Hymnwriters and preachers

William Williams, Pantycelyn - Image: National Library of Wales

The beginning of the Methodist Revival in Wales and the first wave of great Welsh preachers and hymnwriters.

There were three great figures associated with what has become known as the Methodist Revival in Wales: Howel Harris (1714-73), Daniel Rowland (1713-90), and William Williams Pantycelyn (1717-1791).

Harris and Rowland both experienced, separately, a religious conversion in 1735, but they weren't to actually meet until 1737, when they decided to coordinate their evangelising activities - that date marks the effective beginning of the Methodist Revival in Wales.

All three were greatly influenced by the work and preaching of Griffith Jones of Llanddowror, and undoubtedly his Sunday Schools and the increase in literacy greatly contributed to the development of Methodism. Jones himself never embraced Methodism although he admitted to having some sympathy with its aims.

Methodism started off as a movement within the Church of England, with revival as its intention. Much influenced by what was happening in England, it went on to develop along different lines in Wales.

Howel Harris experienced his conversion during a sermon at the church in Talgarth in Breconshire and immediately began holding religious meetings at home. Soon he was preaching the gospel in the surrounding areas and before long all over Wales. A man of prodigious energy as well as passion, he often preached five sermons a day, sometimes encountering a hostile and violent response; however, his perseverance led to thousands being converted.

A man of strong opinions, his earnest beliefs led to a split with the other leaders of Welsh Methodism in the early 1750s. As a consequence he established a religious community at his home village of Trefeca . Before his death he was reconciled with Daniel Rowland and the movement, and William Williams composed an elegy noting his enormous contribution.

Howel Harris was never ordained in the Church of England, unlike his colleague Daniel Rowland. Rowland was made a minister of the Anglican Church in 1734 at Llangeitho, in Ceredigion. Yet he did not commit himself fully to Christ until he saw Griffith Jones preaching the following year.

The effect was dramatic, and the previously worldly Rowland became a committed Christian, developing connections with Nonconformists to more effectively spread the word. His preaching skills became legendary, and thousands came from all over Wales to his sermons at Llangeitho Church.

As a consequence the Anglican authorities became alarmed and expelled him from his position as curate. His followers responded by building him a chapel a short distance from the church and Rowland carried on as before, becoming one of the most influential preachers Wales ever produced.

William Williams ('Pantycelyn') was the great hymnwriter of the revival, composing almost a thousand hymns in both Welsh and English. His most famous English hymn is the rugby favourite 'Guide Me Oh Thou Great Redeemer'. Such was his talent he acquired the nickname Y Per Ganiedydd ('The Sweet Singer'). He also wrote prose and poetry.

From a Nonconformist background, Williams was converted by the preaching of Howel Harris, and later developed a close working relationship with Daniel Rowland. After joining the Anglican Church he was ordained deacon in 1740. Later he concentrated more on the Methodist movement and was to become one of the prominent figures in Wales. He travelled thousands of miles, preaching and selling his hymnbooks, and supported himself by selling goods such as tea.

Most hymnwriters of this period were men, but Ann Griffiths (1776-1805) was an exception to the rule. One of her admirers is the present Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams . As part of his enthronement service as Archbishop of Canterbury in February 2003, Dr Williams chose (and translated himself) one of Ann Griffiths' hymns, 'Yr Arglwydd Iesu' (The Lord Jesus' or 'I Saw Him Standing'). Also included was Pantycelyn's hymn 'Guide Me Oh Thou Great Redeemer'.

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