Methodism in Singapore

Singapore Infopedia


Methodism is a Protestant Christian religion.1 The first Methodist church in Singapore was formed following the arrival of Bishop James Mills Thoburn (Dr) and Reverend William Fitzjames Oldham on 7 February 1885.2 Daily prayer services commenced the following day at the Town Hall (which later became the Victoria Theatre) till 22 February 1885, thus establishing Methodism in Singapore.3 Over time, Singapore’s first Methodist church has evolved to become Wesley Methodist Church today.4

The Protestant Christian religion was started in England by John Wesley, which subsequently spread via India to Singapore and then Malaya.5

Methodism in Singapore began when missionaries, Thoburn and Oldham, together with Anne Thoburn (Dr) and Julia Battie, arrived in Singapore on 7 February 1885 and conducted the first service at short notice on the following day.6 Regular prayer meetings were held thereafter at the Town Hall, as well as the Christian Institute situated on Middle Road/Waterloo Street.7 Oldham, who was appointed pastor on 22 February 1885, remained in Singapore as the first resident Methodist missionary.8

Situated on Coleman Street, the first Methodist Episcopal Church was dedicated on 15 December 1886. The original church was later redeveloped to where the National Archives of Singapore is today.9 In addition to evangelistic and educational activities, the mission also provided medical services.10 In 1907, the government granted a 3,530-square-metre site at Fort Canning to build a new church “for the English-speaking Methodist congregation”.11 Today, the building exists as Wesley Methodist Church, and it is also known as the “mother church” of Methodism in Southeast Asia.12

Growth of Methodism
Over time, other Methodist churches were established in Singapore to serve the different linguistic and ethnic communities.13 With Singapore as the stepping stone, the religion had also spread rapidly around the region.14

As part of their outreach, the mission started a printing press which marked the beginning of the Methodist Publishing House, which was later renamed MPH.15

In 1893, the Methodist Book Room, which supplied literature to churches and schools in Malaya, was established. For many years, it was situated at the building on Coleman Street which currently houses the Singapore Philatelic Museum.16

In 2010, the 125 years of history of Methodism in Singapore was marked by a Methodists’ Heritage Trail held on 31 October. The nostalgic walk included stops at the MPH building, as well as three of the oldest Methodist Churches in Singapore – Wesley Methodist Church, Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church, and Short Street Tamil Methodist Church.17

The Methodist Church in Singapore also initiated a special community outreach project which raised $1.76 million. This anniversary project highlights the Methodist tradition of showing concern for the poor, a practice that dates back to the church’s beginnings in England nearly 300 years ago.18

As of 2019, the Methodist Church in Singapore has 15 schools and educational institutions, which include primary and secondary schools, a junior college, an international school, a private school and a music school.19

7 Feb 1885
: Methodism begins in Singapore with the arrival of Thoburn and Oldham.20

22 Feb 1885: Official appointment of Oldham as pastor.21
23 Feb 1885: First Methodist quarterly conference is held.22
1 Mar 1886: Singapore’s first Methodist school, Anglo Chinese School (ACS), is opened at 70 Amoy Street.23
15 Dec 1886: First “English Church” at Coleman Street is dedicated.24
Dec 1890: Methodist Mission Press is started by Reverend William G. Shellabear (Dr).25
Oct 1891: First monthly journal The Malaysia Message (now renamed Methodist Message) is published.26
1893: Building for ACS is erected at Canning Rise next to the church at Coleman Street.27
1904: Oldham is elected bishop.28
1935: Jubilee (50th anniversary) celebrations are held with Oldham as guest.29
1960: The 75th anniversary of Methodism in Singapore.
1968: Reverend Yap Kim Hao is the first Asian to be elected as bishop of the Autonomous Methodist Church.30
23 Feb 1985: Centennial celebrations of Methodism in Singapore.31
24–31 Jul 1991: 16th World Methodist Conference is held in Singapore.32 The event is jointly hosted by the Methodist churches in Singapore, and it attracted more than 3,000 delegates from all over the world.33
1995: The 110th anniversary of Methodism in Singapore is celebrated at Wesley Methodist Church.34 
2003: The Archives Resource Centre is moved to 70 Barker Road.35 It is renamed the Archives & History Library of The Methodist Church in Singapore.36
2010: The 125th anniversary of Methodism in Singapore is celebrated through events such as Methodist Heritage Day and Fair at the Old School on Mount Sophia.37 A commemorative booklet written by Earnest Lau, archivist of The Methodist Church in Singapore, is also published.38

2325 May 2019: Aldersgate SG 2019 is celebrated at the Paya Lebar Methodist Church. Aldersgate SG is a yearly event which commemorates John Wesley’s founding of the Methodist Church movement following his experiences at a religious meeting in Aldersgate, England, on 24 May 1738.39


