Preaching in your underwear

One of the things I love about researching revival history is the bizarre stories that come along your path that add another dimension to what you think those historic moments were really like. Many times we focus upon what Joseph Campbell describes as a 'monomyth' framework (the story of the hero), mixing it with the dramatic 'event' that the philosopher Alain Badiou expands upon.


And while those characters and moments are valid, a bias towards that narrative can sometimes stop us from appreciating the complexity and intricacy of the wider storyline.


Take for example the revival of Wales in 1904/05. This famous story has many wonderful hooks, including the repentant prayer of 'bend me', the heavenly sign that the would-be famous preacher Evan Roberts saw that propelled him to believe that Wales could be spiritually and morally transformed, and his preaching tour with the singing ladies that spurred excitement and conviction within many villages and beyond. An extraordinary period of time that was to encourage the development of the 1906 Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles through maternal encouragement coming from the lessons in Wales.

One famous storyline of this phenomenon is the example of Evan Roberts preaching the Gospel at the coal face of the local mines. Before the famous event of 1904, the young Roberts would take many moments to share his faith. Sometimes pitching his stall, as such, at the start and finish of the working day, he would deliver his sermon to the passing workers before he would venture himself into the pits. This storyline also has the intriguing moment of the burnt Bible, the dramatic fire in the Broad Oak Colliery, Loughor in 1897 that damaged Roberts' treasured book that was resting on one of the coal ledges. It was to become a charismatic icon for many.

This example towards Roberts sharing his faith like this must not be discounted, but sole focus upon him can sometimes lead our stories to create an imagery that his participation was the main work preparing the ground for what was to come. A would-be revivalist with plough in hand. Yes, he was ploughing the ground, but one of many, equal in part. 

A story later emerged from a number of witness statements of those who had lived through this crazy period of time. They tell of a group of miners who were so captured by what was happening within their lives they took whatever means possible to share their faith. This meant that the delivery of the Holy Scriptures was not just declared in the streets, homes or the coal face, but deep within the mines.. the hot, muggy mines.

A common practice for miners was to strip down to your underwear, as the heat was many times unbearable. And so, deep within the tunnels of the Welsh mines, were found workers mixing their jobs with the sharing of the Gospel. Declaring their faith, sparking discussion, hosting prayer meetings and leading people to Christ, all in a holy ensemble of underwear, dirt and coal dust coughs.

It was a bizarre movement of evangelism that was underground, unnoticed from the regular crowd on the streets. The only hints being the slow transformed character that was taking place within the workers themselves. Sometimes a dramatic change would happen, a miner who suddenly changed his nature in such obvious ways,


but many times it echoed the lessons of creation itself -  a slow, unique transformative process that can go unnoticed if not given space to observe.


Yes, it truly was a bizarre movement of evangelism that walked hand-in-hand with the work of Evan Roberts. Stories of people who shared their faith in the arenas they occupied. Unconventional to outsiders, but to those they worked with, their 'ways' were normal and recognisable - authentic, not mimicked. They collectively participated to the famous event of 1904, encouraging us all to recognise the impact of the 'now' and the ripple effect of the 'future'.


And as for the words of 'well done, good and faithful servant'? Well I'm sure somewhere in this narrative is a tale to be told of how a bunch of miners heard those beautiful words wearing nothing but their underwear.


Andy Smithymanarticle