Anglican Diocese of Singapore

The Anglican Diocese of Singapore was established in 1909 to serve the needs of a growing Anglican community. It has been a pioneering force in the fields of education, medical work and community service. The church of the diocese, St. Andrew’s Cathedral, was founded in 1870.1

As of 2016, the diocese consists of 27 local parishes and exercises ecclesiastical jurisdiction over six deaneries in Asia, namely Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Nepal, Thailand and Vietnam.2

Early beginnings
The history of the Anglican establishment began with the arrival of the settlers of the East India Company (EIC). Chaplains of the EIC ships and missionaries of other Protestant denominations ministered to the small Anglican community in Singapore, holding their services at the London Missionary Society chapel. Despite efforts by missionaries such as Robert Morrison and William Milne, evangelical work remained limited.3

The appointment of Reverend Robert Burn as Resident Chaplain in 1826 marked the official beginning of the Anglican church in Singapore. The first Anglican church was built in 1837 at a site designated by Stamford Raffles. It was closed in 1852 after lightning struck the building twice, and was subsequently demolished. A new building was constructed at the same site in 1862 using Indian convict labour. Consecrated in 1870, St. Andrew’s Cathedral at St. Andrew’s Road remains a place of great historical significance.4

The Anglican Church of Singapore was under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Calcutta from 1826 until 1869 when the EIC relinquished its responsibility over Singapore. Singapore then joined the Straits Settlements, and when it became part of the British colonies, the chaplaincy was transferred to the care of the bishop of Labuan and Sarawak. In 1881, a new title, ‘Bishop of Singapore, Labuan and Sarawak’ was created and led by Bishop George Frederick Hose. However, the territorial span of the see for one bishop was too wide and demanding. Prior to Bishop Hose’s retirement in 1908, he championed the separation of the diocese into two – one covering Singapore and Malaya, and the other covering Borneo.5

The establishment of the Anglican community
In 1909, the Diocese of Singapore, which comprised the Straits Settlements, Peninsular Malaya, Siam, Java, Sumatra and adjacent islands was constituted. This marked the beginning of the Anglican Diocese of Singapore. Under the leadership of Bishop Charles Ferguson-Davie, training programmes to establish a local clergy began. In 1910, the Singapore Diocesan Association was formed. The publication of the Singapore Diocesan Magazine commenced in November 1910 and is still published today as the Diocesan Digest.6

As the diocese began to develop along ethnic lines, the second bishop of the diocese, Bishop Basil Roberts, championed the creation of a synod. This not only provided unity to a disparate diocese, but also gave the various parishes greater say in their administration. The Tamil Diocesan Council and Chinese Diocesan Council were established in 1923 and 1931 respectively, and in 1932, the synod was officially formed.7 A Diocesan Organising Secretary was also appointed in 1938 to handle administrative matters so that the bishop could devote more time to his episcopal duties.

The expansion of the Anglican church
The church’s work was momentarily disrupted by the Japanese Occupation. In 1942, all Protestant churches were brought under the Federation of Christian Churches in Singapore. However, accused by the kempeitai  (Japanese military police) of espionage and aiding the British, the Federation was closed and Reverend John Leonard Wilson, the third bishop of Singapore, imprisoned.8

The church resumed work after the war, focusing on recovery and rebuilding communities. In January 1948, the Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian and other Protestant churches formed the Malayan Christian Council (MCC). It was through the MCC that the Samaritans of Singapore and Trinity Theological College were formed.9

Under the charge of Bishop Henry Wolfe Baines, the parishes were reorganised into smaller and more manageable sizes, and the foundation for indigenous leadership laid. The church in Singapore entered a new phase of development and growth with the building of My Saviour’s Church in 1955, St. Peter’s Church in 1956, and Church of the Good Shepherd in 1959. The advent of decolonisation paved the way for the indigenisation of church leadership. In 1957, Reverend Roland Koh became the first Asian to be appointed as assistant bishop.10

The 1960s saw growing nationalism in the region. The Diocese of Singapore was renamed as the Diocese of Singapore and Malaya in 1960 due to the increasing political separation of the two countries from England. However, after Singapore separated from the Federation of Malaysia in 1965, the synod agreed that it was necessary to create a new diocese. On 7 April 1970, the diocese was divided into the Diocese of West Malaysia and the Diocese of Singapore. The Diocese of Singapore, which comprised Singapore, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, South Vietnam and Indonesia, was managed by Bishop Chiu Ban It, the first Malayan-born bishop.11

The 37th Anglican Province
The church continued to grow in the 1980s and 1990s with an increase in number and quality of clergy and parish workers. The period also saw greater support for overseas missions, as well as the expansion of the church within Singapore.12

After more than 60 years since the idea of a province was suggested, the Diocese of Singapore was inaugurated together with the Dioceses of West Malaysia, Kuching, and Sabah as the Province of Southeast Asia on 2 February 1996. The formation of the 37th Province was a significant moment in the church’s history, seeing the transfer of authority from the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Archbishop of South-east Asia.13

