The Early Days

The first Emmanuel Sunday School

It was during the 1950s that Mr A.O. Criddle, an elder at Gabalfa Baptist Church, was first burdened to reach the people on the new Gabalfa estate with the gospel of Jesus Christ. With this in mind, a Sunday School started on January 23rd 1955 at Gabalfa School. As the meetings grew, and more children attended, a Thursday evening children’s meeting was also established at the school, with Mrs Lillian Tarr helping to lead the group. Others involved were Mr John Howells (who later became Church Secretary) and Mr Arthur Cox.

It was some five years after the children’s work had begun that the first Sunday evening service was being held in the school. Mr Criddle’s initial vision and earnest prayerful desire for a work in the area was finally starting to take shape – the Lord’s purposes for His gospel on the estate were unfolding.


A permanent home 

When the Sunday School had been established back in 1955, Gabalfa Baptist Church instituted a ‘New Cause Fund’ so that a new church might be built on the estate. A plot of land on Gabalfa Avenue had already been set apart by the council for a place of worship, and when there was speculation of Jehovah’s Witnesses planning to purchase the land, application was swiftly made for a permanent building for the new church.

Trustees were appointed to oversee and take charge of this new property – Mr Brian Harris, Mr Gordon A’Court, Mr Billy Johns, Mr Joe Bannister, Mr Wilf Selway and Mr Ray Dando. Of these only Mr Gordon A‘Court still survives in 2016, living in Llandrindod Wells with his wife Ruth and daughter Esther. The builder in charge of the project was Mr Don Bussell and along with his men, brick by brick, the new home for Emmanuel was established.

In the early part of this task, on October 21st 1965, a service was held at the site for the laying of dedication stones. Two were laid – one by Rev. D.M. Russell-Jones, the then minister of Gabalfa Baptist Church, and the other, most fittingly, by Mr A.O. Criddle, on behalf of the Sunday School. These stones can still be read today on the wall outside the entrance to the building.

Several months later, after much hard labour, the ‘News from the Gabalfa Estate’ bulletin could state: ‘It is a real joy to announce that the building will be completed, God willing, by the middle of March, and will then be handed over to the Trustees by the builder. There will still be much to do, of course, – paths to be laid, car park to be prepared, grounds to be dug over, grass seed to be sown, scrubbing, polishing, curtain hanging, etc…. we trust that there will be no shortage of volunteers!’

The original intention was that the main hall should be of a dual purpose nature, but the Trustees later felt that the Hall should solely be used as a place of worship as far as possible. In view of the close proximity of Gabalfa School, some of the week night activities would continue to be held there.

At the time of completion of the church hall, it was estimated that a further £1,200 was still required to completely furnish the building. As the main hall had been allocated for use as a Church it had been decided to have pews rather than seats, and it was thought that 24 would be needed eventually at a cost of £33 each. 12 of these were planned to be available by the opening date, with the remainder purchased over a period.

Trustees were thinking at that time of suitable names by which the two smaller halls would be known, with all ‘suggestions welcome!’ Over time they would be known as the ‘grey room’ and ‘red room’, or during recent years, as the ’gymnasium’ or ‘Sunday School room’.

Gifts, loans and provision of specific articles required by the church were given by friends and groups of people related to Emmanuel. The Young People provided two communion chairs, and The Boys’ Brigade and Life Boys supplied a pew between them. The Communion service was initially borrowed from Gabalfa Baptist, with it being brought down to Emmanuel on a Sunday afternoon on the third Sunday of the month, and back up to Gabalfa Baptist on the first Sunday afternoon of the month ready for their evening Communion Service!

The first Sunday in March in 1966 – 6th March – was observed as a Thank Offering Day, when those who had a burden for the Lord’s work on the estate were invited to join in fellowship, gifts, promises and loans for the ‘New Church Fund’.

It was with joy that the Trustees could write: ‘The giving of the Lord’s people during the past year has been truly wonderful, and the Trustees are confident that as the day which so many have been waiting for over such a long period draws near, that our Wonderful Lord will provide for the work through the obedience of His faithful servants.’


The new building opens 

The opening of the church building was marked with a week of special evangelistic meetings, beginning with the service of Dedication and Consecration on Saturday 23rd April 1966.

Although certain week night activities were held prior to the actual opening date (including a special prayer meeting on Wednesday, 20th April), no actual church services were held in the main hall until the building and contents had been dedicated, so the opening service was certainly the beginning of a new era in the history of Emmanuel.

At 3.00pm on that Saturday in late April 1966, a permanent home for God’s people on the Gabalfa Estate was established. The service was led by Rev Leonard Evans, past President of the F.I.E.C. (he would later become Pastor of the church in the late 1970s). Rev. Mervyn Morgan (Emmanuel’s first Minister) and Rev. Vernon Higham were also amongst those taking part. The actual opening ceremony was performed by Mr A.O. Criddle.

