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A History of Tabernacle

The 1700s

Tabernacle was born out of the Methodist revival in the eighteenth century. A Calvinistic Methodist group known as the Cokey Street Society met in the town from around 1743. From 1748 to 1770 it was led by Howell Davies of Prendergast, a man who became known as the "Apostle of Pembrokeshire." He was an Anglican Priest and may have remained within the Church throughout his life.

In 1768 the great evangelist George Whitfield visited the town as he did in the two succeeding years. After his final visit it was decided to establish the cause in a permanent way. Two gardens were bought and in 1774 the Tabernacle was built. It was named after Whitfield's Chapel in London. Whitfield died before the financial help he had promised became available and the new Chapel opened with a debt of 600.

The early years of the cause were troubled by doctrinal strife. One of the several people who ministered to the Church was an evangelical sea-captain named Torial Joss. Captain Joss was not ordained but he administered Communion. The Methodist Synod of 1790 objected to this. However, the Church refused to dismiss Joss. One of its members bought up the mortgage and locked the doors of the building. It was then re-opened as a Congregational Church.

1800 - 1900

The new Church grew steadily through the first half of the 19th Century, but had begun to decline by 1850. It was given a new lease of life under the ministry of Doctor Thomas Stamper which began in 1852. In 1864 a large school building was added and discussions initiated concerning the extension and renovation of the Chapel. The firm of Lawrence and Goodman was engaged to draw up plans for virtual rebuilding. The new building was opened in 1874 during the ministry of the Rev. J. Harrison Lochore. It impressed the population and Tabernacle became the most fashionable dissenting Church in the town. It was a noted stronghold of liberalism, as against the conservatism of the other fashionable Church, St. Marys.

The Rev. F. Newton Colborne was ordained at Tabernacle in 1889 after his training at New College, London. The Church blossomed under his leadership opening new meetings, having a Christmas Day service for the first time, with a Christmas tree for children and entertainment for their parents. He was heavily involved in youth work and initiated many outings and other outside activities. He also started producing a Church magazine. The Rev. Colborne's ministry was much appreciated by the Church which gave him a number of presents as tokens of esteem. These included a bicycle, and a walnut sideboard.

Like many of his predecessors and successors, Rev. Colborne was active in civic affairs. He was a District Councillor, a member of the School Board and the Board of Guardians, and a Governor of Haverfordwest Grammar School. At the end of his ministry, in 1901, the Church had 174 members and 210 children ! He was succeeded the next year by the Rev. Nicholson Jones, whose ministry lasted for 35 years.

1900 - 2000

This was a particularly happy and fruitful ministry. Mr. Jones was a loving and caring pastor, particularly happy with children. He was a keen supporter of the Welsh language, teaching it at Tasker's High School, and winning several local Eisteddfod Chairs.

Mr. Jones died in 1937 and was succeeded eighteen months later by the Rev. T. J. Evans. A popular preacher, but one who came at the wrong time. He was a committed pacifist at a time when pacifism was very unpopular. But his sincerity was respected by the Church. He left in 1944 and was followed by the Rev. Brython Davies whose ministry lasted for less than three years.

The 1950s began with a new young minister, the Rev. David Byron Evans. He was a popular minister and again did much to attract young people to the Church. By 1951 there were 127 children on the Sunday School books. In July 1956 an evening service from Tabernacle was broadcast on the BBC Welsh Home Service. Mr. Evans left in 1956. Another short ministry followed with the Rev. R. Cerwyn Davies. Through the early part of the century the Church had grown and by the end of Mr. Davies' ministry its membership was nearly 250. The Rev. Angus Roderick became Minister in 1966.

During his ministry the Church was seen on television for the first time with a recording of "Songs of Praise" which was screened on October 27th, 1968.

In the early 1970s Tabernacle, like all other Congregational Churches, was asked to consider joining the United Reformed Church, or URC. The matter was discussed at great length and eventually the Church voted by a large majority to remain Congregational. It felt that the URC had abandoned the Congregational principle of independence and that joining would alter the nature of the Church in both its theology and organisation. For some years the Church remained completely independent. It celebrated its bicentenary in 1974 with a festival week in June during which over 1,000 people visited it. The anniversary preacher was Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones.

Joining the Congregational Federation

Mr. Roderick's departure in 1978 left the Church without a resident minister for some years. In 1984 it joined the Congregational Federation. The following year the present Minister, Rev. Christopher Gillham, commenced his ministry. It had been agreed that this would be a joint pasturate with Bethel Congregational Church, Middle Hill, Freystrop. The Deacons felt that it was right for the larger Church to help its small neighbour.

The BBC visited the Church again with "Songs of Praise" on November 2nd, 1986, and the BBC Wales radio programme "Celebration" on March 1st and April 5th, 1987. Two more "Celebration" services came from Tabernacle on 14th May and 25th June 2006. In the late 1990s, the Sunday School building was very extensively renovated, and became the Tabernacle Community Centre. As well as housing the Church organisations it welcomes many secular clubs.

It enters the 21st Century in good heart and with a membership not much smaller than that with which it entered the 20th. Haverfordwest Town Council has used Tabernacle as the setting for its Mayor Making Ceremony since the Shire Hall has become unavailable. In May 2006, the minister, Rev. Christopher Gillham, became Mayor of Haverfordwest and one of the Deacons, Cllr. Dewi James, became the Town's Sheriff.