The Minister

Herbert MorganThroughout the First World War the minister of Tyndale was Revd Herbert Morgan. He had been called to the pastorate in 1912, following the retirement the previous year of Tyndale’s first minister, Dr Richard Glover. Morgan was a Welshman, born in a village near Neath in 1875. He was bilingual, able to preach in both English and Welsh. He came from a family who were members of a local Baptist church. They could not afford to pay for his education to continue, so he left school to work in an office. Quite soon he was recognised as having a call to the ministry and as having exceptional intellectual gifts. So, with the assistance of friends, he was enabled to qualify for university and went to the South Wales Baptist College, affiliated to the University of Wales. There he gained his BA, with honours in philosophy and Greek before going on to Mansfield College, Oxford and subsequently being awarded a scholarship, which enabled him to go to Marburg University in Germany.

In 1906 he was called to his first pastorate at the Welsh Baptist Church in Castle Street, London. There the future Prime Minister, David Lloyd George was among his congregation. After six years he responded to the call to Tyndale. Morgan was unmarried. While in London he had lodged in a house in Highgate and in Bristol he lodged at first with a church member, Miss Muspratt, in Upper Belgrave Road, later moving to another house in the same road.

To be the minister of a church during those war years must have been a challenge to anyone. For Morgan the challenge was all the greater because he held pacifist views. In the September 1914 edition of The Tyndale Messenger (The Link of its day), he wrote:

How has it come to pass that the blast of the trumpet was sounding throughout Christian Europe the call to the deadliest war that ever made the earth groan? Is it not the stultification of modern diplomacy, with its subterranean shifts and its hollow catch-words and professions, that the whole of Europe should be dragged into Armageddon through a petty quarrel between a barbarous and war-intoxicated state like Serbia and an ancient tyrant like Austria?

He went on to refer to the “refuge of lies” behind which European nations had been “lurking” and the “perfidy” and “falsity” of diplomacy. Not that such views were necessarily confined to pacifists. In fact Morgan was careful, while not abandoning his views, to avoid parading them, while offering pastoral support to those whose families were torn apart by the war. Indeed, one month into the war he wrote:

If war is ever justifiable for an age like ours, that boasts of its civilization and progress, then this war in defence of the neutrality of Belgium is, perhaps, the most honourable that we have ever conducted.

He did go on to qualify this by pointing out that the independence of Belgium happened to coincide with Britain’s national interest! It is also interesting to see here, well before the war had settled down into the attritional trench warfare that characterised most of it, that Morgan was already referring to it as ‘the deadliest war ever’, seeing it as a potential ‘Armageddon’ – a word very much used in hindsight later!

Morgan always showed a keen interest in social issues. At a time when the state had been increasingly making provision for the social problems that had emerged during the previous century and more of the Industrial Revolution, Morgan was keen to point out that the church still had a pivotal role. In his ‘Letter’ to church members in the 1913 Tyndale Handbook he wrote:

Much zeal for social reform is shewn in Parliament, in Social Settlements and elsewhere outside the Church – in the narrow sense – but she has her own great place, and it is not to be ousted by any of these. For she has a supreme function to fulfil in the realm of motive and character from which the social problem originates and from which also all real reform is to emanate.

This was an age when the Church of England was often referred to as ‘the Tory party at prayer’. While this is clearly an exaggeration, certainly there was a degree of correlation between the two. The other side of the coin was the identification of Non-conformism with the Liberal party. Nowhere was this more evident than in Tyndale, where members of the influential Robinson family and others within the church were Liberal activists. Morgan, however, could see ‘the writing on the wall’ as far as the Liberal party was concerned. In his view the Labour party, rather than the Liberal party represented the future. This led to him standing as the Labour candidate for his home constituency of Neath in the 1918 General Election. Sadly for him he failed to win the crucial support of the miners, who, apparently, found his pacifist views unacceptable in the aftermath of the war in which so many of them had lost family members. Thus, in the view of one biographer: “Welsh Labour representation lost a figure of outstanding calibre”.

How far this setback contributed to his decision to leave Tyndale, it is difficult to assess. More likely he saw his move as positive. After the war Aberystwyth University College had decided to establish an Extra-Mural department. According to his old friend, Waldo Lewis “he was persuaded by the late Professor J H Davies to return to his native country and become the first Director of Extra-Mural Education”. So, in 1920, after eight difficult years, Morgan left Tyndale.

While at Tyndale, Morgan was unmarried. However, in 1925 he married Clara Churchill James (née Durham). She and her first husband had been members of Tyndale since they married in 1901. William James was a draper and furrier with a business on College Green. He had died in 1923, by which time their two children were grown up. Sadly, Morgan’s marriage was destined to be short lived. Not much more than a year after they married, Clara died, aged only 51.

Morgan remained at Aberystwyth until he retired in 1940. He was very much involved in Welsh life both within and beyond the Baptist denomination. A biographer wrote: “He was in great demand as a preacher in Welsh and English, though not in the style regarded as ‘popular’ and as a lecturer.” His wider interests are reflected in his writings on social matters and he was keenly involved in the development of social services. In 1945 he served as President of the Baptist Union of Wales.

Morgan died in the Aberystwyth General Hospital on 22nd September 1946. At a Memorial Service in Bethel Baptist Chapel, Aberystwyth on 3rd October his life-long friend, Waldo Lewis, gave thanks for “this great and good man – for this loyal and warm-hearted friend and companion on life’s road. For this true and faithful servant of our Lord Jesus Christ”.

Morgan is not forgotten in Aberystwyth. Even today, some 68 years after his death, students compete for the annual “Rev Herbert Morgan Scholarship” worth £1,000 a year.

David T. Roberts