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David Bebbington

The News from Rhosllanerchrugog

On the exemplary fate of Nonconformity in Wales.

In November 1904, R. B. Jones, a visiting Baptist preacher, held a campaign in Penuel Baptist Chapel, Rhosllanerchrugog, a mining village in northeast Wales. Each night for two weeks he preached to crowded congregations and, according to a contemporary report, "swept the people off their feet with his exhortations." On the final day the meeting, now in the largest chapel in the place, was opened to prayers, testimonies, and hymns from members of the congregation while Jones proclaimed the gospel to those who had been unable to gain entry. Many professed conversion. It was one of the high points of the revival that invigorated Wales during 1904-05.

At the time Rhosllanerchrugog, though of no great size, contained as many as 27 chapels. It was an epitome of Wales, a land studded with places of worship belonging to Evangelical Nonconformity. The success of the movement, however, was to evaporate during the 20th century. In 1905, the Congregationalists, whose history is recounted in the first of the books under review, enjoyed the allegiance of over 175,000 church members; by 2001, the denomination retained only about 33,000 members. The collapse was particularly acute in the last years of the century. R. Tudur Jones' Congregationalism in Wales, originally published in Welsh in 1966, has now been brought up-to-date by the editor, Robert Pope of the University of Wales, Bangor, who points out that between 1962 and 2001, membership in the denomination fell by more than two-thirds. A similar tale could be told for the Presbyterians (originally the Calvinistic Methodists, a body emerging in the 18th century), the Wesleyan Methodists (who also derived from the Evangelical Revival), and the Baptists (who, like the Congregationalists, went back to the 17th century). With the Church of England, then the established church of the land, having only just over a quarter of the worshipping population at the opening of the 20th century, the chapels formed the main Christian presence in ...

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