In 1905 the Powell Duffryn Company opened Penallta Colliery in the Hengoed area; in 1909 the first coal was raised, and by 1923 employees at Penallta numbered 2,305. During this period, Welsh Garden Cities Ltd was engaged in building ‘garden villages’ in several of the industrial valleys of Wales, so that what were previously hamlets or scattered farms became sizeable villages. So it was that Cefn Hengoed and Penybryn Garden Villages came into being.
In a concern to see a gospel witness established in Cefn Hengoed, outreach work began in 1919. In April of that year, Griffith Hughes came with Y Cerbyd Efengylydd (The Gospel Van of the R. B. Jones Home Mission), and he was followed by two others in the summer months. In October, the Rev. Morgan Lewis began ministry there, and for a six-month period Matthew Francis, Griffith Hughes’ successor, worked with him as an evangelist.
Sir William Beddoe Rees, Director of Welsh Garden Cities, had reserved a plot in Gelligaer Road for the building of a chapel, and on 15 September 1921 a wooden mission hall was opened. In May 1922, at Hengoed Welsh Baptist Chapel, a service of incorporation was held for the new church – Bethel English Baptist Church, Cefn Hengoed Garden Village. The service was conducted by Dr William Edwards, Principal of the South Wales Baptist College, Cardiff (translator of the Welsh hymn Dyma Gariad fel y Moroedd / Here is love, vast as the ocean).
In the years of its infancy the church at Bethel was governed by a group of Trustees, several of these being mature and supportive men from neighbouring Baptist churches. In October 1923 the Trustees, ‘recognising with deep gratitude to God the numerical and spiritual growth of the church, agreed that the time had come to appoint from among the members an . . . Executive Committee, to report to joint quarterly meetings of church members and trustees.’
By 1926, some members of the new church who lived in the neighbouring Garden Village of Penybryn were finding it difficult, with growing young families, to walk to Bethel for services and felt the need for a witness in their own village. So it was agreed that they should hold a weeknight cottage prayer meeting in Penybryn and also begin a Sunday school. This work prospered and a building was urgently needed. It was agreed that this should take precedence over a permanent building for Bethel, and so Calvary, Penybryn, was opened on 26 April 1928.
At the end of 1930 it was agreed to form the group at Calvary into a church: 27 Bethel members were transferred to Calvary, and from 1 January 1931 both churches were granted congregational government. The Rev. Morgan Lewis continued as pastor of both churches. On 30 November 1933, Bethel’s present brick building was opened. One of the main speakers on that occasion was the Rev. Matthew Francis, who had helped pioneer the work and was now minister of the Temple Church, Walsall.
On the retirement of Rev. Morgan Lewis in 1942, two further joint pastorates followed: Revs James McHaffie (1942-1947) and Fred Baggs (1948-1953). At this point, however, faced with dwindling numbers and finances, the church at Calvary felt unable to commit to another joint pastorate, and in view of this, the church at Bethel, unable to support a pastor of its own, invited Mr Emlyn Lewis, church secretary and son of the founding pastor, to act as ‘lay pastor for time being.’ He continued in this role until 1960 when, retiring early from secular employment, he was ordained and served the church until his retirement in 1983. During those years the work grew, both through conversions and by the addition of Christian families moving into the area. Mr Lewis was succeeded as pastor by Rev. Colin Jones who remained with the church until 1993 when he left because of ill health. In the years that followed, visiting preachers filled the pulpit, faithfully preaching God’s word week by week.
In 1997, Ferrell Kearney took up the pastorate of Bethel. He had been assisting churches in Great Britain for over thirty years as a missionary working with the International Baptist Missionary Society. Under his pastorate, the church was built up and the work in Cefn Hengoed was blessed by the goodness of God. It was during this time that Pastor Kearney encouraged the church to look to its own members and consider appointing one of its own to take over the pastorate. So it was that in 2003, Stephen Darby, a church member who had been studying at the Evangelical Theological College of Wales in Bridgend, was asked to take on the pastorate and shepherd the flock at Bethel.
The church at Calvary continued during those years: Mr Albert Turner served as lay pastor in 1957- 1959, and Mr Ivor Brown cared for the diminishing flock during the 1970s and 1980s, until January 1990, in failing health, he asked the church at Bethel to assume responsibility for the work. The Bethel church began holding Sunday afternoon services at Calvary, its pastor and several other local pastors kindly assisting with the ministry. But while individuals from Penybryn would occasionally attend, the local community was not being reached. Then, sadly, a division occurred at Bethel. Painful and costly as this was for all concerned, in the providence of God it issued in a new beginning for Calvary.
Calvary Evangelical Church was established in September 1991. In the early years it was necessary to concentrate on building improvements. There were visiting preachers each Sunday, and consecutive ministry was sought mid-week. Sunday school, children’s and young people’s meetings were held each week, and a monthly service at the local old people’s home. There was a growing conviction for the need for a pastor, and in 2002 Roy Hamilton accepted a call to the pastorate. Under his leadership the church gained a stronger sense of purpose and direction, forging closer links with the local community as it sought to proclaim the gospel. In the years 2010-2012 Adrian Brake pastored Calvary jointly with Bryngolwg Free Mission, Mountain Ash, where he served alongside his father, this arrangement terminating when he became full-time at Bryngolwg on his father’s retirement.
Towards the end of 2013, the church at Calvary began to prayerfully consider the future of the work in Penybryn. In early 2014, the church approached the church at Bethel with a view of amalgamating the two congregations whilst maintaining an ongoing witness to the village of Penybryn. The response from the pastor, church officers and members at Bethel was overwhelmingly positive and there was a real sense of the hand of God at work. On Sunday 13 July 2014, the two congregations were joined together and began to worship God as one people. The work serving God in the villages of Cefn Hengoed and Penybryn would be known as Hope Church.
The Lord has done great things for us, and we are glad!
Psalm chapter 126 verse 3