Following this afternoon service, Emmanuel’s first church tea took place. At 4.30pm, members and friends of the church gathered for fellowship and refreshments. The idea of tea at 4.30pm would become a fixed tradition right throughout the 50 years to the present day!

A further preaching service was held that evening at 6.30pm, conducted by Rev. Leonard Evans. He was accompanied to Emmanuel by a choir from his home town, Swindon, with one of the choristers being a young Stephen Baston! (Later, he would come to Cardiff as a student and be appointed deacon and then elder at the church.)

On Sunday 24th April, the first Sunday services in the New Church Hall took place. The morning service at 11.00am took the form of ‘Morning Worship and Holy Communion’ while at 6.30pm was a ‘Gospel Service’. Both these, as with all the other meetings throughout that opening week, were preceded by prayer meetings. An ‘Open Sunday School’, to which parents were invited, was held at 2.45pm that first Sunday afternoon.

Throughout that following week a variety of special services took place which embraced each activity of the church. Monday night took the form of an Evangelistic Rally led by Mr David Shepherd; Tuesday saw a ‘Pensioners Rally and Tea’ at 3.00pm and a Missionary Challenge led by Rev. David James-Morse in the evening.

On Wednesday there was a further Evangelistic Rally led by Mr Idris Davies and Thursday was ‘Young Peoples’ Squash in which The Proclaimers will be taking part’.

The week of meetings ended with a Childrens’ Meeting led by Rev. Bill Adams and Young Peoples’ Get-together on the Friday night, and a ‘Film Rally – ‘The Unfinished Task’’ on Saturday evening.

The message throughout this week of meetings was clear; it was a message that would be preached from its pulpit throughout the next 50 years. It can be seen simply on one of the church’s dedication stones:


1 TIMOTHY 1: 15


Early church life 

Rev. Mervyn Morgan began his ministry as first Pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in 1966. It was two years before the diaconate was officially formed but when it was, several men of good report were chosen: Mr Ray Dando, Mr Brian Harris, Mr Gordon A ‘Court, Mr Billy Johns, Mr Dan Liddell, Mr Len Head and Mr Wilfred Selway. Of these, besides Mr Gordon A ‘Court, only Mr Len Head, now in his 90s, remains with us in membership at Emmanuel – all the others have been called home to be with Christ.

One of the church’s early members, Pastor D J Hopkins, acted as an elder figure to the people of Emmanuel. It is only in recent years that the church has moved to establish an Eldership with the Pastor and Mr Steve Baston initially serving then Mr Dave Cox and Mr Glyn Ellis added in the past two years. The other church officers are the deacons – currently Mr Jonathan Baston, Mr Gareth Davies, Mr Roy Edwards, Mr Paul Johns (son of the original Trustee, Billy Johns), Mr Ben Jones, Mr Alan Lansdown and Mr Dave Rees.

The membership of the church was near 100 in the 1960s, with possibly up to 150 attending Sunday services. The Lord was mercifully at work during those early days, when a young Brian Clee was the first to come to a saving knowledge of Christ Jesus. Another conversion early on was that of Mr Cliff Dyer, who with his wife, Phyllis, became faithful members of the church for many years.

Being a Baptist Church, the first baptismal service in the building was of significance and Mrs Enid Allen, who passed away into the presence of her Lord and Saviour only in late 2015, was one of the first to pass through the waters of baptism in the current baptistery.

Many weddings have taken place in Emmanuel over the past 50 years but one of the first was that of early members, Mike Bannister and Jean Evans. The second wedding was between Cliff and Pat Harvey, Pat having come to faith in Christ whilst at the Colwill Road Sunday School.


The passing years

As the years went by, members came and went, as did church officers and pastors. Rev. Mervyn Morgan remained in Emmanuel until 1970/71. After a short period without a Pastor, Rev. Jim Kerr came in 1973, staying until around 1976. The following year, Rev. Leonard Evans, the preacher at the opening services back in April 1966, was called to shepherd the flock on the estate. His ministry continued until 1980, when he was followed by Rev. Nigel Clifford the next year.

After a ministry of 10 years, Nigel left Emmanuel in 1991 and Rev. Andrew Bowden from Swansea took over the pastorate. Again after a period of much blessing, Rev. Bowden was called to minister God’s Word in Tenby back in September 2002.

Once more the church was left without a pastor but God graciously answered the church’s prayers and soon provided a man to lead His work on the estate: Rev. John Woolley, from Walworth in London, began his ministry at Emmanuel in July 2003. After a period of some 12 years, Rev John Woolley left the Pastorate and the church is now looking to the Lord for future provision.

