Kampong Kapor Methodist Church
The Kampong Kapor Methodist Church is located at 1 Kampong Kapor Road in Little India.1 Established in 1894, it was the first Peranakan (Straits Chinese) church and the fourth Methodist church in Singapore. In its early years, the church catered only to the Peranakan community, with services conducted in Baba Malay in a gothic-style building located on Middle Road. In 1930, the church moved to its current building, where it offers services for all ethnic groups.2 The church features a traditional pipe organ, one of six in Singapore.3 The building at Kampong Kapor was accorded conservation status in 1989, while its earlier home on Middle Road was designated a historic site in 2000.4
The origin of the Kampong Kapor Methodist Church can be traced back to November 1890, when Australian missionary Sophia Blackmore began holding Malay-language Sunday worship services in the study room of her home on Sophia Road. The small group comprised 25 girls from a mission hostel, boys from Epworth Home (a trade school and orphanage), as well as Malay-speaking Christian workers from the nearby mission press and their boss, William G. Shellabear, a Methodist missionary.5
155 Middle Road
On 25 January 1894, the group, which by then comprised six full members and 16 preparatory members, moved into the Christian Institute at 155 Middle Road.6 The presiding elder of the Malaysia Mission Conference, R. W. Munson, inaugurated the church, and it was named the Malay Church. Shellabear was appointed its first pastor.7
At the time, the Christian Institute was owned by the Methodist Women’s Foreign Missionary Society to house the Tamil Girls’ School (now known as Methodist Girls’ School) on weekdays. The Foochow Chinese Mission also used it for their Sunday worship services.8 This gothic-style wooden building was constructed in 1872 by Charles Phillips, an English Wesleyan Methodist, as a Christian social centre where young men gathered for recreational activities and daily worship.9
Three days after its inauguration, the Malay Church officially launched its Sunday classes.10 The following year, these classes were also held outside of the church on weekdays, by missionary ladies and their helpers in open-air locations including five-foot walkways.11 Besides teaching from the International Sunday School syllabus, the ladies also handed out picture cards, and taught prayers, the 10 Commandments, Bible verses and the singing of gospel hymns. Parents and their children welcomed these classes, and the number of children attendees grew to 919 in 1897.12
In 1898, the Methodist Women’s Foreign Missionary Society sold the Christian Institute to the Malay Church, as the Methodist Girls’ School was moving out of the building. The Malay Church building was subsequently upgraded and extended. Bishop Warne of the Methodist Episcopal Church dedicated the renovated building on 25 February 1901.13
By 1911, the church was referred to as the “Baba Malay Church”, as the congregation was made up predominantly of Straits Chinese who spoke Baba Malay, a patois of Chinese and Malay. Later, it became known simply as the Middle Road Church.14
The church remained on Middle Road until the building was sold to tycoon Eu Tong Sen. The church then moved to its present premises at Kampong Kapor.15
In 1993, the former church building on Middle Road was one of the buildings set aside by the National Arts Council for use by arts groups under the Arts Housing Scheme.16 The building changed hands a number of times before becoming home to Sculpture Square, an exhibition centre for contemporary three-dimensional art, in 1999.17 The National Heritage Board declared the building a historic site on 22 January 2000.18 The site is currently occupied by Objectifs Centre Ltd, a non-profit visual arts centre.19
Kampong Kapor site
In 1914, Reverend W. T. Cherry, Methodist church district superintendent, expressed concern that the church’s premises on Middle Road was overcrowded.20 Two years later, a building campaign was launched, followed by fundraising for the construction of a bigger church. In 1924, family and friends of the late Bishop George H. Bickley made a substantial donation in memory of the bishop. Bickley was one of the early Methodists sent to Malaya, having been assigned by the General Conference in 1920.21 The church subsequently bought a piece of land in 1927 at the corner of Cuff Road and Kampong Kapor Road, and Bishop Edwin F. Lee, resident bishop of Singapore, laid the cornerstone on 3 June 1929.22 The church was named Straits Chinese Methodist Church (Bishop Bickley Memorial), so as to reflect the largely Straits Chinese membership and the generous donation made by Bickley’s family and friends.23
The church building, together with an attached social hall and a parsonage, cost $100,000.24 The building was completed and dedicated on 5 January 1930 by Lee.25 On the wall behind the pulpit is a traditional pipe organ. Standing between 3.6 m to 4.8 m tall, it is one of the few traditional pipe organs in Singapore.26 The $5,500 musical instrument was built in 1936 by Walker and Taylor of Lincoln, England.27 Installed and dedicated to the church on 18 April 1937, the organ is used during worship services as well as recitals and other musical events held at the church.28 Since its initial installation, the organ has been renovated several times.29
In the 1950s, the Board of Stewards decided that since the church was catering not only to the Straits Chinese but also other ethnic groups, it would be renamed Kampong Kapor Methodist Church, a name that it retains today.30
The church underwent major renovation works in 1967 and rebuilding in the 1980s so as to cater to the growing congregation. Its main features, however, have been conserved.31
On 7 July 1989, the church and other buildings in Little India were designated as conserved buildings by the Urban Redevelopment Authority, in recognition of the area as the hub of Indian community life in Singapore.32
The Kampong Kapor Methodist Church has made many significant contributions to the society over the years. Blackmore, one of its co-founders, had convinced many people to educate their daughters, which was unheard of then.33 She also founded the Methodist Girls’ School and Fairfield Girls’ School.34 In addition, the church has been active through other organisations and ministries such as the Kampong Kapor Family Centre, and it works with the Catholic Church to provide free meals to migrant workers in Little India.35
1890: Blackmore begins Malay-language Sunday worship services.
