A long history, but ready for 21st century life
It’s been 200 years since that first little group began and today Bethel Baptist Church is still as vibrant and lively as it always has been, writes the Revd Phillip Hibbert
In the winter of 1819, a small group of Baptists began to meet together weekly in Llantwit Major, in the Vale of Glamorgan. In those early days, Bethel Baptist Church was very much like that of the early church found in the New Testament. They had no fixed meeting place and simply met in homes. They came to embody the true definition of church, which is the gathering of followers of Jesus. As they simply lived out their faith in the community, the gathering grew and by 1830, they were able to build what we today call Bethel Baptist Church. It’s been 200 years since that first little group began and today Bethel Baptist is still as vibrant and lively as it always has been.
The church congregation continues to live out the purpose of reaching and meeting those in the community with the love of Jesus as expressed in the Bible. 'Bethel is a happy and relaxed community of people who meet together to share the joys and struggles of life,' said Phil Hibbert minister of the church since 2011. 'As followers of Jesus we realise just how much we all need support and acceptance. If you are looking for a place to belong, then Bethel might just be for you.'
Bethel is in the heart of Llantwit Major. We have groups for children and young people. We run a lunch club and afternoon tea for seniors. Alongside the other churches in Llantwit, we run the local Foodbank, which uses the building. The Dementia Cafe is run from the church hall in conjunction with the Alzheimer's Society. We have a friendly parent and toddler group and to this day we continue to meet in home for prayer and Bible study.
Individual members of the church also show their commitment to the community by serving as volunteers in organisations such as school governing bodies, on local groups of the Town Council and in groups seeking to bring help to those in need. The church has had a long commitment to justice beyond Llantwit Major; for instance, in 1833 members of the church wrote to the Government in support of the abolition of the slave trade. This wider concern for those beyond Llantwit Major continues today as the church supports key organisations within the Baptist family such as the training of ministers at the South Wales Baptist College in Cardiff, missionary activities through BMS World Mission, development work amongst some of the poorest people in the world, and emergency relief in disasters.
Our celebrations spanned the weekend of 30 November and 1 December. These included a meal and a concert led by members of the church and at which the Revd Judith Morris, General Secretary of the Baptist Union of Wales, spoke. Our preacher at the Sunday service was the Revd Ken Benjamin, President of the Baptist Union of Great Britain; Mrs Janet Matthews, President of the English Assembly of the Baptist Union of Wales, led our Bible reading. We had the privilege of also inviting previous ministers and members, our MP our Assembly Member, and local councillors and community representatives to our celebrations.
As a part of the 200th anniversary celebrations, the chapel has recently undergone redecoration outside and major improvements inside, making it ready for 21st century life.
Services on Sunday are like a family get together. There is laughter and fun. There are sometimes tears. There is always good discussion. Life can sometimes be very challenging, whether you are young or old and it helps to have support and a place to belong. This is what church is about for those that attend Bethel. This is what church has been about for all two hundred years of Bethel’s existence.
Jesus once said, “'Come to me all of you who are tired. You are like people who have worked for a long time. You are like people who have carried heavy things. Come to me. If you do that, you will find a place to rest. Do what I teach you to do. Listen to my message and learn from me what is true. I am very kind and I do not make myself important. I will help you. Then you will have peace in your mind. I will not tell you to do things that are too difficult. I will not tell you to carry anything that is too heavy for you.’’ Matthew 11:28-30
At its heart this is the invitation that Bethel Baptist Church offers all who visit.
The Revd Phillip Hibbert is minister of Bethel Baptist Church