Orchard Road Presbyterian Church

by Tan, Bonny

The Orchard Road Presbyterian Church (ORPC), dubbed Greja Kechil (meaning “small church” in Malay) or the Scots Church, is the earliest Presbyterian church in Singapore.1 Located at the Bras Basah end of Orchard Road, it sits next to the Young Men’s Christian Association and across the road from Cathay cinema.2 It conducts services in multiple languages.

Origins
The Orchard Road Presbyterian Church (ORPC) originated as a building which became the Mission Chapel. The East India Company had contributed $250 towards its construction.4 When a sizeable number of Scots began worshipping there, the chapel was nicknamed the “Scots Church”.5

In 1822, the Scottish business community in Singapore held a meeting with the objective of forming the first local Presbyterian congregation. However, this was not realised until 1856, when Reverend Thomas McKenzie Fraser arrived in Singapore.6 A church to minister to the needs of this community was founded that year.7

The Orchard Road Presbyterian Church (ORPC) began as a congregation comprising Scottish sailors and solders. The first service was conducted on 26 October 1856 by Rev Thomas McKenzie Fraser at the London Missionary Society’s chapel on Bras Basah Road.8


On 6 May 1875, the governor of Singapore granted the land upon which the current ORPC was built.9 The location of the church’s foundation stone, laid in 1877, is however not known.10 The church building was erected in 1878 at a cost of $20,000, and worship at this new location began with only 42 members.11 It was dubbed Greja Kechil for its small size.12

World War II and after
During the Japanese Occupation, services were halted but were reinstated after the war.13 The church provided a safe haven for Scottish soldiers in the initial months of World War II and was subsequently used as a supply base for the Japanese. Most of its early records were destroyed.14 After World War II, Reverend R. M. Greer, who had been interned in Changi, reopened ORPC for regular services in 1947.15 Reminders of that period include the church’s cross, which was fashioned from an artillery shell casing, as well as a Bible stand made of wood from Changi Prison.16

The departure of Scottish and British expatriates from Singapore in the 1960s almost caused the church to close. However, it remained in existence when it left its affiliations with the London North Presbytery in England, joined the Singapore Presbyterian Council of Churches in 1971 and came under the Presbyterian Church in Singapore-Malaysia. Two women were ordained as elders for the first time.17

The 1950s and ’60s saw new growth for the church; this was when several church traditions were introduced. These include the carols and candlelight service on Christmas Eve, and the singing of the Lord’s Prayer during the morning service. There had been Dutch and Welsh services for a short period. On Easter Sunday in 1968, ORPC held its first Mandarin service.  

By the end of the 1970s, the entire ORPC building was fitted with air-conditioning.18 Between the late 1970s and ’80s, ORPC added an adjoining building that houses Dunman Hall and Su Han Kuen Hall.19 The extensions emulated the old church and used pitched roofs with Marseilles-pattern terracotta tiles with white stucco walls.20

Today, ORPC holds services in various languages, including English, Mandarin, Bahasa Indonesia, and German.21 With the growth of its congregation in the 1990s, a branch church was established in Bukit Batok; this branch become independent in 2013, and is now known as the Bukit Batok Presbyterian Church. In 2005, ORPC’s Chinese congregation formed an independent church known as Providence Presbyterian Church.22



Author

Bonny Tan 



References
1. Wan, M. H., & Lau, J. (2009). Heritage places of Singapore. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, pp. 134–135. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 WAN-[HIS])

2. Orchard Road Presbyterian Church. (n.d.). Location. Retrieved 2020, April 6 from Orchard Road Presbyterian Church website: https://www.orpc.sg/contact/location
3. Tyers, R. K. (1993). Ray Tyers’ Singapore: Then and now. Singapore: University Education Press, p. 66. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TYE-[HIS])
4. Tyers, R. K. (1993). Ray Tyers’ Singapore: Then and now. Singapore: University Education Press, p. 66. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TYE-[HIS])
5. Wan, M. H., & Lau, J. (2009). Heritage places of Singapore. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, pp. 134–135. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 WAN-[HIS])
6. Tyers, R. K. (1993). Ray Tyers’ Singapore: Then and now. Singapore: University Education Press, p. 66. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TYE-[HIS]); Orchard Road Presbyterian Church. (n.d.). History. Retrieved 2016, October 23 from Orchard Road Presbyterian Church website: http://www.orpc.sg/about/history
7. T. F. Hwang takes you down Memory Lane. (1988, December 24). The Straits Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Orchard Road Presbyterian Church. (n.d.). History. Retrieved 2020, April 6 from Orchard Road Presbyterian Church website: https://www.orpc.sg/about/history
9. Edwards, N., & Keys, P. (1988). Singapore: A guide to buildings, streets, places. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 233. (Call no.: RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA])
10. Tyers, R. K. (1993). Ray Tyers’ Singapore: Then and now. Singapore: University Education Press, p. 66. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TYE-[HIS])
11. Samuel, D. S. (2010). Singapore’s heritage: Through places of historical interest. Singapore: Dhoraisingam S Samuel, p. 218. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SAM-[HIS])
12. Chandran, K. (2006, October 26). Landmark Presbyterian institution turns 150. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Orchard Road Presbyterian Church. (n.d.). History. Retrieved 2020, April 6 from Orchard Road Presbyterian Church website:  https://www.orpc.sg/about/history
14. Chandran, K. (2006, October 26). Landmark Presbyterian institution turns 150. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Samuel, D. S. (2010). Singapore’s heritage: Through places of historical interest. Singapore: Dhoraisingam S Samuel, p. 219. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SAM-[HIS])
16. Chandran, K. (2006, October 26). Landmark Presbyterian institution turns 150. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Orchard Road Presbyterian Church. (n.d.). History. Retrieved 2020, April 6 from Orchard Road Presbyterian Church website: https://www.orpc.sg/about/history; Chandran, K. (2006, October 26). Landmark Presbyterian institution turns 150. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Orchard Road Presbyterian Church. (n.d.). History. Retrieved 2020, April 6 from Orchard Road Presbyterian Church website: https://www.orpc.sg/about/history
19. Orchard Road Presbyterian Church. (n.d.). History. Retrieved 2020, April 6 from Orchard Road Presbyterian Church website: https://www.orpc.sg/about/history
20. Edwards, N., & Keys, P. (1988). Singapore: A guide to buildings, streets, places. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 233. (Call no.: RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA])
21. Orchard Road Presbyterian Church. (n.d.). English congregation. Retrieved 2020, April 6 from Orchard Road Presbyterian Church website: https://www.orpc.org.sg/
22. Orchard Road Presbyterian Church. (n.d.). History. Retrieved 2020, April 6 from Orchard Road Presbyterian Church website: https://www.orpc.sg/about/history


Further resource

Johnson, A. (1988). The burning bush. Singapore: Dawn Publications.
(Call no.: RSING 285.25957 JOH) 



The information in this article is valid as at April 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 on the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Subject
Singapore--History--1867-1942
Historic buildings--Singapore
Presbyterian church buildings--Singapore
Religious buildings
Architecture and Landscape>>Building Types>>Religious Buildings
Arts>>Architecture>>Religious buildings