Sacred Places Journal
18 October, 2001: Glastonbury to Wales: 1904, The Holy Spirit Blazed Brighter Than Coal
Each place I have left with reluctance, but none more so than Glastonbury and the Abbey House. I would love to stay and finish the silent retreat. But I must be on to my next adventure.
A sister retreatant, the seriously disabled and forever smiling Jenny, kisses me good-bye, and I set off on a glorious morning. On the coach, the sun filtering through those amazing west country tree tunnels is wonderful. The fields are full of the fattest, boldest, most colorful pheasants I've ever seen. One even gives us a bit of a race, running over the stubble.
The beautiful Severn Bridge behind us, we speed across southern Wales. Someone has left a Times on the seat: Britain on Bioterror Alert. Anthrax, bubonic plague, smallpox and botulism... the horror movie scenario continues. I thought I was reading an American newspaper--all the stories were of America and President Bush. Page 12 I got to Tony Blair. Even the Times has abandoned understatement on the subject of bioterror. I can't imagine what the rags must be screaming, but as I'm not in London I'm spared the yellow journalistic hysteria. Outside, the green Welsh hills are dotted with sheep, safely grazing.
Moriah Chapel where Welsh Revival began
Dear God, I know we're pretty awful a lot of the time, but we're not really Sodom and Gomorrah. There are lots of people here who truly worship you. Please don't destroy us--or let us destroy ourselves.
"Wales? Oh, I have friends there," my pen friend Barbara wrote. And so the connection began with Jonelle, David and their lovely fat baby Brennig. This young family of Welsh-speaking Baptists from the U.S. meet me at the train station in Swansea. We have lunch in a Spanish restaurant, visit the tourist information office and a Christian bookstore. Then we're off to Loughour to find the Moriah Chapel where the 1904 Welsh Revival began. It is located on a busy street across from a wooded park and surrounded by a white wrought iron fence. We are met by Dyfrig Griffiths, whose phone number we had been given at the Christian bookstore (excellent sources of information, I've discovered). Dyfrig, with deep, dark eyes and waves of steel-grey hair, recounts for us in his lilting Welsh voice the story of the world-shaking Welsh Revival which I've come to hear.
Dyfrig Griffiths - praying anew for revival
But even more than the stories of the revival, many of which I had already read, I am amazed to hear of how, in the last 3 years, a well-spring of intrerest in revival has suddenly sprung up seemingly from all over the world. Dyfrig is called on several times a week to give tours of the Moriah Chapel where it all started. People from India, South Africa, New Zealand, Korea, America, the Congo, Canada have all been there recently. "God is bringing us together. It's the cross," Dyfrig says. "I've been opened up. It will be God's way. I've been boxing God in. He's not restricted to denominations. We have a prayer meeting every week, just as they did here in 1904."
He shows us the beautiful sanctuary with its rich, dark-wooden ceiling with hanging lights, coved mouldings, colorful tiles and glowing stained glass. I had imagined it much plainer. "We are only a remnant now, but it would have been packed at the time of the revival. Down there one person would have been breaking his heart in prayer, over there another singing praises, another person just sitting quietly."
Monument to Evan Roberts in front of Moriah Chapel
We go to the building next door to see the school room where the first service was held by Evan Roberts, the young man who had prayed for 13 years for revival. Roberts worked down in the coal mine pits, but wanted to go to theological college. He was in school to earn his qualifications for college when, at a meeting, he had a vision of the young people in Moriah, his home church. He came back here on a Monday to a prayer meeting in the school room and asked for permission to speak to the young people. Sixteen or seventeen stayed and prayed, "God send the Holy Spirit for Jesus Chist's sake."
"Okay, now we can go home, He has come," Roberts said. And that is how it started.
"Do you think it's too much to ask God to give us 100,000 souls in Wales,?" Roberts asked his future brother-in-law.
"It's not too much to ask God to give us the whole of Wales," Sidney Evans replied.
The Holy Spirit dealt with the church first, then the fire blazed. Up and down the coal mining valleys of Wales the fire of the Spirit burned. The miners held prayer meetings in the pits. "These dark tunnels which used to echo with the sounds of swearing, now ring with hymns." It was recorded. The pit ponies, who were accustomed to the curses of the miners, didn't know how to work when abuses ceased.
Roberts' family tomb behind Moriah Chapel
Pubs closed. "The miracle of Jesus turning water into wine is well known. In Wales he changed beer into furniture," our host recounts. "Family life changed."
Courts had no cases to try. The tradition was for clerks to give judges white gloves when their docket was clear. "What, another pair of white gloves?" "Yes, Your Honour," the reply would come. "Evan Roberts."
We are shown the Roberts' family tomb in the churchyard behind Moriah Chapel, and the family home at the end of a narrow street.