The Methodist Church in Singapore goes back to 1884 when, on James Thoburn’s initiative, the South India Conference appointed William F. Oldham as pioneer missionary to Singapore. Thoburn headed the party which sailed unheralded into Singapore harbor on 7 February 1885. Evangelistic meetings were followed by the first Quarterly Conference on 23 February.
Thereafter, the mission initiated a number of related activities: schools for boys and girls established by Oldham and Sohia Blackmore, with hostel accommodation; churches organized in all the main local dialects (Malay, Tamil, Hokkien, Cantonese and Foochow); and William Shellabear’s Mission Press and pioneer scripture translations and publishing work.
Following the initial thrust in Singapore, work spread to the towns and rubber estates in Peninsula Malaya. Town churches were twinned with schools which provided important support for the churches. Expansion and growth graduated the mission to the Malaysia Annual Conference in February 1902.
Equally significant were the planting of Methodism in the Philippines in 1900 and the settlement of Foochow Christians in Sarawak and in Sitiawan (Malaya) after the Boxer War. This was followed by Java, then Sumatra. A Tamil and Chinese evangelists were engaged from Ceylon and South China.
By the end of World War I, young people who had studied in the schools, attended the churches, Sunday Schools and Epworth League had matured. Local leadership was, however, expressed mainly in churches using the Chinese dialects, Malay and Tamil.
The Jubilee in 1935 reflected the development of human resources through the rapid growth of Methodist schools in number and quality, the success of the youth and women’s work, all forming a local talent pool.
With the collapse of Singapore following the outbreak of the Pacific War and the suspension of American missionary support, local Methodist leaders carried on under trying circumstances. A turning point had been reached, and profound change had begun to take place. When hostilities ended in 1945, a period of physical and psychological reconstruction began.
The founding of Trinity Theological College, the fruit of ecumenical prison fellowship and a significant cradle of local and regional church leadership, was an important milestone. The other was a new relationship in the U.S. Methodist Church with the constituting of the South East Asia Central Conference in 1950, and the American mission.
Led by maturing local clergy and lay leadership, the church has grown significantly.
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