OBITUARY: THE REV TAN PHEK GEOK
THE Rev Tan Phek Geok, the first woman pastor to serve in Singapore, passed away early in the morning of Oct 18, 2002.
The Rev Tan, who was with the Chinese Annual Conference (CAC), was ordained in 1958 with a group of women pastors from Singapore and Malaya. She alone served in Singapore.
She was born in Amoy, China on April 20, 1911 into a very staunch Buddhist family.
At the age of 11, she entered a mission primary school at Tai San Church, and thereafter joined the Mission Girls Middle School at Chiang Chew, China. She graduated from the Middle School in 1929 and taught there for four years.
On March 6, 1935, at a Gospel rally in Amoy, China, she accepted Christ as her personal saviour. In September that year, she enrolled at the Shanghai Chiang Oan Seminary, graduating in 1937. She became the Preacher/Principal of the Primary School of Amoy Koe Hoa Church.
Mr Ong Heng Kok, LCEC Chairman and Lay Leader of Paya Lebar Chinese Methodist Church, said in an eulogy at the Rev Tan’s funeral service at the church on Oct 22, 2002: “When the Japanese invaded China in early 1938, the Rev Tan fled to Vietnam and stayed there for six months working as a freelance preacher. She then went to Bangkok for a few months, then to Penang, and finally to Singapore. She joined Geylang Chinese Methodist Church as a preacher.
“She was officially appointed by the Conference on Jan 1, 1939 as Pastor of Sinchew Hougang Chinese Methodist Church, now named Paya Lebar Chinese Methodist Church. As a 28-year-old single woman pastor, she was totally taken care of by Mrs Ong Eng Leng, a founder member of Paya Lebar Chinese Methodist Church, and stayed at 214-D Lorong Ah Soo, the home of Mrs Ong.
“With a full-time pastor, the church was richly blessed by the grace of the Lord. More activities were organised and new members joined the church. Jesus said in John 12:24, ‘I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it bears a rich harvest.’ The words have been fulfilled in our church and the surrounding community.”
In February 1942, the Singapore fortress, which was considered impregnable, fell to Japanese soldiers. During the Japanese Occupation of 1942-1945 it was a difficult time for worship because church buildings were either confiscated by the Japanese or damaged during the war. Movements and public gatherings were severely restricted.
However, nothing dampened the Rev Tan’s spirit and faith. Together with the Rev Fang Chao Shi, she continued to use the homes of stewards for prayers, Bible reading and Bible studies. One meeting place was at Kim Chuan Avenue (Boh Sua Tien) and another at 214-D Lorong Ah Soo, the home of Mrs Ong Eng Leng, where more than 75 members took refuge during the Japanese Occupation.
After the Japanese capitulation on Sept 5, 1945, freedom of worship was restored. Worship service resumed in October 1945 at Paya Lebar Methodist Church Sanctuary at Boundary Road.
Mr Ong said: “In February 1947, the Rev Tan returned to China on study leave. In July 1948, she returned to Singapore and resumed her ministry as Assistant Pastor to the Rev Fang at Paya Lebar Chinese Methodist Church. She was then transferred to West Malaysia the following year to serve the Lord. She first served in Jasin, Malacca from 1949-1952, then at Alor Star for 14 years (1953-1966) and at Taiping for 11 months (1967).
“She was ordained as a deacon in 1958, and the following year, as a CAC elder.
“She was then transferred back to Singapore and was appointed to Paya Lebar Chinese Methodist Church at Upper Paya Lebar Road in January 1968 as an Associate Pastor until November 1978 when she officially retired from the CAC. After her retirement, she continued to serve the Lord in our Church as Honorary Minister up to her calling home to be with the Lord on Oct 18, 2002.
“Praise the Lord, the Lord will never forsake a faithful servant, having served the church for almost 65 years.”