Education has been one of the key strengths of The Methodist Church in Singapore (MCS) since the beginning. It was no coincidence that soon after Bishop James M. Thoburn and the Rev William F. Oldham established the Methodist Mission in Singapore in 1885, one of the key early events was the founding of a boys’ school in 1886 and subsequently two girls’ schools in 1887 and 1888.
Education as part of our social mission
The story is told that the Rev Oldham was strolling down Chinatown when he came across a colourful Chinese signboard. Enquiring, he was told that it referred to the ‘Celestial Reasoning Association’, where Chinese gentlemen met to debate and deliberate. Seizing on the idea, he introduced himself to the group and offered himself as a speaker on the subject of Astronomy. The Rev Oldham must have impressed the group, for he subsequently received an invitation to be the personal English tutor to a gentleman in the group, Mr Tan Kiong Siak.
Building on this opportunity, the Rev Oldham proposed instead to start a school teaching English to the children of Chinese merchants. The Anglo-Chinese School (ACS) was thus started with 13 pupils in a simple shop house at 70 Amoy Street. The Chinese merchants paid for all expenses, and the missionary Oldham provided his time and teaching services free of charge.
Another early influential person was Ms Sophia Blackmore, an Australian missionary who came at the invitation of Oldham, and started the Methodist Girls’ School (MGS). We have to keep in mind that this was at a time when the education of girls was neglected by society. The work expanded subsequently to two other girls’ schools by the 1930s: Geylang Methodist Girls’ School and Paya Lebar Methodist Girls’ School. From the beginning, the goals of the schools were literacy and vocational training, as well as evangelism.
Today, the Methodist schools in Singapore encompass 15 schools from primary to tertiary level, as well as the Methodist School of Music. The schools embody the social mission of the church, and through these schools, countless young people have had their skills and potential developed to make an impact on the world, with many coming to Christ and entering the life of the Church. This model of mission schools has also been replicated by the Methodist Missions Society (MMS) Singapore, in planting and/or supporting schools in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Timor-Leste. May we take inspiration from the vision of our missionary pioneers, and continue to shape hearts and minds for the glory of God!
A lasting touch from God
God’s miraculous provision was evident in the establishment of the MCS, for example Mr Charles Phillips being alerted in a dream that the missionaries Thoburn and Oldham would be arriving by ship, resulting in him being on the pier to receive them despite not having been notified via mail. The Church here also grew out of a series of revival meetings, where Bishop Thoburn preached from Zechariah 4:6 – “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord”.
Since then, the Church here has experienced a series of revivals and awakenings over the years. The most notable of these was the ACS clock tower revival of 1972. This was remarkable particularly as the Church in the 1960s and 1970s was facing the challenges of liberal theology, biblical scepticism and reactionary fundamentalism. Yet in the early 1970s, groups of students gathered for regular prayer at the ACS clock tower. As described by the Rev Noel Goh: “We started to gather to pray, and we prayed every recess. Every recess, we would run to the clock tower. And when we heard the bell, we would quickly say ‘Amen’ and run back.”
The Rev Malcolm Tan writes, “It cannot be denied that there was a very powerful prayer movement that was going on here in school prior to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. And if you walked up Barker Road Hill in those days, you would see groups of ACS boys – five, three, four – just praying in the sanctuary of the Barker Road Methodist Church. Not only was the church full, but also the clock tower was full. Boys were meeting and praying.”
A revival broke out and was even reported in The Straits Times on 7 November 1972: “Some students who have been taking part in religious meetings after school hours have ended up either in hysterics or in a trance.” Quoting the Rev Tan once more: “I wish you could feel the spiritual fervour in those days as people like Noel Goh led us in the Christian Fellowship. They were into Scripture memory, personal evangelism and prayer. And they influenced us in the younger generation.”
What is undeniable is that the long-term effects of this revival infused back into the Methodist Church numbers of young people whose lives had been touched. They would go on to serve God as pastors, missionaries and people of influence in society. Notable Methodist pastors who emerged from that revival include the Rev Goh, the Rev Tan, the Rev Melvin Huang, the Rev Dr Norman Wong, and many others.
I had the personal privilege of being involved in the 1986-1987 revival in the Anglo-Chinese Junior College (ACJC). Leading the school’s Christian Fellowship (CF) which numbered less than 50 in year one, we started having pre-assembly morning prayers at the trackside. Starting from small groups, we would share the Gospel during recess time and organise evangelistic meetings.
It was wonderful to see Christians from both charismatic and fundamentalist backgrounds praying together for revival. Over two years, we saw God moving among our peers, with many coming to Christ and lives being renewed. The last CF meeting we organised had an attendance of more than 500, which represented almost half of the school enrolment! Many in our cohort went on to become pastors, missionaries, and church leaders.
Today, the Spirit of God continues His work of renewal in the Church. May we be open to His work, be willing to arise from our slumber, and not resist the work of the Holy Spirit. To God be the glory!
- The People Called Methodists: The Heritage, Life and Mission of The Methodist Church in Singapore, The Methodist Church in Singapore, May 2003
- The ACS Story, Anglo-Chinese School Board of Governors, 2003
- Hearts, Hopes & Aims: The Spirit of the Anglo-Chinese School, Anglo-Chinese School Old Boys’ Association, 1986
- The Clock Tower Story: The Beginnings of Charismatic Renewals in Singapore, ed. by Michael Poon and Malcolm Tan, 2011
Dr Marcus Ong –
serves as Associate Lay Leader with his church, the Methodist Church of the Incarnation.