1894: Malay Church on Middle Road is inaugurated.36
1930: New church building at Kampong Kapor is officially dedicated.37
1937: Traditional pipe organ is installed in the church.38
1957: Name of church is changed to Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.39
1989: The church is accorded conservation status by the Urban Redevelopment Authority.40
2000: Former church building on Middle Road is declared a historic site by the National Heritage Board.41
2016: Middle Road building houses Objectifs Centre Ltd.
Gillian Lim & Neo Tiong Seng
1. “About Us,” Kampong Kapor Methodist Church, accessed 24 November 2016.
2. Kampong Kapor Methodist Church, “About Us.”
3. “A Closer Look at Singapore’s Pipe Organs,” Straits Times, 8 October 2002, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
4. Leong Weng Kam, “Church to Car Workshop… to Historic Site,” Straits Times, 27 January 2000, 53. (From NewspaperSG)
5. Kampong Kapor Methodist Church, “About Us”; Theodore R. Doraisamy, The March of Methodism in Singapore and Malaysia, 1885–1980 (Singapore: Methodist Book Room, 1982), 16. (Call no. RSING 287.095957 DOR)
6. Theodore R. Doraisamy, ed., Forever Beginning: One Hundred Years of Methodism in Singapore (Singapore: Methodist Church in Singapore, 1985), 139. (Call no. RSING 287.095957 DOR)
7. Earnest Lau and S. E. Jesudason, Lest We Forget 1894–1994 (Singapore: Kampong Kapor Methodist Church, 1994), 9, 131. (Call no. RSING 287.095957 LAU)
8. Lau and Jesudason, Lest We Forget 1894–1994, 29.
9. Leong, “Church to Car Workshop.”
10. Q. H. Wong, “Kampong Kapor Methodist Church Celebrates Its 110th Anniversary,” K. K. Focus (January–April 2004), 4–5. (Call no. RSING 287.095957 KKMCKK)
11. Lau and Jesudason, Lest We Forget 1894–1994, 50–51.
12. E. Lau, “Sunday School in the Early Days,” K. K. Focus (May 1994), unpaged. (Call no. RSING 287.095957 KKMCKK)
13. Lau and Jesudason, Lest We Forget 1894–1994, 29, 50; “The Malaysia Mission Conference of the M. E. Church,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (Weekly), 28 February 1901, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
14. Lau and Jesudason, Lest We Forget 1894–1994, 13.
15. Leong, “Church to Car Workshop.”
16. Phan Min Yen, “Old Buildings Set Aside for Arts Groups,” Straits Times, 3 September 1993, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
17. Huang Lijie, “Sculpture Square Exits Middle Road,” Straits Times, 5 August 2014, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
18. Leong, “Church to Car Workshop.”
19. “Overview,” Objectifs, accessed 15 March 2017.
20. Lau and Jesudason, Lest We Forget 1894–1994, 30.
21. James R. Joy, ed., “Bishop Bickley,” The Christian Advocate 100, no. 1 (1 January 1925), 3.
22. “Bishops of The Methodist Church in Singapore,” The Methodist Church in Singapore, accessed 24 April 2017; Doraisamy, Forever Beginning, 139.
23. Doraisamy, Forever Beginning, 139.
24. Doraisamy, Forever Beginning, 139.
25. Lau and Jesudason, Lest We Forget 1894–1994, 31–32.
26. “A Closer Look at Singapore’s Pipe Organs.”
27. Lau and Jesudason, Lest We Forget 1894–1994, 38; Adriel Yap, The Pipe Organ in Kampong Kapor Methodist Church (Singapore: Kampong Kapor Methodist Church, 2005), 1–2. (Call no. RSING 786.55095957 YAP)
28. Lau and Jesudason, Lest We Forget 1894–1994, 37.
29. Yap, Pipe Organ in Kampong Kapor Methodist Church, 3–4, 7.
30. Doraisamy, Forever Beginning, 141.
31. Doraisamy, Forever Beginning, 141; Lau and Jesudason, Lest We Forget 1894–1994, 106.
32. Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore), Conservation Plan: Little India, 28 July 2016, map.
33. Lau and Jesudason, Lest We Forget 1894–1994, 12, 20–23.
34. “Sophia Blackmore,” Singapore Council of Women's Organisations, accessed 30 December 2016.
35. “Who We Are,” Kampong Kapor Family Service Centre, accessed 30 December 2016; “Kampong Glam IRCC Events in 2009,” Kampong Glam Singapore, accessed 30 December 2016.
36. Doraisamy, Forever Beginning, 139.
37. Lau and Jesudason, Lest We Forget 1894–1994, 31–32.
38. Lau and Jesudason, Lest We Forget 1894–1994, 37.
39. Doraisamy, Forever Beginning, 141.
40. Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore), Conservation Plan: Little India.
41. Leong, “Church to Car Workshop.”
The information in this article is valid as at 2017 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.