The History of Upper Trosnant Baptist Church
The Baptist cause at Trosnant began in 1736 with the establishment of an academy by John Griffiths and Miles Harry. This was connected with Penygarn Chapel. The mission was a deliberate and very early attempt to bring the word of God to an industrial settlement. During the early 1770s a new Baptist cause sprang from the chapel at Penygarn. It was led by Miles Edwards and met at his house at the Wern. The separatists enjoyed rapid success and in 176 were constituted into a self-supporting church. Miles Edwards became its first minister. By now the Wern was too small and a house at Upper Trosnant was purchased and opened as a church in May, 1779. Miles Edwards's long and fruitful ministry ended with his death in 1808; he was buried in Trosnant graveyard.
William Edmunds became the church's second pastor and it was in his time, around 1814, that the Sunday School was established – possibly the first in the area. Sadly, this promising pastorate was cut short when Edmunds died in 1819 aged only 49. His influence lived on, nevertheless, and the following year a new meeting house was built at the upper end of the burial ground. This was a galleried church large enough for 350 workmen and their wives to stand in through each service. Some time later the burial ground was extended by demolishing six adjacent houses.
The opening of the new chapel coincided with the calling of David Roberts in 1820. Trosnant's third minister gave the area eight years of fiery preaching during which hundreds were baptised in a pool near the Afon Llwyd. In 1828 came the scholarly John Williams who wrote as much as he preached and who ran a secular school in the locality. His fruitful ministry ended in 1840 when he died, and it brought to the church another dramatic figure in David Lloyd Isaac. An antiquary and writer, the latter was a magnetic figure who ministered to a church now with over two hundred members. His pastorate came to an abrupt end in 1853 when he turned to Anglicanism.
An uneventful period followed though the church's Sunday School was making great strides and its outreach spread well beyond its own district. The church's spiritual life remained healthy as first William Roberts, then David Roberts (for the second time), William Evans and David Thomas took up the reins of leadership. In 1884, during Thomas's pastorate, the church voted to hold its services entirely in English.
David Rhys Jenkins was the next minister at Upper Trosnant, arriving in 1893. An accomplished and experienced preacher, his was a pastorate that saw the church become more closely involved with the community around it. The ministry of David Jenkins closed in 1905 with church membership at 130 while the Sunday School could boast an impressive 247 scholars.
A comparatively new minister in William Henry Williams, was settled at the church in 1905. His was a promising but regrettably short stay at Trosnant, however, for after only 18 months he departed to another church. Isaac James Thomas continued the good work but his stay was equally fleeting, lasting only until the summer of 1910. J. B. Ashton's ministry which began in 1912, was also a brief one and by the time it ended in 1916 the church had clearly lost momentum. Membership was certainly down though, remarkably, the Sunday School had 295 scholars on its roll.
J. B. Ashton was to be the last minister at Upper Trosnant for over 60 years. Several short pastorates were probably a symptom of the church's difficulties rather than their cause. And other churches too suffered from the cooling of spiritual fervour after the heady days of the Revival of 1905. After 1923, when it stood at 108, the church struggled to keep membership above 100 and it remained below that figure throughout the 1930s. It had dropped to 78 in 1941. The inevitable result of this was low offerings which left the church unable to afford the services of a full-time pastor. Divisions within the membership further hindered its calling of a minister and during this period the church was heavily indebted to a faithful supply of student pastors, lay preachers and its own members for its pulpit supplies.
After a prolonged interregnum Brynmor Jones offered himself to the pastorate, and he was inducted on 7 March, 1981, just a day after his ordination. Like several of his predecessors he was both minister and historian and in 1985 published Sowing Beside All Waters, a history of the Baptists in Gwent. Between 1985 and 1989 Brynmor conducted a dual pastorate serving both Upper Trosnant and Glascoed. The arrangement ended when he swapped Trosnant for Raglan.
The church now looked to a lay pastor, Arthur Pugsley, for leadership. The new decade was to begin on a sad note, however, with the closure of the Sunday School in 1991. With Arthur Pugsley's death in 1995 the reins of leadership were handed to Eric Jones It was in the same year that Bert Weenink, the minister at Pontrhydrun Baptist Church, offered help to Upper Trosnant in the form of ministerial oversight. Pontrhydyrun would supply the pulpit at Trosnant once a month and provide pastoral care when necessary. The Reverend Weenink's services were lost to the church when he left the area to become Director of Bible-Centred Ministries in the United Kingdom.
The church was clearly conscious of a mission to expand and in the autumn of 1995 it supported the appointment of an Eastern Valley Missioner to offer spiritual encouragement and preaching services to six of the smaller churches in the valley. The missioner appointed was Richard Harrison.
The growing thirst for revival within the church led to the formation in 1997 of the Eastern Valley Christian Men's Fellowship, which continues to meet around a mixed programme of social and spiritual events. Complementing this is the Ladies' Prayer Retreat, an ecumenical meeting which draws women from various denominations in the area. The church's determination to move forward led it in the early 2000s to invite the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptists of America to send a 'journeyman couple', Mark and Charity Verlander, to work in the area, based at Upper Trosnant. Several successful missions have followed, and children’s and youth work has begun again.
Much has changed in the valley since the Baptist cause began at Upper Trosnant all those years ago. Industries have come and gone and society has been transformed. But spiritual needs are greater than ever and in the delightful chapel in one of Pontypool's oldest districts the flame of faith still burns.
This history is based on Tony Hopkins’ book Upper Trosnant Baptist Church 1776-2001 (2001).