep!

If you've come this far you're about to read the opening chapter of 'RBC at 80 - The Story of Rhiwbina Baptist Church.' This is how it all started folks!

Chapter 1
Baptist Beginnings (1933 – 67)

The story of RBC begins with a story of its own. A tale of two fathers, waiting for their daughters to come out of the Methodist Sunday school, lamenting the lack of a Baptist church. The year is 1933.
Who knows whether their conversations were the catalyst that set the wheels in motion. But fast forward twelve months and the same men are standing outside the Council School in Lon Ucha. A Baptist Sunday School has been founded and a church will soon follow with a building of its own. Rhiwbina Baptist Church.
An earlier attempt to establish a Baptist witness in the village had fallen at the first hurdle. The Cardiff and District Baptist Board who had the final say on such matters clearly had other priorities in 1931. But three years later the Board was thinking differently. An appeal was published in the Cardiff and Suburban News and this, along with door to door visits in the village led to more than sixty people expressing a strong desire to join a Baptist church. The Board was convinced and agreed to provide the necessary financial assistance.
On Sunday 6th May 1934 the first services were held in the Council School Hall (now Rhiwbeina Primary School) led by the President of the East Glamorgan Baptist Association, Professor T W Chance. The official consecration of the Church followed in July. An extract from the Cardiff and Suburban News devoted two full columns to news of the event: ‘At 5pm a Public Tea was provided, at which a silver collection was taken. This was followed by a great rally at 7pm. At this meeting the covenant of Fellowship was taken and the Church duly formed amid scenes of great fervour and rejoicing.’
The ‘covenant’ (the equivalent of modern-day church membership), was signed by thirty-six members. One of those present at the first service was Phyllis Cruse, a young mother whose twins, David and Elaine would be born the following year. Elaine Fearnley recounted: “Mum had been brought up as a Baptist so when two men came knocking on the door asking if anyone in our house would be interested in joining a new Baptist church Mum decided that’s where we would go.”
Officers and deacons were soon elected, the Sunday School which had been meeting since the end of May found itself attracting more local children, and every Tuesday evening the church met together for fellowship and prayer. In addition, plans were already in hand to hold Anniversary services and a Whitsun Treat. The lack of a church building was not holding the new congregation back!
But the need for a permanent structure was considered a high priority so that the church could increase its activities. Much work went into raising the necessary funds. Madame Kate Langley’s Ladies Glee Party was booked to perform a concert, and sales of work organised to augment the weekly offerings and financial gifts received. After considering various possibilities, the church agreed on a plot of land opposite the Council School and on 4th December 1935 the foundation stone of the new building: a church hall and ‘schoolrooms’, was laid.
Construction work took just four months and when the first services took place on 8th April 1936 a reporter from the Cardiff and Suburban News was there to record the details: ‘The new church will accommodate about 250 persons, and the two ante-rooms, which will be used for Sunday Schools, will hold 150 altogether. The church, which is the beginning of a bigger scheme, cost £2500 to erect.’ Plenty of room then, for the church to grow from the forty two who were in membership at the time.

A ‘Garden Village’
The new Baptist church was planted into a village which was the result of an innovative experiment in housing. The building of Rhiwbina ‘Garden Village’ had started in 1912 prompted by a vision to provide healthier and more modern living conditions for industrial workers, in what were described in a newspaper article as ‘beautiful garden suburbs’. Cardiff had been accorded city status in 1905 and the population had risen from 164,000 at the beginning of the century, to almost 230,000 by 1931. This created a pressing need for new housing, and outlying suburbs like Rhiwbina with its acres of open fields and close proximity to the Wenallt were considered ideal.
By 1914 the first batch of houses was completed in Y Groes, Lon Isa and Lon y Dail. The railway station with its two tracks for steam trains had opened three years earlier, providing links with the developing city centre. Few people owned cars so would-be tenants were advised in a booklet entitled ‘How to get to Rhubina’, to take a tram to Cardiff Parade (Rhymney Railway) Station and book a ticket to Rhiwbina Halt. The fare was just 3 ½ pence (a little less than 2p in today’s money.)
By 1935 the village had a primary school, a recreation club with a bowling green and tennis courts, and an array of shops to meet the needs of the growing village. Milk was delivered by a horse-drawn float, and bread in the same way. A couple of grocers - Duggan and James, Thomas and Evans - had opened up so that as one local put it, ‘Residents could buy bacon cut to any thickness they wanted.’ Half pound bags of broken biscuits were available for purchase and children could choose from a bewildering display of sweets – gobstoppers, aniseed balls, liquorice bootlaces. Rhiwbina Fruit Supplies opened up along with the Midland Bank, a chemist, Mr Gooch’s Hardware store and Raybould’s the Butcher. Rhiwbina also had its own police station at 71 Heol y Deri, occupied by a resident policeman, and by 1947 a tiny library was housed in a building on the corner of Pen y Dre.

