The chapel belongs to the Calvinist Methodist Denomination.
The word Bethel means - chapel for seamen - reflecting the maritime heritage of the village. There is evidence, which records services being held in the village in 1768, by a Benjamin Thomas. Whether this was in a chapel or another building is not known. The first chapel built in the village was in 1790, across the street from the present Ty'r Capel. The organising of the building was undertaken by Mr Thomas, Ty'nporth, the old preacher from Ffosyffin, although there were plenty of offers from the local community. It was built facing the river and had a straw roof. The floor and pulpit were made of stone, but there is no record of the material for the walls. The chapel was 'kept' by a Mr Morris, Aberllonwyn. The son of Mr Morris bought this building in 1855 for the sum of £35.
The first chapel on the present site was erected in 1805 on
land leased from Mr jones, a clergyman in England for 1s (5p) a year. In 1846,
the two daughters of Mr Jones, namely Mrs Rogers, Y Gelli in Talsarn and her
sister sold the lease for £4 to the Reverend Edward Jones, Aberystwyth. He
in turn appears to have given the lease to the chapel. Also in 1846, the
LlifMawr (Great Flood) caused a lot of damage in the village, including the
chapel. A table was reportedly carried from the chapel by the floodwater and
swept out to sea. The congregation is said to have put their trust in God to
save the chapel. Some time later, the table was recovered on a beach near
PwIlhell, loaded onto a boat and returned to the village.
The chapel was rebuilt in 1848 and takes its present form. from 1900 when much work was carried out, including the addition of the two entrance porches. The coach house next to Pen-y-banc may also have been added at this date. Inside, the pulpit is located on the SE wall under a black painted scroll with the words: Arglwydd
hoffais drigfan dy dy,
a lle preswylfa dy
Below the pulpit is a rectangular Sedd Fawr enclosure one step up from the chapel floor. There is seating for a congregation of 350 in wooden box pews positioned in a semi-circle facing the pulpit. The Sunday school started in Aberarth about 1806. A Mr Charles was visiting the county from Bala and announced that anyone interested in starting a Sunday School in the area should meet with him in Ty'nporth that Sunday, one hour before the service. Another meeting took place after the service and resulted in Mr Thomas, Ty'nporth coming to Aberarth to establish the school. It was noted that he was very skilled in his work. Two local men, Dafydd Evans, the shop, and Dafydd Jones, Ynys were also excellent leaders and the school flourished. Along with other chapels in the area, Bethel had great difficulty in acquiring an ordained minister for the Lords Supper. About 1816, the Reverend David Evans, Aberaeron agreed to share his services equally on Sundays. He spent the morning in Llanarth, the afternoon in Ffosyffin and took the evening service in Aberarth. Before the success of the Sunday school, it appears only one local person became a preacher. This was Thomas Evans (1804-1884), Drefnewydd. He was also Aberarth's first resident preacher and preached in the area for 56 years. He had a remarkable memory, and it is said he could remember everyone he met young and old. He could recall their names, who was in their family, where they lived and what they and every member of the family did for a living. It was also said that he could remember which pew belonged to which family in every Methodist Chapel in the County. In his latter years he raised the two sons of Captain David Jenkins ( 1831-191 namely the Reverend Thomas Jenkins, pastor of Taliesin and Talybont and James Hughes Jenkins, pastor of Aberporth. The information from the 1851 Religious Census recorded 174 at the morning service, 268 in the afternoon and 248 in the evening. The average congregation for the previous 12 months was 270. The census also reported 10sq ft inside the chap standing.
There was no resident preacher in the village after the death of Thomas Evans people such as: Capt. David Jenkins, Alicia. John Davies, Pwllglas. John Michael Post Office. Morgan Davies, Neuadd. John Morris, Colombo (captain of a steamer) John Jones, Ystafell. David James, cobbler. Rees Jones, Wern Newydd. David Evans, Dewl Las. David Davies, Crown. Evan James, Penrhiw. David Davies, Clawdd Dewi. David Lloyd, Dre Fach. John Jones, Y Slop and Thomas Morris, stone mason many services.
Over the years many famous Methodist Ministers have preached in the chape including the Reverend Evan Richardson, Caernarfon, who's visit coincided with a strong religious revival in the village, culminating in a rousing service with a congregation the following day. A memorable event occurred concerning this particular service, which only came to light some time later when a few local sailors returned to the village. It was discovered that at the exact time and date of the service, the sailors (who were on a boat in Milford Haven), had also felt a strong urge to congregate in the cabin and worship. Once this became common knowledge, the whole community rejoiced in the news that their loved ones would be kept safe when away at sea. There was also a big reform in 1855. It was recorded that Betti, Clawdd Dewl, and other young people, boys and girls, sprawled on the chapel floor together and prayed. Bethel's reputation was enhanced when news spread that the congregation would meet every Sunday morning in the chapel at 8 o'clock, two hours before the service began. Apparently the local community didn't want to waste their time on the Sabbath, so they gathered early to discuss and question the visiting preacher about the scriptures. It is not recorded when this custom began, but it became so successful that it soon spread to other chapels in the area, including Llanon, Pennant and as far as Llanarth. The practice continued for many years. Originally there was no musical accompaniment in the chapel, and it was normal for a male member of the congregation to act as lead singer. The first was Thomas Evans, Pendre, father of the first preacher. He was followed by Owen Davies who worked the limekilns, and then David Williams, a tailor who served for over twenty years. Jack Arthur Williams, Bro-dawel was probably the last to lead the singing from the Sedd Fawr and he was unofficially known as the Codwr Canu There were also many excellent singers in the congregation. In particular, three members in the 1920's and 30's had adjacent pews and are remembered with special affection. They were Owen McLarren, Bryndewi (tenor), Lizzy Pughe, Tegfan (alto) and Hannah Lampshire, (soprano).
In 1901 the value of the chapel was £815 and the annual maintenance of the ministry was £100:7s: 5d. There were 8 deacons, 18 teachers and 134 scholars and the number of persons receiving communion was 172. Bethel Chapel could always boast of a large congregation, especially children, In 1902 the membership was 145, and other worshipers numbered 240. The average collection on a Sunday in that year was 7s - 8d. (about 38p) It was sadly noted however, that no one had been successful in his or her Sunday School exams in 1902. This was indeed strange, considering the number of children attending.
(Source.. I-IanesMethodistiaethDeAberteifi"gan Y Parch JEvans, Dolgellau 1904
There was also a special Sunday school in the afternoon called 'Dosbarth y Morwyr' (Seamen's Class) which all the retired mariners and those home on leave would attenc in the 1930's - 1 940's. Appropriate parts of the bible were read and discussed. Many of the younger seamen learnt much from the 'old Seadogs'. As well as religion, the conversation would inevitably embrace all types of maritime matters e.g. different cargoes, types of ships and the improvement in navigational and other modem aids.
(Source: Capt. leuan Lampshire-Jones, MRIN)