One of the most charismatic preachers of his generation, Christmas Evans was born on Christmas Day 1766 at Ysgaerwen in Cardiganshire. His father died when Christmas was nine and he went to live with his mother’s uncle until leaving to become a farm hand at sixteen. His upbringing was not a Christian one and life with his uncle was hard. It wasn’t until he left that he was converted through his association with the Presbyterian church and this led to him learning to read and write. Evans’ conversion led him to part company with his previous drinking companions, something to which they took great offence. Six of them waylaid him one night and in the ensuing beating he lost the sight in one eye. For the rest of his life he was known as the ‘one-eyed’ Baptist preacher.
Evans began speaking at cottage meetings and other Independent gatherings, despite the Presbyterian position of not allowing anyone who lacked academic training to preach. Around this time, a friend of Evans had become a Baptist and talked with him about his reasons for this. Evans was firmly against ‘believers’ baptism’ and argued his case with his friend. However, he was struck by his friend’s conviction and resolved to prove his own point. He said: 'I went home and I therefore fully examined the Scriptures to mark down every passage that mentioned infant baptism, for I believed there were hundreds of such there. But after careful perusal I was terribly disappointed to find none of that character there. I met with about forty passages, all giving their suffrages in favour of baptism on a profession of repentance and faith.' Following this Evans joined the Baptist church and was baptised in 1787.
Evans accepted a call to ministry in Caernarvonshire in 1790 and did some good work there, although many of the converts joined the Calvinistic Methodists rather than the Baptists, something Evans attributed to the dogmatic and unevangelical attitudes of some of his fellow-Baptists. In 1792 he moved to minister to the churches on Anglesey and he spent more than thirty years here. He made frequent preaching journeys from North to South Wales on horseback, raising money for his Anglesey chapels. After many successful years there came a parting of the ways and Christmas Evans moved to Tonyfelin in Caerphilly in 1826. His arrival created great excitement and hundreds flocked to hear him. He only spent two years here, moving to Tabernacle in Cardiff in 1828, but it was during his time in Tonyfelin that he was so instrumental in the development of the fellowship at Ainon in Tongwynlais. He held services in the Lewis Arms public house and such was the impact that a permanent church was established the same year and by 1832 a new building had been constructed and opened.
Evans' health deteriorated whilst at Cardiff and by now he was nearly blind, although this did not prevent him preparing some two hundred sermons for publication. He received a constant stream of calls to other churches and to return to Anglesey but remained in Cardiff until 1832, when he made his final move to Caernarfon. He took charge of a church deep in debt and troubled by divisions but, in spite of this, his time here was a happy one. He worked hard to solve the problems he inherited and was able to visit his old charges in Anglesey. In April 1838 he embarked on another preaching tour to help clear the debts of the Caernarfon church. By July he had reached Swansea and here he fell ill, preaching his last sermon at Mount Pleasant on Monday July 16th. He died in the early hours of the following Friday and was buried at Swansea at the age of seventy three after fifty four years in the ministry.
For further information on Christmas Evans:
or Tim Shenton’s book:
‘Christmas Evans: the life and times of the one-eyed preacher’
published by the Evangelical Press.
ISBN-10: 085234483X ISBN-13: 978-0852344835