Religious Life in Rhiwbina
Religious faith and affiliation had been adversely affected by the First World War leading to a decline in chapel-going. Nonetheless Rhiwbina was not short of churches and by the 1930s there were no fewer than four within a one mile radius.
Beulah Church had existed in the heart of the village since the mid-nineteenth century and caught the tail end of the 1904 Revival. All Saints Church in Wales opened its doors on its present site by the Rhydwaedlyd Stream in 1931, Rhiwbina Methodist Church in 1925 and in February 1932 Bethesda Hall, (Plymouth Brethren) was established. But there was no Baptist church, leaving a significant gap in the community. (Bethany Baptist did not move from the town centre to its present site on Heol Llanishen Fach until 1964.)
An occasional visitor to RBC in the thirties was TJ Russell Jones (father of Gethin), during his time as a student at the South Wales Baptist College. It was apparently commonplace to find students, dressed in their Bible black suits, alighting from the train at various stations on the Coryton line on Sunday mornings, each off to preach at a different church.
Another point of interest in the village a decade later concerned Evan Roberts, the preacher at the centre of the 1904 Welsh Revival. By now an elderly man, he lived out his last years as something of a recluse at 81 Beulah Road, devoting himself to intercession, attending Park End Church and following the highs and lows of Cardiff City Football Club. In his booklet Origins, David Ollerton has suggested that the formation of the Rhiwbina Baptist Church may well have been the fruit of Evan Roberts’ prayers.

