Heritage Trail uncovers gems


MANY METHODISTS KNOW that The Methodist Church in Singapore began in 1885 with the unannounced arrival of four missionaries – Dr James Thoburn and his wife, the Rev William Oldham, and musical accompanist Miss Julia Bettie.

But how many Methodists know that the Methodist Church was formed two weeks later with 26 members and probationers and a certain John Polglase, who was “elected to all the offices to which laymen were eligible”, including Sunday School Superintendent, trustee, steward and treasurer?

This was one of the interesting facts learnt by participants during the Methodist Heritage Trail tracing the history of Methodism in Singapore from 1885.

On a balmy Sunday afternoon on Oct 31, 3,000 Methodists came together to retrace the steps of the first Methodists in Singapore and to rediscover the rich heritage that Methodists have inherited.

The participants visited the three oldest Methodist Churches in Singapore – Wesley Methodist Church, the Tamil Methodist Church and Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church – each representing the beginnings of the three main language streams, English, Tamil and Chinese (Hokkien). At each church, the participants saw how God preserved the church throughout the past 125 years, even through times of war.

In addition to the churches, participants also learnt about other important historical sites, including Sculpture Square in Middle Road, the former MPH building, Victoria Concert Hall, as well as the first locations of both Anglo-Chinese School and Methodist Girls’ School.

The participants had a great time during the heritage trail. In addition to learning about the history of the Methodist Church, they also got to know other Methodists outside their own local church. The volunteers did an excellent job in leading the group and the tour was like a big family outing.

Suan, a member of Christ Methodist Church, said: “This is a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.”

From its humble beginnings, The Methodist Church in Singapore grew to 38,000 strong across 44 local churches over the duration of 125 years. From a single worship service, the church has expanded to more than 150 services each week in at least 16 different languages.

This amazing story of God’s grace to e Methodist Church in Singapore was the theme that participants remembered and celebrated this year at the Methodist Heritage Day.

Goh Li Ern is a member of Paya Lebar Chinese Methodist Church.


Revisiting TACMC’s mission, ministry

THERE WAS AN AIR OF EXCITEMENT as the ushers, tour guides and organising committee received the bus loads of visitors between noon and 6 pm on Oct 31 – Methodist Heritage Day.

Much joyful and meaningful labour had gone into the preparations for this celebration of Methodism’s mission and ministry in Singapore over the last 125 years. The history of Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church’s (TACMC) outreach to Chinese immigrants along the early water bay of Singapore was revisited by the organising committee, communicatedto the volunteer ushers and tour guides for the day, and shared with all visitors to the church.

Visitors were first welcomed with a brief introduction to TACMC’s history. Dr Benjamin West, a medical missionary sent by the South India Conference, first pioneered the mission among Chinese immigrants who were settling along the Telok Ayer Basin of early Singapore. He began by reaching out to them through medical work at a dispensary he opened in Upper Nanking Street. This is possibly the first Western medical dispensary in Singapore. Before long, he was able to begin weekly services for a congregation of about 30 converts. God blessed the gospel work and by the mid-1890s the congregation had expanded to 170 members and was made up of Chinese immigrants across various dialect groups.

This small community that was gathering in a “Tin Hut” building in the early 1900s grew steadily, and eventually, the current church building had to be erected in order to house the growing congregation. The present building, which was built by the leading architectural firm of that time, was completed in 1924, dedicated in 1925 and gazetted as a National Monument of Singapore in 1989, 100 years after the founding of the church.

The visitors who came were rounded off with a brief walking tour around the building.

Highlights included a “five-foot way”, an unusually thick outer wall that was reinforced in World War Two as added protection against flying shrapnel, a sanctuary which fused East-Asian and Western architectural features, and an Oriental rooftop pavilion which was originally designed to be used as a church bell-tower.

A set of Western oil paintings of Christ’s Last Supper, His Gethsemane experience and the Resurrection, also bore testimony to how the Christian faith helped facilitate an awareness and appreciation of both the Eastern and Western cultures within the local Chinese Christian community.

Looking back at the history of TACMC, it is clear that the Methodist Mission in Singapore was not an insular mission which catered only to the spiritual needs of its own people. From the beginning, Telok Ayer Methodists reached out to the community, existed for the community and engaged the needs of the community in the name of Jesus Christ, with the love of God.

TACMC was a “Church for Others” as it was so called by some in the early days of its mission.

Winston Tay is a member of Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church.