Wesley Methodist Church

Wesley Methodist Church is located at 5 Fort Canning Road, in the Museum precinct of the Central Region in Singapore.1 Originally called the Methodist Episcopal Church, it was the first Methodist Church in Singapore,2 and was renamed Wesley Methodist Church in 1910.3 The main building was completed in 1908 and designed in the English Gothic style by Scottish architect David McLeod Craik from architectural firm Swan & Maclaren.4

Methodism in Singapore began in early 1885, after the arrival of Reverend William Fitzjames Oldham (b. 1854–d. 1937), who became the first resident Methodist missionary.5 The first worship services were held at the Town Hall (which later became Victoria Theatre) and the Christian Institute (located at the corner of Waterloo Street and Middle Road and still standing today) until December 1885.6 This English Church, as it was called then, had its first chapel at Coleman Street, and was dedicated on 15 December 1886.7 The congregation grew over the years and in early 1907, the Singapore government granted a 3,530-sq m site at Fort Canning for a new churchunder the leadership of Rev A.J. Amery.9

The first worship service at this new Methodist Episcopal Church was held on Christmas Day 1908. On 4 February 1909, it was dedicated by its Singapore founder, Reverend Oldham (subsequently Bishop Oldham).10 On 7 January 1910, the church was renamed Wesley Methodist Church after John Wesley, the founder of Methodism.11

The war years from 1941-45 saw the church building stripped and used as an ammunition depot. The only items that survived were a badly damaged Hammond organ, the lectern, the marble baptismal font, and the stained glass windows. In 1948, the Church was re-dedicated on Easter Day.12

Wesley Methodist Church is an English-style Gothic building with exposed brickwork, designed by architect David McLeod Craik.13

7 Feb 1885: Founding fathers of Methodism in Singapore and Malaysia14 Bishop James Thoburn (Dr) and Reverend William Oldham arrive from India and form the Methodist Church in Malaya.15 Regular services are held at the Town Hall and the Christian Institute at Middle Road.
22 Feb 1885: Oldham is appointed pastor and becomes the first resident Methodist missionary.16 Methodist Episcopal Church Dedication of first Methodist Episcopal Church at Coleman Street.17
1886: The Church, then known as the English Church, moves to a building in Coleman Street (later to become the Anglo-Chinese Primary School Hall).
1902: Renovations completed at Coleman Street Church, with new Welsbach gas burners replacing old kerosene lamps.

1907: In recognition of its contributions in the fields of missions and education,18 the government grants the Methodists a 3,530-sq m site at Fort Canning to build a new church “for the English-speaking Methodist congregation”.19
25 Dec 1908: The first worship service is held at the new church building.
4 Feb 1909: Dedication of the new church by its founder, Bishop William Oldham.20
7 Jan 1910: Change of name from “the English Church” to Wesley Church.21
1912: Electric fans and lights are installed.22
1928: Church hall is built.
1935: Church’s 15th-anniversary celebration, which is attended by Bishop Oldham.23
1937: A new Hammond electric organ, the first of its kind in Malaya, is dedicated and used.24
8 Feb 1942: Last pre-war service held at Fort Canning with Reverend Tyler Thomson. The church premises are taken over by Australian forces and used as an ammunition depot during World War II. Reverend H. B. Amstutz (Dr) is interned for three years.
12 Sep 1945: World War II ends and congregation at Wesley is reformed.
16 May 1948: Church buildings are re-dedicated after refurbishment.
1956: Wesley Church has its first Asian assistant pastor, Yap Kim Hao.
8 Dec 1957: Cornerstone for the educational wing is laid and its use begins in 1959.
26 Apr 1959: Dedication of the new church hall and educational block in the church grounds.25
The first Asian Methodist Bishop, Reverend Yap Kim Hao, is consecrated at Wesley Church.

1970: Reverend Kenneth Chellapah, who is appointed Pastor of Wesley, marks the end of 84 years of foreign missionary pastoral leadership.
1977: Church renovations begin and worship activities continue at Methodist Girls’ School.
1979: The renovated sanctuary and a new six-storey building are completed.26
1989: Church extension is completed and dedicated by Bishop Ho Chee Sin, Bishop Emeritus T. R. Doraisamy and Bishop Emeritus Kao Jih Chung.27
Administrative block is renovated.

