Howell Elfed Lewis
Coffa Elfed / Elfed Museum
Elfed received as many as 80 new members on one Sunday afternoon during his first ministry at Buckley. It was there that he also met his future wife, Mary Taylor. They married in 1887 when Elfed had moved to Hull. She was ten years his junior. Elfed began returning regularly to Wales to preach during his seven-year ministry in the north of England, and using the forms Elvet and Elfed.
In 1891 he accepted a call to minister at Park English Congregational Chapel, Llanelli. During his time in the steel town he was also much in demand as a preacher all over Wales, delivering sermons in both languages. He moved to London to minister at the historic Harecourt Chapel in 1898.
Within four years he moved to one of the leading Welsh Congregational chapels, Tabernacle, King’s Cross, in central London and there he remained until his retirement in 1940. At one time the chapel had over a thousand members. Elfed and his wife, Mary had seven children. She passed away in 1918 and he married Elisabeth Lloyd, a widow who hailed from the Towy Valley, in 1923, but sadly she also died four years later.
By 1930 Elfed had lost his sight completely and it seemed all his public appearances would cease as he could not travel around the country on his own. However, that year he married Mary Davies, one of his chapel members, and she enabled him to live a full life despite his blindness for the remainder of his days.
His ministry at King’s Cross can be divided into three periods - the period of the revival in the early part of the century, the great desertion after the First World War and the economic depression in the 1930s when thousands of Welshmen moved to London and its suburbs in search of work.
Among the positions Elfed held were Chairman of the Congregational Union of England and Wales; Chairman of the Free Church Council of England; Chairman of the Union of Welsh Independents and Chairman of the London Missionary Society on two occasions.
His volumes of sermons and homilies such as Plannu Coed (1894) and Lampau’r Hwyr (1945) emphasise the moral rather than the theological aspect of Christianity. ‘The Book still speaks’ and ‘The approach to Christ’ were titles of two of his English books.
His sermons were full of images emphasising the devotional aspect of religion rather than referring to contemporary attitudes and changes within society. They were regarded as a significant milestone within the history of Welsh pulpit oratory.