‘There is a new sense of enthusiasm in the church, and a feeling of excitement about our future!’ Glyndwr Prideaux, one of the officers at Penuel Newydd Baptist Church, Gorseinon explains. The reason for this new-found optimism is how the church has started a new chapter after the merger of two formerly neighbouring congregations. And sometimes, starting something new together is all that is needed for God to move in a context – as other congregations that merged further back have experienced.
The first Baptist cause in Loughor was established in 1842, though there had been witness in the area since the days of the Ilston Church in 1649. After some years members felt the need to establish a church in burgeoning nearby Gorseinon and Seion was opened in 1899. For many years the churches co-operated as neighbours, but over recent decades decline started to slowly set in.
Recognizing that both churches were facing similar challenges, in autumn 2021 they came together to hold a meeting to start discussing the idea of bringing the two churches together. They began holding worship together by holding morning services at Seion Noddfa and evening services at Penuel. This started to create a sense of togetherness, and after holding a number of church meetings and a season of sustained prayer both congregations decided to unite the two churches and create one new church, bearing the name ‘Penuel Newydd’.
Services of thanksgiving for the past were held in both churches on Good Friday and on Easter Sunday 2022 before Penuel Newydd was established the following Sunday at its new Loughor home. Having contributed so much to the process, Pastor Huw Roberts deservedly retired as minister over the new congregation in July 20223. As Glyndwr says, ‘I have been really pleased since our merger happened. We have also been blessed to receive new members from Soar Independent Chapel, as that cause was wound down recently. We are definitely looking forward to the future together and pray for the Spirit’s guidance as we seek a new minister for us as a church to take us forward.’
What kind of fruit can come from the merger of two churches, when the congregations grasp the opportunities that come from having a new start? The story of the last decade in Newbridge, Gwent shines a light on that question, where Beulah and Tabernacle Baptist churches united in January 2016.
In this valleys town of 7000 or so people, the two chapels were situated just a few hundred metres away from each other. Both had been co-operating for many years, but Beulah in particular was getting smaller in numbers and facing significant challenges with its building. The idea of coming together had been around for a while but until 2016 the members at Beulah hadn’t felt the time was right. When they decided to reopen the conversation, however, things fell into place and as Geoff Champion, one of Tabernacle’s deacons put it, ‘it was as though God was saying to both congregations “now you’re together, I’m going to show you what I can do through you”.
Tabernacle had a thriving childrens’ work and had recently invested in a new kitchen to use for community events. But behind the main chapel building an enormous old schoolroom lay empty and deteriorating. “We felt that coming together was a new start for all of us, and it gave us a real impetus and motivation,” Geoff recalls. They applied for grants for a building project to convert the schoolroom, estimated to cost £700,000, and were amazed when two-thirds of the money was provided almost immediately. “I have to say, when that happened I had to fall on my knees and repent of my own lack of faith,” Geoff says with a smile.
The centre was opened – on time – in 2018 and provides a venue not just for community activities for the town but for a thriving holiday Bible club of up to 150 kids, weekly children and youth ministries and more. “God is definitely at work here, and as I look back it’s clear just how God has moulded us into one body as a church now since the merger. And the fruit we have seen over these last few years together – we’ve a Baptism this coming Sunday – has definitely been built on prayer.”