1991: The 8th World Federation Assembly of Methodist Women is held at the church. A Ministry of the Hearing Impaired (MHI) is started.
1992: The Church becomes one of the founding members of St. Luke’s Hospital for the elderly.
1993: A Mandarin ministry is established. The Church also starts its monthly Filipino worship service.28
Wesley Heritage Corner is dedicated by Bishop Robert Solomon after extensive renovations. The Church celebrates its 120th anniversary. The book Our Stories, His Glory, and an interactive CD-ROM Welcome to Wesley are launched.29
The 125 years of history of Methodism in Singapore is marked by a Methodists’ Heritage Trail held on 31 October. The walk includes 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.30
2019: From 19 to 22 December, the Church holds a four-day event, Christmas at the Fort, to close off Singapore’s Bicentennial Celebrations. The event includes a heritage trail, as well as performances by up-and-coming musicians and well-known acts.31

Vernon Cornelius-Takahama

1. “Our History,” Wesley Methodist Church, accessed 15 December 2016; “Wesley Methodist Church,” National Heritage Board, accessed 18 April 2017.
2. Wesley Methodist Church (Singapore: Wesley Methodist Church, 2009), 3. (Call no. RCLOS 287.095957 WES)
3. Dhoraisingam S. Samuel, Singapore’s Heritage: Through Places of Historical Interest (Singapore: Elixir Consultancy Service, 1991), 153. (Call no. RSING 959.57 SAM-[HIS])
4. 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 DOR); National Heritage Board, “Wesley Methodist Church”; Jane Beamish and Jane Ferguson, A History of Singapore Architecture: The Making of a City (Singapore: G. Brash, 1985), 92, 95. (Call no. RSING 722.4095957 BEA)
5. Doraisamy, Forever Beginning, 5, 8; 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, 1993), 108. (Call no. RSING 280.4095957 SNG)
6. Doraisamy, Forever Beginning, 9–10; Sng, In His Good Time, 84, 106, 109.
7. Doraisamy, Forever Beginning, 9.
8. “Our History: Milestones of Grace: Early Years,” Wesley Methodist Church, accessed 26 September 2019.  
9. Wesley Methodist Church, 5.  
10. Doraisamy, Forever Beginning, 53.
11. Theodore R. Doraisamy, The March of Methodism in Singapore and Malaysia, 1885–1980 (Singapore: Methodist Book Room, 1982), 14. (Call no. RSING 287.095957 DOR); Doraisamy, Forever Beginning, 1.
12. Wesley Methodist Church, 5.  
13. Beamish and Ferguson, History of Singapore Architecture, 92, 95.
14. Wesley Methodist Church, 5.  
15. Doraisamy, Forever Beginning, 7.
16. Sng, In His Good Time, 105–106, 108; Doraisamy, Forever Beginning, 9–10.
17. Dhoraisingam, Singapore’s Heritage, 153.
18. Wesley Methodist Church, 5. 
19. Wesley Methodist Church, "Milestones of Grace.”
20. Doraisamy, Forever Beginning, 53.
21. Doraisamy, March of Methodism in Singapore and Malaysia, 14.
22. Wesley Methodist Church, "Milestones of Grace.”
23. Doraisamy, Forever Beginning, 134.
24. Wesley Methodist Church, "Milestones of Grace.”
25. “Our History: Milestones of Grace: 1940’s–1950’s,” Wesley Methodist Church, accessed 26 September 2019.
26. “Our History: Milestones of Grace: 1960’s–1970’s,” Wesley Methodist Church, accessed 26 September 2019.
27. “Our History: Milestones of Grace: 1980’s,” Wesley Methodist Church, accessed 26 September 2019.  
28. “Our History: Milestones of Grace: 1990’s,” Wesley Methodist Church, accessed 26 September 2019.  
29. Wesley Methodist Church, 7–10; Our History: Milestones of Grace: 2000–Present,” Wesley Methodist Church, accessed 26 September 2019.  
30. Leong Weng Kam, “Methodists Trace History in Heritage Trail,” Straits Times, 30 October 2010, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
31. “Christmas at the Fort Festival Draws 2,000 Strong Crowd,” Business Times, 21 December 2019; The Wesley Tidings: The Official Organ of Wesley Methodist Church (July 2019): 8–9. (Available via PublicationSG)

Further resource
Architect’s 36 Years in Malaya,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 3 August 1938, 5. (From NewspaperSG)

The information in this article is valid as at March 2020 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. 

Historic buildings--Singapore
Religious buildings
Church architecture--Singapore
Methodist church buildings--Singapore