Despite these changes in pastors over the years, the Lord has continued to be faithful and continued to encourage through the salvation of precious souls. Today, Emmanuel is just under 70 in membership with around 100 in our Sunday morning service and a few less in the evening.


Workers for the harvest fields

As well as church leaders departing for pastures new over the 50 years, several of Emmanuel’s members have themselves gone out to serve the Lord in ministry in different parts of the globe.

Most dear to those in Emmanuel from the early days is Miss Hazel Hicks, an original member who lived on Gabalfa Avenue. She married Irishman, Mr Billy Glover, and the couple began their ministry in Spain with WEC International back in 1974. Billy & Hazel, with their four children, came back on many occasions to the church over the years and continue to make regular visits to Wednesday night missionary meetings. Now back in the UK, they work in Birmingham with the “Betel” ministry to drug addicts.

Another early member sent out as a missionary was Anne Kelland. She began her ministry in Gambia in 1971 and eventually became the field leader. After some time working at the international office at Bulstrode, she has returned to West Africa.

Young men have also been called to train for the ministry from Emmanuel. Alan Davey, a deacon in the church, later became Pastor at Deeside Evangelical Church, before embarking on mission work in Bordeaux in France.

Similarly, Ian Parry, who was a member, was supported by the church to train in London Theological Seminary for the ministry. After a period of pastoring in Pontardawe, Swansea, he returned to Cardiff several years ago to establish a gospel work in Cardiff Bay. Paul Levy, a past member of Emmanuel, was also called to minister God’s Word and now serves in as Pastor in the International Presbyterian Church in Ealing, London.

More recent examples of individuals called into full time service for the Lord have been Siân Leaves who is now studying in the Netherlands and Miska Wilhelmsson who at the Master’s Seminary in Los Angeles preparing to return to pastor his home church in Finland.


Various meetings

Throughout the 50 years, various meetings for different groups in the church have come and gone. In the early years, Emmanuel had both a Girls and Boys Brigade for the youngsters, while for the women of the church, there was a Sisterhood. Some of these meetings have changed over years both in terms of their nature and leadership. For the youth BANG and EYC have replaced the Boy’s and Girl’s Brigade’s and the Friendship Hour the Sisterhood. The latter was commenced many years go by Len and Mary Head, then on their retirement by John and Beryl Legg and more recently by Gill Phillips.

Mr Ray Dando, one of the Trustees and deacons, also used to arrange monthly Bible fellowship meetings in Emmanuel. Another meeting that lasted for several years was the ‘Over 20’s’ group, which continued until some 30 years ago. More recently, we have been seeking to have closer fellowship with other AECW churches in Cardiff in holding joint prayer meetings and also joint youth activities (UNITE). These have been extremely beneficial.


Looking forward

As we gaze back over these past 50 years in Emmanuel, through joys and triumphs, trials and tribulations, we are drawn to bring our thanks to God for His unfailing love and faithfulness toward us throughout the years.

What then should our response be for the future and, God willing, for the next 50 years? In the words of our original members:

“Our vision should be to have faith that God will work amongst the church at Emmanuel and as a result that many on the estate will hear the Good News of Salvation and be converted. May He also help us to be faithful to the work.” In seeking to fulfil this vision, it is our prayer that God in His time and purposes will lead us to a man to minister His precious Word. In the meantime, we are so grateful for faithful men who fill our pulpit week by week and continue to proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ.

Even after 50 varied years, the desire is still burning in those early members’ hearts for the Lord to show mercy through Jesus Christ toward the people on the Gabalfa estate and Emmanuel; the longing that He may visit us with His salvation.

As we face the future, then, it is appropriate that Emmanuel’s text for 2016 should be from Psalm 127 verse 1: ‘Unless the Lord build the House, they labour in vain who build it.’ We pray this may be so as we look solely to Him to add to His Church such as should be saved. We also remember our great responsibility that

‘We bear the torch that flaming

Fell from the hands of those

Who gave their lives proclaiming

That Jesus died and rose.

Ours is the same commission,

The same glad message ours,

Fired by the same ambition,

To Thee we yield our powers.’

Perhaps it is appropriate to end by quoting words from those early men who had the ‘same glad message’ and were ‘fired by the same ambition’ many years ago, the Trustees of Emmanuel. They end an early newsletter with these important words that still speak to us today:

‘FINALLY BRETHREN…………….Pray……………..For prayer STILL changes things…………’

But of course, the final word must be to our great God and Saviour who deserves all the praise as we look back over the past 50 years. And so we unite to say:

‘To God be the glory! great things He has done!’