The First Pastors
Between 1936 and 1967 the church had no fewer than six ministers. The first of these, Rev Samuel Jones, was a man in his late sixties who agreed to undertake temporary oversight of the church on a part-time basis. He stayed until 1939 but it was not until two years later that the Church began looking for a permanent full-time minister. The man who answered the call was Rev Cyril Hewitt Jones from Leeds, newly ordained and much younger. By this time however Britain was at war and in 1943 he left to serve as a Royal Army Chaplain. His successor, Rev Penry Davies came in 1944 and stayed for just four years.
In these early years the Sisterhood was formed, a weekly afternoon meeting for women of all ages. When the war was over Eva Lewis whose brother Eric was Missionary Secretary, started Brownies and Guides at the church. Sunday services morning and evening continued in the ‘schoolrooms’ but the Church had been committed to providing a ‘proper Chapel’ from the outset and fundraising efforts continued with vigour in order to pay for this.
Elaine Fearnley described attending church three times every Sunday as a child, with her mother and twin brother David: morning service, afternoon Sunday School and the service at 6.30pm. She recalled one Sunday with a difference. “Sunday school was always pretty dull so one afternoon David and I mitched off to go and play on the Wenallt. When an adder slithered over my foot I was lucky not to be bitten. We soon ran home in fright! ‘Serves you right!’ Mum told us. We never did that again!”
In December 1949 Rev Elvet B Jones joined the church but not until after some persistence by the officers. His name strongly suggests that he was a Welshman but his early ministry had been in Warminster. It appears that despite his initial reservations he warmed to the idea of leading RBC and the challenges that lay ahead. He even penned a short history of the church which was published at his induction, and believing that ‘the Church of Christ still has business to do in this world’, later oversaw the conversion of the hall into ‘a chapel proper’.
Deckchair-style seats were replaced with pews, and church members were asked to subscribe for decorative windows to be fitted. As was the custom of the time a number of these were donated in memory of loved ones who had been founder members. A vestibule and gallery were added to the building in 1953 along with a wooden pulpit. But by 1955 Elvet Jones had also decided to move on, to take up a pastorate in Coventry.
Rev Ieuan Thomas arrived the following year, another Welshman. Chiefly remembered as a keen dahlia grower it was his idea for the church to host an Annual Flower and Vegetable Show. One of the deacons, Fred Sanders, a keen gardener himself, agreed to organise the shows which continued into the early sixties. Green-fingered church members were encouraged to participate and the shows were a great success, with proceeds of nearly £4 each year going to Church funds. The produce was then used to decorate the church for the Harvest Festival services held the following day.
The earliest Church records available show that in 1956 there were eighty-nine people ‘on the roll’, that visiting speakers at Sunday services (referred to as ‘pulpit supplies’) could expect to receive three guineas (£3 15p in today’s money) and that the Baptist hymn books, known as ‘Chubbies,’ were used to the accompaniment of a newly installed pipe organ.
A church constitution approved in 1948, stated that the minister should be elected in accordance with the rules of the Baptist Union of Great Britain and Ireland and that deacons who had to be over the age of twenty-one would be elected for a period of three years, but eligible for re-election. Church members (who had to be have been ‘immersed’) were expected to ‘attend loyally the church services, to give towards its support as God has prospered them, to take part in church activities and to lead lives regulated by the teaching and inspired by the Spirit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.’ People from other denominations were welcome to join the church and take Communion, but were not allowed to vote at church meetings. This Constitution remained in place until the mid-eighties.
Men donned suits and ties (jackets to be removed only on the hottest of summer days), women wore hats, and children dressed in their ‘Sunday best.’ In keeping with the traditions of the day the Minister led all aspects of the service – prayers, preaching, announcing hymns – with the exception of the weekly notices which were read out by the Church Secretary. The number of Sunday school ‘scholars’ had fluctuated through the forties and fifties but at the end of the decade stood at ninety-one. The children were expected to take part in the annual Scripture Union exams, the results of which were reported at the church meetings, and congratulations generally extended to those who had done well.
Baptismal services took place every few months but the numbers recorded were small and there is no mention of the ages of the ‘baptismal candidates’ or what, if any, spiritual experience led to their request to be baptised. In the days before trousers were considered an acceptable form of clothing for girls and women, all female candidates were required to wear thick white cotton baptismal gowns which usually ballooned on impact with water! Men, of course wearing trousers, avoided such embarrassment!
Every year the church celebrated its anniversary, usually in April, with special services. The Sisterhood did the same and a speaker from another church would usually be invited along to address the ladies. If the current pastor was married, his wife was expected to take on the role of President of the Sisterhood and play a leading role at such gatherings. A grand tea with homemade cakes would always follow. The Sunday school held its own anniversary events too, at which the children would read, sing and perform. In April 1959 the church celebrated the twenty-fifth year since its inception with a guest preacher, followed by a social evening on the Monday.
The church was a member of the Temperance Union at this time, the purpose of which was to strongly discourage members from consuming alcohol. Every year, in advance of Temperance Sunday, leaflets supporting the cause would be circulated among church members.
Regular sales of work, jumble sales and bazaars took place along with Gift Days, and there were Whitsun Treat trips, sometimes to the seaside, but usually held on the school field across the road. Harvest Suppers also became a regular feature with the hall being festively decorated and in-house entertainment provided by those who could sing, play an instrument or were happy to ‘do a turn’.