Anglican ministry in education began with the establishment of St. Andrew’s School for boys, later renamed St. Andrew’s Mission School in 1862. The first girls’ school, started by Maria Dyer in 1842, came under diocesan administration in 1945, and was renamed St. Margaret’s. The Anglican contribution towards education continued after the war with the establishment of the Anglican High School in 1956.14 As of 2016, St. Andrew’s Junior College, nine schools and six kindergartens come under the purview of the diocese.15

Medical services
The diocese’s pioneering medical work commenced in 1913, when Charlotte Ferguson-Davie (Dr), the wife of the first bishop of the Singapore Diocese, established St. Andrew’s Medical Mission and founded a clinic at Bencoolen Street to provide medical care for women and children. The clinic was so well received that two more clinics opened in 1914 and 1915. Recognising that a full-fledged hospital was needed to accommodate the growing number of patients, St. Andrew’s Mission Hospital (SAMH) was opened on 22 May 1923 at Erskine Road.16

Over the years, SAMH established various health services, such as the first orthopaedic hospital in 1939; the first community hospital, St. Andrew’s Community Hospital, in 1992; and St. Andrew’s Lifestreams in 1998. More recently, SAMH setup St. Andrew’s Autism Centre in 2006 and St. Andrew’s Nursing Home in 2013.17

Welfare and Social Work
The Singapore Anglican Welfare Council was established in the 1950s, dedicated to providing comprehensive welfare services, vocational training, and addressing social concerns. In 2006, the Council was renamed as the Singapore Anglican Community Services (SACS). It operates mental health and care centres, centres and support groups for seniors, and service centres for families.18


Sheena Kumari Singh & Shereen Tay

1. Diocese of Singapore, Visions Unfold (Singapore: Kairos Design, 1999), 5‒6 (Call no. RSING q283.5957 VIS); Joseph Thambiah, Diffusing the Light (Singapore; Armour Publishing Pte Ltd, 2013), 218, 242‒43. (Call no. RSING 283.5957 THA)
2. “Parishes,” The Diocese of Singapore, accessed 2 August 2016; “Deaneries,” The Diocese of Singapore, accessed 2 August 2016.
3. Thambiah, Diffusing the Light, 8–10; Diocese of Singapore, Visions Unfold, 6–9.
4. Diocese of Singapore, Visions Unfold, 5–6.
5. Thambiah, Diffusing the Light, 38–40; Diocese of Singapore, Visions Unfold, 13‒15.
6. Diocese of Singapore, Visions Unfold, 15‒16; “Diocesan Magazine,” Straits Times, 1 October 1910, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
7. Diocese of Singapore, Visions Unfold, 25‒26.
8. Diocese of Singapore, Visions Unfold, 39‒44.
9. Diocese of Singapore, Visions Unfold, 44‒45.
10. Diocese of Singapore, Visions Unfold, 51‒54.
11. Thambiah, Diffusing the Light, 42; “It’s Now Diocese of S’pore and Malaya,” Straits Times, 6 February 1960, 7; “Singapore, West Malaysia to Have Separate Dioceses,” Straits Times, 8 January 1970, 11; “Separation in the Anglican Church,” Straits Times, 8 April 1970, 16. (From NewspaperSG)
12. Diocese of Singapore, Visions Unfold, 91‒92, 94–100.
13. Diocese of Singapore, Visions Unfold, 108‒09. (Call no. RSING q283.5957 VIS); Thambiah, Diffusing the Light, 43–44; “S'pore Anglican Bishop to Head South-East Asian Church Province,” Straits Times, 2 February 1996, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
14. Diocese of Singapore, Visions Unfold, 28; Thambiah, Diffusing the Light, 242‒43.
15. “Anglican Schools,” Diocese of Singapore, accessed 2 August 2016.
16. Thambiah, Diffusing the Light, 243‒45.
17. Diocese of Singapore, Visions Unfold, 18‒21; “S'pore's First Community Hospital Opens in Siglap,” Straits Times, 13 March 1992, 2; Cheah U-Hoon, “New Centre to Teach Life s=Skills to the Autistic,” Straits Times, 28 October 2006, 17; Poon Chian Hui, “4th Nursing Home for Mentally Ill to Open,” Straits Times, 19 October 2013, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
18. Thambiah, Diffusing the Light, 243; “Our Services,” Singapore Anglican Community Services, accessed 2 August 2016. 

Further resources
Bobby E. K. Sng, In His Good Time: The Church in Singapore, 1819–2003. (Singapore: Bible Society of Singapore, Graduates Christian Fellowship, 2003). (Call no. RSING 280.4095957SNG)

James Wong, The Church in Singapore (Singapore: National Council of Churches of Singapore, 1998). (Call no. RSING 275.957 WON)

Loh Keng Aun, Fifty Years of the Anglican Church in Singapore Island, 1909–1959 (Singapore: Department of History, National University of Singapore, 1963). (Call no. RCLOS 283.5957 LOH)

Robin Woods, St. Andrew's Cathedral Singapore: A Short History for Members and Visitors (Singapore: Straits Times Press, 1958). (Call no. RCLOS 283.95957 WOO [RFL])

 The See of Singapore,” Straits Times, 26 April 1909, 8. (From NewspaperSG)

The information in this article is valid as at 2 August 2016 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.


Heritage and Culture
Church of England. Diocese of Singapore
Church of England--Dioceses--Singapore