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The Welsh In Oneida County, New York  |  Evans  |  The Welsh Churches  |  14

To Oneida

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In that year the former pastor, J. Eldred Jones, returned to his charge and prepared to revive the cause there. But he found his work discouraging. "Our numbers are but small and our circumstances low, as craftsmen and laborers in this hard time", (40) wrote the church to the Welsh Baptist Assembly in 1877. The pastor himself gave voice to the difficulties that beset him:  "This is our condition at present [the church weakened from the death of its old members in 1877] and it is natural to ask what can we hope for the future. This is a difficult question to answer without being acquainted with the condition of things here. Welsh immigration has completely ceased here. (41) The children of the old citizens are growing up in the English and when they profess religion they join one of the English churches. They feel above doing anything with the Welsh. This is not without honorable exceptions, but it is the feeling of the great majority of the young people. As the old members are dying, the Welsh cause is getting weaker and weaker, and the time cannot be distant when the Welsh church will have ceased to exist in Utica. It is too weak now to
support a minister except as he has something else to depend upon for his daily bread.

"In order to keep our young people in the church we are holding an English service every second Sunday night. We have recently purchased a small organ for the service of the singers, (42) but after all we have no legitimate right to expect the church to grow in numbers, power and influence, unless many of those Welshmen, who are today members of the English churches but who are much better versed in the Welsh language than they are or ever can be in the English, return to the old fold where they ought to be for their own personal advantage as well as for the honor of the church of the living God. If fifteen or twenty of the good, industrious and faithful men would see their duty toward the old mother church and return from the churches where they are not and cannot be of any real matter and where they are not needed, to this one where they can be of the greatest advantage, we would still have a strong church on Broadway." (43)

But these sturdy Welshmen were fighting against circumstances stronger than they. It was not in the nature of things that they could succeed in winning back those of their number who had gone with the English. The facts are not at hand to show how the church continued to decline, but the fate of so many others in similar circumstances does not leave us ignorant of the way by which the end was reached. It struggled on for several years, fighting in vain the forces that were working for its downfall, until in recent years it has been forced to close its doors and to scatter its members among the English Baptist churches or the Welsh churches of the other denominations.

It is of interest to know what connection has been maintained between these Welsh churches and the organizations of their respective denominations in America. Here again I approach the question with an insufficient knowledge, but the facts collected will throw some light upon the subject.

For none of the denominations has this connection been very close. The Calvinistic Methodists, being peculiar, will be passed over for the moment. At no time does it appear that any representatives from the Welsh Baptist of Congregational churches have been sent to the state or national assemblies of their denomination among the Americans. (44)  On the contrary, the Congregationalists maintained a "Welsh Congregational Association of the State of New York", which looked after the interests common to the Welsh churches of that denomination in the state. The tiny thread that bound the Welsh and English Congregationalists so loosely together was that of missions. The American Home Missionary Society, a Congregational organization,  united with the Presbyterians before 1861  gave frequent aid to the Welsh Congregational churches. (45)  Whether or not their contributions to missions went in turn to the Foreign Missionary Society of the American Congregational church or whether they were sent to Wales, I do not know. The former appears more likely. The Welsh Congregationalists had a foreign missionary society for the state with the treasury in Utica. But this was rather for the reception of funds than the dispensing of them. (46)  The Baptists also had a missionary society in Oneida County which collected funds, but I am unable to learn where they were sent.

The Calvinistic Methodists, though practically identical in doctrine and government with the Presbyterians were yet not a part of their body and so far as New York State Welsh are concerned, have had no connection with it. They have organized themselves into a separate national body, the "Welsh Calvinistic Methodist Church in the United States"; they hold their General Assemblies, their synods and their local assemblies in every way as an independent body. There has always been friendly intercourse between the body of Calvinistic Methodists in America with that in Wales. When the Welsh body in 1838 established a society for foreign missions, the Oneida Calvinistic Methodists at once began collecting for the purpose and sent their contributions to Wales. (47)  This was continued until 1892, when the American body established their Board of Home and Foreign Missions. From that date this board administered the funds collected in the United States, supporting missionaries independently of the body in Wales. (48)

When the Christian Endeavor Societies became established in the Welsh churches, they had of necessity to maintain a certain connection with the National Society at Boston. They did not, however, meet with the English in their county assemblies. They carried on their own societies in Welsh and held the county conventions by themselves, the delegates coming only from Welsh societies in Oneida and the surrounding counties.

