A Brief History of St Mellons Baptist Church
There have been Christians "of a Baptist persuasion" living in St Mellons for at least the last 300 years.
At the start of the 18th century these believers were meeting in local farmhouses or were travelling, with likeminded friends from nearby Castleton, to the Baptist church at Llanwenarth (Abergavenny) which dates back to the 1650's. By the 1750's, the believers from Castleton and St Mellons had formed into a church that met at Cefn Tydu, now known as Bethesda, Rogerstone.
It was in 1794 that local believers first began meeting regularly here in St Mellons, holding their services once a fortnight in "a dwelling place which was set apart for the poor of the Parish" (a building which later became the Parish schoolhouse, located at "The Ton"). The Rev. John Hier of Bethesda, Rogerstone, was the preacher at those meetings.
After meeting for almost 40 years, in 1830 the believers in St Mellons (just 22 in number) built a small chapel in the corner of a plot of land which they had purchased a few years earlier for use as a burial ground. They named their chapel "Caersalem", the Welsh name for Jerusalem, and registered it as a place of worship for Baptists. During the same period of time, the believers in Castleton had also formed their own church, and both congregations were pastored by Rev. Evan Jones, with Caersalem being considered an extension of the Castleton church.
The chapel graveyard, site of the first Caersalem chapel building (now demolished). The graveyard was refurbished and converted to a Garden of Remembrance in 2003, with all gravestones being moved to the edge of the graveyard. The burial records and plan of the original graveyard are held in the chapel building.
In 1841 the congregation in St Mellons became independent of the Castleton church, and called their first pastor, Mr Owen Jones of Llanidloes. The membership of Caersalem then stood at 37. During their first 30 years as an independent church, the members at Caersalem had four different pastors, and by 1871 the church membership had grown to just over 100.
For the next 21 years (1871-1892) the church at Caersalem had no pastor, and the pulpit was filled largely by students, with summertime student pastorates of 2-3 months becoming regular features.
Memorial Stone commemorating the start of the building of the new chapel in October 1883.
During this time the church membership continued to grow, and they took the step of faith to build a new, larger building on a nearby plot of land which was donated to them (along with the trees and railings which still stand outside) by Richard Allen Esq. of "Ty-To-Maen" (the house which is now the site of St John's College).
Work on the new chapel building was completed in 1884, and was called "Caersalem Newydd", the New Jerusalem! It was also during this period that English began to replace Welsh as the everyday language used by the people of the area, and the same, difficult transition was made in worship services at Caersalem, an issue which was handled patiently and wisely by the church officers.
From 1892-1931, the church had another six pastors, who ministered for varying lengths of time ranging from eighteen months to eleven years, with church membership numbers peaking at around 150. However it was also during these years that the church began to enter a period of decline, both spiritually and numerically, as less emphasis was placed on Biblical teaching and many of the older faithful believers passed away.
Pastor (Alexander Evans) and Deacons. Photograph taken outside the Chapel, sometime between 1910-1920.
Wednesday 24th October 1934 marked not only the Golden Jubilee of the chapel building, but also the induction of the church's 11th pastor, Rev. William Henry Jones, who would remain as pastor for the next 25 years, until his retirement in 1958 at the age of 84, during which time, despite his faithful gospel ministry, the church membership had shrunk to just 47 believers.
Pastors at Caersalem 1794-2014
After 8 years with no pastor, the remaining 35 church members (of which only 15-20 attended Sunday services) called Rev. Russell Williams to be their pastor, a ministry which lasted 33 years until his retirement in 1999, and the church gradually grew in numbers. A constitution was drawn up, based on the original Particular Baptist Trust Deed, aimed at safeguarding the future purity of church membership, and elders were appointed to work alongside the deacons in leading and caring for the church. The combined effect of these changes meant that the church at Caersalem had set a future where they would no longer be dependent upon emphases which changed with pastoral succession or with prevailing social or theological trends, but would be firmly structured on the Gospel.
After Rev. Russell Williams retired in 1999, the church appointed Rev. Dr. Andrew Christofides as pastor in September 2000, and God has continued to bless the church here in St Mellons with a faithful gospel ministry, with many more believers being added to our numbers. 220 years after Baptist believers first began meeting here in St Mellons, our church membership currently stands at 114 (October 2014), and as a church we continue to seek both to know Christ ourselves and to make Him known to those around us.
The majority of the information on this page was taken, with permission, from Russell Williams' book The History of St. Mellons Baptist Church, 1794-1984.
Lis Rowe, October 2014.