The Methodist churches of Singapore and Malaysia trace their common origins to missionaries of the US Methodist Episcopal Church in the late 19th century. In 1884 the Rev. William F. Oldham was appointed as missionary to Singapore. The church then began as an initiative of the South India Annual Conference, under the leadership of the Rev. James Thoburn, who became its first missionary bishop in 1888. (1) From Singapore the work began to spread to Penang and then to the rest of the Malay Peninsula. 

In a “Brief History of the Church”, the author highlighted significant historical milestones gathered from the Journals of the Methodist Annual Conference and the Tamil Annual Conference from 1902 to 1958. [2]   

On 31st July 1895 an English Pastor Rev. William E. Horley arrived in Ipoh and started the Ipoh Anglo Chinese School and the Methodist Church. The Tamil Methodist Church was founded a year later in 1896. In 1897 Rev Horley started the work in Teluk Anson and began a worship service which was conducted in English but was only held occasionally. It was however, discontinued 2 years later in 1899. 

In 1902, the only work that was carried out in Teluk Anson, an important port, was the Anglo Chinese School. The Tamil Methodist ministry began in 1905 as one of the outreach preaching points of the Ipoh Tamil Methodist Church. This work continued till 1914 until the arrival of Rev. Kohlhoff as its first Pastor when the ministry was made into a “minor church.” Worship services were held in the Teluk Anson Anglo Chinese School.

In 1916, the Tamil ministry was structured as a Church with a membership of 30. The Church made marked progress during the year under Rev. Kohlhoff who was a cyclist and played the violin. His special ‘bajanai’ meetings in estates drew crowds, and that year saw significant church growth. The ministry was extended to Ratanui and Bagan Datok Estates and this began as part of the Church circuit. Unfortunately, Rev. Kohlhoff died in the midst of a fruitful ministry which was not only among Tamil people but also Telugu people.

In 1918, the Church although with a relatively small membership (38) had shown a splendid spirit financially and otherwise. They were able to raise $80/ monthly towards Pastor Edward Isaac’s salary which was a large amount in those days. In December 1918, the Church experienced great sorrow when Mr. S. Sabapathy died. Rev. Horley reported that he was one of the finest men who had welcomed him when he arrived there in 1895. He was a quiet, godly and upright man. The family had intimated that when a Church is built in Teluk Anson, they hope to erect the Sabapathy Memorial Hall in his memory. 

In 1919, two new Church circuits were formed with 240 Christians. An Epworth League, which was a Methodist young adult association for people aged 18 – 35, was formed and had 55 members in the senior group and 22 in the junior group. The Sunday School had 67 children. 

In 1920, Mrs. Sabapathy had promised $5,000/ towards the building of a new Church in memory of her husband. A year later, she purchased a fine new site for $3,500/ and presented it to the church in Teluk Anson. This Church was truly a mission church as it had borne all the expenses of the church circuit to the amount of $1,361/.

While the church in town had a membership of only 53, the situation in the church circuit which now comprised 48 estates was overwhelming with a growing Christian community of 800 in 1927. Among them were 450 Telugu people and 350 Tamil people with a pastor and two assistants with several local preachers. 

In 1927, the Rev. Dr. E. Stanley Jones, a widely known and internationally admired Methodist Missionary and evangelist of the 20th century and “the world’s greatest missionary evangelist” [Time Magazine, 1938] visited Teluk Anson. He held two meetings; the first meeting was chaired by The Raja Muda. 

In 1930, the Tamil Christians on an estate near Teluk Anson raised funds and built themselves a small prayer house which was a fine place of witness. The following year in 1931, a much needed parsonage was built. Five years later the cornerstone for the church was laid by the Bishop Edwin Lee on 12th January 1936. The new church was built at the cost of $6,780/ and of this amount $4,500/ was raised locally. There was not enough money to purchase new furniture, so rather than go into debt, old benches were used. The Church was dedicated on 5th April 1936 which was a Palm Sunday.