The Bible Societies among the Welsh in Oneida from their inception in 1816 have been branches of the American Bible Society, to which they have sent their collections. These have never been sent to the British and Foreign Bible Societies.

There are a few characteristics of the Welsh churches peculiar to themselves which are deserving of mention. One of these is their Cymanfa or Assembly. These church assemblies, at which the regular business of the organization was carried on, were something more than mere business meetings, such as the meeting of a Presbytery, Synod or the assemblies of other churches. They were great preaching festivals. The custom was brought by the people from Wales, and as soon as their churches had got a foothold, it was established here. With the Baptists and the Congregationalists, it was an annual meeting, being begun by the latter, in Oneida, at least, on the second Monday in September. The Calvinistic Methodists held theirs at first quarterly and then semi-annually.

The Baptists included in their Cymanfa both Pennsylvania and New York, holding the meeting alternate years in the two states. Their meeting lasted nine days. As many outside preachers as possible were induced to attend and all the preachers of that denomination in the neighborhood were present. The Cymanfa moved from one church to another, holding preaching services and business meetings in each. Great crowds came from all around to attend the annual preaching festivals and often, when the church was small, the windows and doors had to be thrown open to allow those crowded outside to hear.

The Congregationalists always endeavored to have a preacher from Wales at their Cymanfa, and this was not particularly difficult, as many were coming continually to this country, either as settlers or travelers. At each church services were held one evening and the whole of the day and evening following. Two sermons were preached in the morning, two in the afternoon and two more in the evening, the last sermon in the evening always being reserved for the most noted preacher. Whether this was the result of the Welsh sense of the fitness of things or an artful device for keeping the congregation assembled is not known.

Another peculiarity of their churches was a kind of home missionary work they carried on - the collecting of funds for a church among its neighbors of the same denomination. In 1838 Capel Careg had a debt of over a thousand dollars and to pay this off subscriptions were taken in Pen-y-graig, Pen-y-caerau and Nant, the other C. M. churches in the vicinity. These three churches contributed together over five hundred dollars for their sister church. (49)  These contributions were very frequently made more often for a church at a distance than for one of the neighboring organizations. In the summer of 1839 William Morgans of the Welsh Baptist Church in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, collected one hundred and sixty eight dollars among four Baptist churches in Oneida. (50)  During 1856 Rev. James Davies, pastor of the Cambria Congregational Church of Allen, Ohio, visited and preached in churches of all denominations among the Welsh in Oneida, and collected almost five hundred dollars. (51)  This system was expanded even further. Pastors from Wales came collecting in America. We find the following account:  "Rev. Robert D. Thomas [the author later of
Hanes Cymry America] having been preaching since 1843 in Penarth, Jerusalem, Maedog, Canaan, Bryrwydd, Welshpool and Newtown, in 1851-52 he visited almost all the Welsh settlements in the United States of America, teaching, preaching and collecting donations for nearly twelve months in New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio. He was greatly welcomed everywhere and returned to the people of his charge in Wales rejoicing, having collected a sufficient sum of money to pay all the Balance Debt on all his church edifices there." (52)

Some of the churches in Oneida collected for themselves among the churches in the other states, as well as contributing to the agents of these churches when they came through. (53)  It does not appear however that they ever collected in Wales. The consent of the Cymanfa, when it was in session, was obtained before collecting was begun and, that this consent might be obtained the collector's visit was usually timed so that he might be present at its meeting. The churches welcomed the visiting collector, especially if he were a good preacher, and they contributed liberally to his cause. Even those churches which were receiving aid from the Home Missionary Society gave with no niggard hand. All gave according to their ability, and many a weak or young church was thus placed upon its feet.

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