Following the death of the Reverend William Griffith, founder of Saron Chapel and its minister for 37 years, the congregation began the extensive search for a suitable successor. Eventually, they selected 27 year old Rees ‘Saron’ Jones and he was ordained on the 14th and 15th of October 1868.
Rees was born in 1841 at Cefn-Isaf in Carmarthenshire, near Newcastle Emlyn. His parents were Dafydd and Elizabeth Jones. Rees’ middle name was a reference to his elementary education at Saron by Thomas Williams. This was followed by a period at Capel Bach with William Williams. Rees’ other early influences included his uncle, the Rev. Evan Evans, Pantricket, at Blaenycoed and a young lady named Mary – a maid at Penybanc, who persuaded him to become a minister.
Rees started preaching in 1861 and attended Brecon College in 1864, graduating in 1868. In the same year, he was ordained as a minister at Treoes and Bridgend. Rev Jones gave his heart and soul to his work as a minister of his parish. His efforts even extended to nearby Coychurch, where he helped establish Hebron Chapel, following the donation of the land by John Thomas, a member of Saron chapel. Although the Rev Rees Jones’ stay at Treoes was relatively short, his impact was immense.
During his three years at Treoes, Rees fell for the charms of a young lady from Cowbridge, a member of his congregation. Elvira Jenkins was the eldest daughter of Thomas and Mary Jenkins of Mount Pleasant near Cowbridge. They married at Saron Chapel on the 26th December 1871.The service was carried out by three minsters: the Rev. J.B. Jones of Bridgend, assisted by Rev. W.C. Davies of Llantrisant and Rev. D. Thomas of Blaenavon.
Shortly afterwards, in April 1871, his calling took him and his new wife to the United States, where he went firstly to New York, before taking up a ministry in Welsh Providence Congregational Church, Scranton, in Pennsylvania. Many Welsh speaking families had emigrated to this part of the United States. This was a time when large numbers were emigrating to seek new lives in the United States. One of the Rev Jones’ brothers, Methusalem, and one of Elivar’s sisters, Catherine, also emigrated to Pennsylvania at different times. The Scranton area was rapidly growing as a result of coal mining and steel production – and in many ways it resembled the industrialisation of South Wales.
The Rev Jones’ influence was immediate. By 1873 it was necessary to enlarge the Church, nearly doubling its length and increasing the capacity to 450, at a staggering cost of $4,450. Ten years later it was again necessary to increase the size of the building and to build a new lecture theatre. This was at a total cost of $1,550.
On the 31st January 1889 a new English branch called the Puritan Congregational Church was established with 36 members. Attendance at this church also grew rapidly and plans were drawn up for a lecture theatre at the rear of the building.
On the 23rd June 1897, at the centennial meeting of the Church at Elenberg, which was held in conjunction with the annual meeting of the State Association, the Rev. Rees presented a paper to record and celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Congregational church in Scranton. As soon as he had finished his presentation there was a unanimous resolution to ensure that the paper was published.
Early in 1904 plans were drawn up for yet a new addition to the building – a framed structure seating 600 people, with a separate gallery and a committee room – and all to be finished in chestnut and furnished with oak.
However, on Friday the 19th of August the members of the Church were stunned to hear that the Rev Jones had been taken ill and was lying unconscious in the State Hospital. He had taken the copper box from the cornerstone and had left it with the tinsmith for sealing. Then he had gone to the post office. While advising a stranger as to how to procure a money order, he was seized with stomach pains. The doctors summoned took him to the hospital, but there was nothing they could do to save him.
The next day he was taken to his home on Edna Avenue. This was only the second Sunday he had failed to fill some pulpit throughout his career as a minister. Early Monday afternoon, he died.
All work on the new building was immediately stopped. The Church then went into mourning for thirty days. During that time, no one entered the pulpit, which was enclosed with ribbon.
The congregation then decided to rename the church as the Dr Jones Memorial Church in honour of Rees Saron Jones. This shows the affection and respect they had for him, as well as the high esteem in which he was thought of.
During his life in Scranton, Rev. Dr. Jones was honoured both in the United Kingdom and by the many Associations of the Congregational Churches of the State. In the summer of 1890, whilst visiting his parents and relatives in Wales, he was given the degree of doctor of divinity by Marietta College. He also represented the State of Pennsylvania at the International Council held in Boston in 1899. In 1904 he was a delegate to the National Council held in Des Moines, Iowa.
So what was Dr Jones’ legacy? By 1982 the number in the congregation of both the Dr Jones Memorial Church and its off-branch the Puritan Church was dwindling and so, after a lengthy and sometimes argumentative discussion, it was agreed that a merger should take place. While the two communities were in transition, they called themselves the Puritan & Dr Jones Memorial Church, United Church of Christ.
Their final name-change that year was the Concord United Church of Christ. This marked the end of any reference to the Rev Rees Saron Jones. His name had been so closely associated with the congregational Church in Scranton from 1871 to 1982 – a remarkable legacy in itself.
By 2002, reduced attendances of between 40-62 people led to the Church finally closing its doors. The reasons given in their final annual report were: an aging population, families moving away, and ‘irreconcilable conflicts’, which had plagued the church during its last eleven years.
By today the fortunes of the building have been revived and it is once more a place of worship having become of the home of the Shiloh Baptist Church.
The magnificent glass window dedicated to the Rev Dr Rees Saron Jones is therefore once more on show to be appreciated.
Whilst Rees ‘Saron’ Jones’ middle name was a happy coincidence with the name of his first ministry in Treoes, he went on to have a huge influence on the Welsh-speaking community in Scranton Pennsylvania, where on his death, the church he served for so many years was re-named in his memory.