Vernon Cornelius-Takahama

1. “Our Church,” The Methodist Church in Singapore, 28 June 2019.
2. Bobby E. K Sng, In His Good Time: The Story of the Church in Singapore, 1819–2002 (Singapore: Bible Society of Singapore: Graduates’ Christian Fellowship, 2003), 105–08. (Call no. RSING 280.4095957 SNG); Theodore T. Doraisamy, Oldham Called of God: Profile of a Pioneer: Bishop William Fitzjames Oldham (Singapore: Methodist Book Room, 1979), 94. (Call no. RSING 287.15900994 OLD)
3. Theodore R. Doraisamy, ed., Forever Beginning: One Hundred Years of Methodism in Singapore (Singapore: Methodist Church in Singapore, 1985), 8. (Call no. RSING 287.095957 FOR)
4. “Our History,” Wesley Methodist Church, accessed 19 June 2019.  
5. Doraisamy, Forever Beginning, 1, 4–5.
6. Theodore R. Doraisamy, The March of Methodism in Singapore and Malaysia, 1885–1980 (Singapore: Methodist Book Room, 1982), 1, 6–7 (Call no. RSING 287.095957 FOR); Sng, In His Good Time, 84.
7. Doraisamy, March of Methodism in Singapore and Malaysia, 8.
8. Doraisamy, March of Methodism in Singapore and Malaysia, 8; Sng, In His Good Time, 108.
9. Doraisamy, March of Methodism in Singapore and Malaysia, 7; “National Archives of Singapore – Jubilee Walk,” National Heritage Board, accessed 15 December 2016.
10. Doraisamy, March of Methodism in Singapore and Malaysia, 17.
11. Our History: Milestones of Grace,” Wesley Methodist Church, accessed 19 June 2019.
12. Harry Fang, “The Wesley Church: Fifty Years of Faith in Cction,” Straits Times, 8 December 1957, 11; “Malayan Methodists Pay Tribute,” Straits Times, 25 May 1952, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
13. Dhoraisingam S. Samuel, Singapore’s Heritage: Through Places of Historical Interest (Singapore: Elixir Consultancy Service, 1991), 153. (Call no. RSING 959.57 SAM-[HIS])
14. Doraisamy, Forever Beginning, 53.
15. Doraisamy, Forever Beginning, 53–54.
16. National Heritage Board, “National Archives of Singapore – Jubilee Walk”; Doraisamy, Forever Beginning, 28–29.
17. Leong Weng Kam, “Methodists Trace History in Heritage Trail,” Straits Times, 30 October 2001, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
18. Leong Weng Kam, “Methodists’ Mantra: Caring for the Poor,” Straits Times, 31 October 2010, 35. (From NewspaperSG)
19. Chong Chin Chung, “Training Up a Child the Methodist Schools’ Way,” 28 May 2019.
20. Doraisamy, Forever Beginning, 7.
21. Samuel, Singapore’s Heritage, 153.
22. Doraisamy, Oldham - Called of God, 31.
23. Doraisamy, Forever Beginning, 9.
24. Doraisamy, March of Methodism in Singapore and Malaysia, 7.
25. Doraisamy, Forever Beginning, 28.
26. Doraisamy, Forever Beginning, 28; Theodore R. Doraisamy, ed., (1986). Forever Beginning II: One Hundred Years of Methodism in Singapore (Singapore: Methodist Church in Singapore, 1986), 101 (Call no. RSING 287.095957 FOR)
27. Doraisamy, Forever Beginning, 15.
28. Doraisamy, Forever Beginning, 18.
29. “A Vision That Was Fulfilled,” Straits Times, 10 January 1935, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
30. “Historical Statement,” The Methodist Church in Singapore, 9. 2009.  
31. Doraisamy, Forever Beginning II, 120.
32. Methodist Church in Singapore, Feeding the 4000: World Methodist Conference Banquet (Singapore: Tradelinks for Methodist Church in Singapore, 1991), 8. (Call no. RSING 287.095957 FEE)
33. Leong Weng Kam, “Mammoth Methodist Gathering Draws 3,100,” Straits Times, 28 July 1991, 19. (From NewspaperSG)
34. ‘Our History: Milestone of Grace: 1990s,” Wesley Methodist Church, 28 June 2019.
35. Methodist Church in Singapore, Methodist Milestones: The Methodist Church in Singapore (Singapore: Armour Publishing, 2010), 25. (Call no. RSING 287.095957 MET)
36. “About Us,” The Methodist Church in Singapore, accessed 17 June 2019.  
37. Leong Weng Kam, “Methodists Trace History in Heritage Trail.” 
38. Edwin Lau, From Mission to Church: The Evolution of the Methodist Church in Singapore and Malaysia 1885-1976 (Singapore: Genesis Books, 2008). (Call no. RSING 287.095957 LAU)
39. K. E. Quek, “Our Aldersgate Heritage,”  Methodist Message, 121, no. 5 (May 2019), 13. (Call no. RSING 287.05 MM); “Aldesgate SG 2019,” The Methodist Church in Singapore, 28 June 2019; “Malayan Methodists Pay Tribute,” Straits Times, 25 May 1952, 3. (From NewspaperSG)

Further resources
First Asian Pastor for Church,” Singapore Free Press, 27 November 1961, 7. (From NewspaperSG)

Methodist Church in Singapore, Strangely Warmed: Methodists, Our Ways, Our Lives and Our Truths (Singapore: Secretary of the Trustees of the Methodist Church in Singapore, 2005). (Call no. RSING 287.0922 STR)

Theodore R. Doraisamy, “Women Pioneers of Methodism in Singapore and Malaysia: Messengers of Love,” The Asia Journal of Theology, 4, no. 2 (1990), 344–55. (Call no. RSING 230.05 AJT)

Trinity Methodist Church (Singapore), Trinity Methodist Church 16th Anniversary, [Singapore: The Church, 1973], 1. (Available via PublicationSG)

Wesley Church Gets An Asian Minister,” Straits Times, 2 March 1957, 8. (From NewspaperSG)

The information in this article is valid as at June 2019 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic. 

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