Local church: Ammanford
Ammanford Evangelical Church is around 35 years old. It’s hard to tell exactly because reports vary. At the time of its birth people were more interested in speaking about Jesus than keeping records.
It had, as its humble beginnings, a rag tag bunch of brethren believers who met together to enjoy fellowship, prayer and Bible study in the comfort of a home. This unwittingly laid two firm foundations in the church which endure to this day. Firstly, it became a place in which the gospel was at the centre. I suppose that’s essentially what it means to be ‘evangelical’ but it was also inevitable given that its beginnings were, in essence, a Bible study. Secondly, it became a church that’s placed a premium on community; on loving, sharing and growing in the gospel together, as a family. Again, this is the reality of exactly what a church is – a family drawn together and held together by Jesus’ blood.
Over a period of roughly three years this home fellowship experienced a gradual, steady growth in numbers and more and more people were drawn into the community of people who loved to learn more about Jesus. When this increase saw the weekly attendance reach 30 it became obvious to all who attended that the time had come to find a more suitable venue.
Finding a home
The church’s first move was into a committee room housed in Ammanford’s Pensioners’ Hall. There the growing group were able to meet both midweek and on Sundays.
What followed was continued gradual, steady growth and a number of further moves. In fact the majority of people who make up Ammanford Evangelical Church have made do with a pretty nomadic existence. No-one would say we enjoyed this coming and going but looking back it’s easy to see how God was blessing the church in quantity and quality.
In 1995 the decision was made by the church leadership to prioritise finding a permanent home for the church. The vision was for premises that would serve both the church and the needs of the community around us.
By the mid 00s the church bought and renovated an older chapel building right in the centre of Ammanford. Many thought it was a chance to rest having travelled so long and laboured so hard. Yet, no sooner had we found a permanent home than God was at work moving us in a very different way. Kevin Adams, long term pastor of the church, had found love and informed the church that he’d be moving across the Atlantic to marry and live.
This meant a significant change for the church. Who would they appoint as a new pastor? As always God had been at work long before we even knew about it. A ‘graduate’ of the church’s youth work was at the very same time sensing the call into ministry and equally wondering ‘where now?’. The answer was quite literally a match made in heaven. Jonathan Thomas, local boy, accepted the call to lead the church into the new century.
So, within a very short space of time the church had a new home and a new pastor. Surely things would finally settle down and the church could enjoy a well-earned rest?
Back to school
If you attend Ammanford Evangelical Church on a Sunday morning now you won’t be greeted by the refurbished facade of the old chapel in the middle of town. Instead, you’ll experience the (even more recently refurbished) local comprehensive school, Amman Valley.
Soon after moving into and settling into our new building an extraordinary thing happened. We began to grow. Our numbers swelled to nearly 90 adults and far too many children for a church that met in one large room! It was, at some points, standing room only, and it was wonderful. Oh the joy of being squeezed into a small space together and singing God’s praises with the volume turned up to 11!
Yet our growth presented the church with a very real problem. While we could all enjoy church on a Sunday our numbers meant that no-one else could. Quite literally if a guest came someone else would have to be turned away.
The church is an odd sort of club in that it exists primarily for those outside its membership. Seeing this, we made the difficult decision to pack up our stuff once again and began meeting in the ample space of the local school affording the opportunity for many more adults and children to become part of the church family. A Sunday morning now will typically see 130 adults, along with 50 children and young people and tens of Sunday school volunteers gather together to learn more about Jesus from the Bible.
This doesn’t mean that we’ve abandoned the permanent home that so many gave so sacrificially for the church to gain. Our church building is used more now than ever, especially by those in the community. During the week you’d struggle to find a day when the church isn’t being used by some group or other (including our own). Each final Sunday of the month it’s home to our Welsh language evening service ‘Darganfod’.
A new initative
But the church isn’t just at work in Ammanford and the surrounding valley. This September we launched our church plant into the Gwendraeth Valley. A place very near to Ammanford geographically but quite distant culturally. While Ammanford and the Amman Valley benefit from a number of growing evangelical works the neighbouring Gwendraeth region isn’t as blessed.
Each Sunday evening a group of believers gather under the banner of CrossHands Church (not particularly imaginative nor final!) with the hope of making and maturing Christ’s followers in the Gwendraeth Valley and beyond.
So what of the future? Is it now time for us to rest, having grown too large for our building and planted into the neighbouring valley? Of course not! Albert Einstein once quipped, ‘Life is like riding a bike. You have to keep moving or you’ll lose your balance.’
We are not nearly satisfied with the numbers who attend in Ammanford every week. While we’re thankful to God for the growth, even a relatively large church is a drop in the ocean of the population of the Amman Valley. How we’ll reach out further with the Good News about Jesus Christ remains to be seen, but we’ll continue to exist for those outside our church.
The church in the Gwendraeth too will see change and growth. We’re already looking for a more suitable venue to house the growing number of children who are attending. In the not too distant future it is our prayer that the church would be strong enough to appoint its own pastor.
We’re also looking further afield. Having started a primarily English speaking work in the Gwendraeth it is our genuine desire to see a work in the Welsh language take root deeper into that valley. How, when and with whom this will happen is at present a mystery but we pray it would come to fruition.
Yet in all this, the foundations that were laid so early in the life of the church remain. Ammanford Evangelical Church, CrossHands Church and any subsequent churches that are born out of us will be churches that love the gospel and love one another with a radical gospel love in real community.
Sammy Davies is the assistant pastor Ammanford Evangelical Church.