Church Meetings
The church meeting minutes of the time paint a portrait of a busy church steeped in Baptist tradition run by a core of committed men and women. Although day to day decisions were the responsibility of the pastor and deacons, church meetings were the means by which most decisions governing the life of the church were made. Including the colour of the crockery, as the old adage goes! Some interesting items found their way on to church meeting agendas in the 1950s. Among them were agreement to get the organ tuned, the loan of china to the school for a retirement party and the purchase of a waterproof gown and leggings for the pastor to conduct baptisms!
The treasurer’s report was a standing item at all church meetings as it is today. In 1956 weekly offerings stood at around £7.80 in today’s money. By 1960 these had risen to £10.50. Churches like Rhiwbina Baptist unable to provide financial support for their ministers received funding through the Baptist Home Work fund. And although the Church responded to regular requests for donations to Christian charitable causes, the only mission giving was a £30 annual contribution to the Baptist Missionary Society.
Local Links
Until the late 1960s it was customary for the churches in the village to borrow items like chairs and china from one another. They would also join together for special occasions, attending one another’s induction services when a new minister arrived. The BBC Home Service (precursor to Radio Four) ran a religious programme every Sunday evening and in March 1951, ‘Sunday Half Hour’ was hosted by Beulah Congregational Church with the local churches, including Rhiwbina Baptist, joining together for Community hymn-singing. Christmas Day and Good Friday services regularly rotated between the local churches in order to get a good number together, an indication of the lack of theological differences between the churches at that time.

Church Life in the Sixties
In 1961, Rev Ieuan Thomas, now aged 61, moved to Devon, his last church before retirement four years later. His successor - Rev John King - was newly-ordained and a relative youngster at twenty-five. He is credited with informing the members present at his first church meeting in September 1962 that ‘continuous study of the Bible would be of great value to all concerned.’ As a result the first fortnightly Bible study group started shortly afterwards, but not without a show of hands in order to be officially agreed.
A Welsh speaker, John King introduced a Welsh language service which was enthusiastically supported and drew good numbers. He also appears to have been the first to encourage the church to take an interest in the spiritual welfare of the rising generation of teenagers, and every month one Sunday morning service was geared towards the young people. He was also keen to start a youth club but practical support from members proved to be thin on the ground despite his regular pleas at church meetings. Nevertheless the young people were given permission to decorate the upper room (now the youth room) and without supervision!
In 1962 the church found itself having to consider a serious external matter. A proposal had been mooted that all Non-Conformist Churches in Wales unite to become one body, thereafter to be known as United Reform churches. A vigorous discussion took place at the church meeting in December but the vote to reject the offer was unanimous. Voting ‘yes’ would have meant the church losing its distinct identity as a Baptist church, including in particular, the baptism of believers by full immersion.
One issue which did divide the membership was a move to introduce family worship with children going out to Sunday school in the morning instead of returning after lunch. By 1964 a number of churches in the city were changing their patterns of worship in order to give families more time together and as society became less rigid in its approach to Sunday traditions. However the proposal to introduce this change at RBC was not well received. Feelings ran high in the church meeting with the pastor who was in favour, being accused of abusing his position. When the motion was approved by a secret ballot, the Sunday school superintendent resigned on the spot and a number of disaffected people took the decision to leave the church. But fears that the number attending Sunday school would drop proved to be unfounded. When classes moved to Sunday mornings, two rooms had to be hired in the Memorial Hall next door to help accommodate the growing number of young people.
By 1965 strains were beginning to show in John King’s relationship with the church. In September, his disappointment with members for their ‘marked lack of enthusiasm for spiritual matters, especially prayer meetings’ was recorded in the church meeting minutes. A few months earlier there had been a call by one of the officers for his pastorate to be time-limited to three years. By the end of the year he had announced his decision to answer a call to a church in Devon. With no vote of thanks recorded it does not appear to have been a happy ending to his time in Rhiwbina. Disillusioned with Baptist ways, perhaps, he started training for the Anglican ministry a year later.
A handful of men were invited to visit ‘with a view’ but none invited back until the following year when the preaching of a fervent, evangelical Welshman in his early thirties made a big impression. A return visit was hastily arranged for a Wednesday evening in February 1967, the young pastor having no space in his diary for a Sunday visit for several months. At the Annual General Meeting a week later the Church voted to invite the Rev Stuart Ryce-Davies to become its Pastor. The motion was carried unanimously.