A CHURCH ESTABLISHED
The beginning of the cause goes back to 1895 when Bethany Church started a Mission in a temporary building on the Wharf at Port Talbot Docks. This had to be abandoned because dwelling houses were pulled down when the harbour was being extended. The Wharf people were then rehoused in Sandfields and the same temporary building was used by them as a Mission there.
At that time the Presbyterian Church of Wales already had an organisation within itself called the Forward Movement which was intended to set up church in the new housing areas. At the time of the move from the Wharf, the Rev. John Pugh D.D. was consulted and he, with Mr. John Davies, chose the present site in Sandfields for a Forward Mission church. The ground was purchased from the Pendarvis Estate for the sum of £100, and in 1897 the church was opened. This building is now our Lesser Hall.
A CHURCH CONSOLIDATED
The first pastor was the Rev. John Harris under whose ministry the membership increased. He was then succeeded by the Rev. Glandon Davies, then by the Rev. John Harrison and then by the Rev. E. W. Edwards. In 1913 the Rev. Edgar Badham took charge and the membership grew to 130. The existing building then proved to be too small and in February 1914 the foundation stones for a new church were laid. Financial support was given by Bethany and Carmel church, Port Talbot, and also by the Forward Movement Fund.
In July 1914, amid scenes of rejoicing, the new church was opened and named Bethlehem. The preacher that day was the Rev. Professor D. Williams, Aberystwyth. He gave his text: ‘The Lord hath done great things for us whereof we are glad’ (Psalm 126:2).
In 1916 Mr. Badham left and his place was taken by the Rev. Ivor Jones. He was succeeded by the Rev. T. J. Lewis whose ministry was marked by the influx of many teenagers.
A CHURCH BLESSED
In January 1927 Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a Harley Street heart specialist, commenced his ministry. During the next eleven and a half years God poured down his blessing on Bethlehem. The Doctor knew a glorious and fruitful ministry with the church. Many were saved and added to the church. Because of the large numbers gathering for worship an annexe was added to the church.
The Doctor left in May 1938 to take up a pastorate at Westminster Church, London, and within a few months was followed as our Pastor by the Rev. W. M. Jones. He and the Rev. Emlyn Jones, who succeeded him in 1946, were men who faithfully preached the gospel to large congregations.
In 1953 the Rev. J. B. E. Thomas came to Sandfields and ministered to the church for sixteen years, during which time there was much blessing and sweet fellowship. It was during his pastorate that the huge Sandfields housing estate was built. Believing that a church should be started there, Bethlehem commenced a Sunday School in the home of one of the members, Mr. Paul Binder. The whole estate was visited by volunteers from the church; open-air meetings took place and week-night meetings were held in Glan-y-môr School. Because of the great increase in the Sunday School, that also was transferred to Glan-y-môr School.
A CHURCH SUSTAINED
The Presbyterian Connection then decided to build a church on the estate in Western Avenue. In 1959 this was opened and called Fitzclarence Church. Doctor Martyn Lloyd-Jones preached the inaugural sermon. To this church, the people who had gathered in Glan-y-môr School now moved. Mr. John Thomas had the oversight of the church until a pastor was appointed in 1961. This was the Rev. W. Steed, who pastored there for fifty five years until 2016.
On 24th April 1969, to the great sorrow of the church at Bethlehem, Mr. Thomas was suddenly taken from us. There then followed a period of five years before the appointment of the Rev. Gwynn Williams as pastor. The delay was mainly due to differences with the denomination. After Mr. Williams’ arrival these disputes increased until the church seceded from the denomination in May 1975. There then followed five years of negotiation regarding the ownership of the church and manse. This was finally settled in November 1981, the denomination receiving a sum of £40,000 from the church.
We can give thanks to God for His guidance during these troublesome years. Bethlehem is now, therefore, an Independent Evangelical Church.
The Rev. Peter Jeffrey was called to the church in 1986 and faithfully led the church for eight years. He was followed, two years later by Rev. Daniel Foukes who ministered for a further five years until 2001. The church then looked for a long period of four years until ultimately God blessed the congregation by calling Rev. Jeremy Bailey to the church in 2005.
Pastor Jeremy Bailey has now ministered faithfully to the congregation at Bethlehem Evangelical Church for over ten years, in which time the Lord has faithfully sustained the fellowship at Aberavon and the gospel message is still being proclaimed from this pulpit.
We rejoice that in all of these years the banner of truth has been unfurled, and the torch of the gospel has been faithfully passed on. Please continue to pray that God would add to our number such as should be saved in this generation, and that a Christ-centred, Bible-taught, and Spirit-led unity would characterise our local church.
May God continue to bless the church at Sandfields.
Pastors At Bethlehem Sandfields
1897 – 1900 Rev J. Harris
1900 – 1905 Rev E. Glandon Davies
1905 – 1907 M.J.M. Harries Rees (a student pastor)
1908 – 1912 Rev E.W. Edwards
1913 – 1917 Rev Edgar Badham
1917 – 1921 Rev T. Ivor Jones
1921 – 1926 Rev T.J. Lewis
1927 – 1938 Rev Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
1938 – 1945 Rev W.M. Jones
1946 – 1952 Rev Emlyn Jones
1953 – 1969 Rev J.B.E. Thomas
1974 – 1983 Rev Gwynne Williams
1986 – 1994 Pastor Peter Jeffery
1996 – 2001 Pastor Daniel Foulkes
2005 – Present Pastor Jeremy Bailey
Logic on Fire, a documentary which explores the ministry of Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones, was released in April 2015. The trailer and links below will provide further information.