At the service for the dedication of the new Church, a sermon titled “The Vision of the Invisible” was delivered by the Rev. M. Dodsworth, DD. He said,

“Today we are dedicating one of the finest buildings ever erected in Telok Anson which represents sacrifice on the part of the donors and the untiring labour of many others which made this building possible. Many building are made immortal by the association which gathers around them. This building has the association of being the house where people meet God.” [3]

He further added that the greatest, most meaningful and influential part of life is invisible. He expounded on the idea that it is possible “to see the unseen in the seen.” Thus he concluded that, “Worship is seeing the unseen.”

Using the words of the Apostle Paul in the Holy Scriptures who speaks of being surrounded by a cloud of witnesses, he pays tribute to his old friend the late Rev. W.E. Horley whose one ambition was to establish the Christian Church. He also remembered the late Rev. V. Devasahayam, pastors and other members among the invisible witnesses.

With regard to the dedication of the Church, excerpts from the Journal, Methodist Malaysia Message of May 1936 had this report;

“With the dedication of the new Methodist Church on Sunday evening, April 5, at Telok Anson by the Rev. M. Dodsworth, DD of Penang, another link was forged in the chain of churches which the Methodist Episcopal Church is building throughout Malaya as part of its Golden Jubilee programme. This church is not only a credit to Telok Anson but with its quiet beauty a model of church architecture, simple yet dignified and practical for church worship.” 

“The site for the church and the Parsonage was donated by Mrs. S. Sabapathy and the Communion Railing, Communion Table and Pulpit was donated by Mr P. Gnaniah.” 

“The whole congregation jointly read: We dedicate this church to the cure of souls that doubt; to the comfort of the discouraged, to the relief of the distressed, the consecration of the strong, the guidance of the bewildered and the consolation of the dying, to the ennobling of life Eternal.” [4]

In the book entitled “Landmarks of Perak” produced by HRH Raja Nazrin Shah, the Sultan of Perak, Architect Chen Voon Fee provides a detailed description of the Church’s architectural design:

“A small porte cochère welcomes the congregation. Timber posts in pairs and trios on half-walls support the half-gabled, pitched roof. The bottom corners of the roof of the porte cochère overlap the windows at both sides, suggesting that this is a later edition. The church building has a simple rectangular plan and a double-pitched tiled roof. The side walls are divided into four window bays by shallow buttresses. The pointed arch windows are subdivided by wooden mullions into pairs of trefoil arches, glazed with small panes. The pointed arches are outlined by mouldings, like finely plucked eyebrows. Ventilating slots are built in neat stacks below the windows.

At the top of the side walls, a clerestory of narrow slits sits under the eaves. On the main gable wall of the church, a pattern of trefoil arches at the top, suggesting half-timber, is repeated in the small gable of the porte cochère. Between the roof of the church and that of the porte cochère, two pairs of small trefoil windows are in set on each side, alternating with the ventilating slots. Two simple but solid-looking white crosses, one on each of the two roofs complete the embellishment.” (5)

The Church experienced a decline in membership since the dedication due to the neglect in the ministry in the church circuit and perhaps due to frequent transfer of pastors with no church workers assigned to the circuit. During the world war years (1941 – 1946) the Church suffered serious loss in membership when many Indians were taken away to Siam (Thailand) and elsewhere for forced labour and large numbers also returned to India. A decade later the Church experienced further decline due to the fragmentation of estates and transfer of members. However, the 60s saw a steady rise in membership and the Teluk Anson Tamil Methodist Church became part of the Tamil Annual Conference (TAC) when the Methodist Church became autonomous.

In 1987 the old parsonage that was built in 1931 was demolished and a new parsonage was erected in 1988 in the old site at the cost of RM 50,000/ inclusive of furniture and fittings. It was dedicated by the then TAC President Rev. V. John Kovilpilai on 9th October 1988.

References:

1. Christie R. House, “125 years of Methodism on the Malay Peninsula” in “New Word Outlook”. The Mission Magazine of the United Methodist Church. July 2010.

2. Rev. Stanley M. Sadagopan, “Brief History of the Church” in “Tamil Methodist Church, Teluk Intan, 80th Anniversary”. 1996.

3. Rev. M. Dodsworth, “The Vision of the Invisible” in Methodist Malaysia Message, May 1936.

4. Methodist Malaysia Message, May 1936. 

5. HRH Raja Nazrin Shah, “Landmarks of Perak”. RNS Publications Sdn Bhd. 2006

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