Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church
Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church (Chinese: 卫理公会直落亚逸礼拜堂) is a Chinese Annual Conference Methodist church located in the Asian nation-city of Singapore. The church is found at two locations, one (TA1) that is located along Telok Ayer Street near Chinatown in the Downtown Core, in Singapore's central business district and the other at Telok Blangah Road known as TA2. The main church building was completed in 1924 and its Telok Blangah church building in 2004.
In 1889, a Methodist missionary and medical doctor, Dr Benjamin West, arrived in Singapore and soon after set up his dispensary and home in Japan Street (now Boon Tat Street). The Chinese living in the area were mostly Hokkiens and many were opium addicts. Dr West started services in a rented house in Upper Nankin Street in August 1889.
At first, the congregation was mostly Hokkien-speaking. However, as more migrants came from the Methodist strongholds of Henghua, Hockchia and Foochow, many of the Hokkien speakers in the congregation left the church. Thus, two Chinese Methodist churches developed – Foochow Methodist Church and Hokkien Methodist Church developed with Lau Seng Chong and Lim Un Su as part-time pastors.
The house in Upper Nankin Street in which services were being conducted became overcrowded, so new premises were found in Japan Street for the Hokkien Church. In 1906, the Hokkien church became known as Telok Ayer Church.
In early 1913, Reverend F.H. Sullivan borrowed money and bought a piece of land at the junction of Telok Ayer Street and Cecil Street for $3,600. The site was just up the road from Japan Street. A tent was put up on the vacant plot and services and Sunday school held here. In 1914, the tent collapsed and the church then moved to Fairfield Girls' School in Neil Road. In September 1915, the congregation returned to the Telok Ayer Street site after a building made of wood and corrugated iron was built there for about $900.
In 1921, Ng Hong Guan, a church steward, donated $10,000 towards a new church building and undertook to solicit more funds. With money in hand, the church was able to buy the adjoining land owned by the Crown and the Chinese Free School.
Tenders were called for the construction of a three-storey building. The French firm of Bross and Mogin made the lowest tender fee of $46,000, a sum that excluded foundation work and the architect's fee. The architectural firm that designed the building was Swan and MacLaren. On 19 January 1924, the foundation stone was laid by Bishop G.H. Bickley. Work started and the building was ready in December 1924. On 11 January 1925, the Telok Ayer Church was consecrated by Methodist Bishop Titus Lowe.
The church later underwent restoration works which started in October 1993 and was completed in August 1995 at a cost of S$3 million. Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church later built a new branch church building at Wishart Road which is off Telok Blangah Road. Its new branch building was completed in 2004 and it is known as TA2 with an 800-seat auditorium. The church's Chinese and Hokkien services conducted there since 2005 whereas its English and afternoon Hokkien services are conducted at the main church building.
Its music program was started in 1935, and the church boasts six all-volunteer choirs (three adult, one youth, and two children). The Honorary Music Director is Dr. Emilia Wong.
The church currently has a weekly average attendance of about 1200 members.
Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church is considered one of the earliest Chinese Christian churches in Singapore. Several features differentiate it from the traditional church. Unlike traditional churches which are oriented east, this church faced constraints imposed by the position of the plot of land. Thus, the main entrances face west.
Also, unlike the traditional church, it does not display a cruciform plan. Instead, the church reflects its Chinese environment and the time in which it was built. The church is a highly mannered, somewhat eccentric building. The body of the church is demarcated at its four corners by large, full-height tapered buttress-like forms, within which access is gained to offices and other accommodation on the upper storeys. These "buttresses" are punctured by rectangular and circular window openings and broken by projecting tiled porch roofs at first storey level.
The church itself is arched, lit through large arched, quasi-Byzantine windows and crowned with a continuous tiled roof loggia. Art Deco was popular in the 1920s and Art Deco features can be seen in the ornate window styles. The roof of the pavilion atop the last storey of the building is distinctly Chinese.
- The church has a five-foot way on the west side, making the building part of the surrounding streetscape. It links with the five-foot way of the Telok Ayer Street shophouses nearby.
- Along the five-foot way of the church is a row of columns alternating with piers along its length. This is a design feature seen in eighth century Byzantine architecture.
- There are fourteen types of windows and vents of varying sizes and designs. They range from arched windows, to rectangle, square, and round windows. Some are marked with a cross design. Aside from the function of ventilating the building, they act as design features. The windows are complemented by louvred vents.
- There are ten types of doors which are also a design feature of this building. They range from wooden double-leaf doors with panels to wooden single-leaf doors to steel and glass panelled single- and double-leaf doors.
- The first- and second-storey interiors have eight columns with a moulded scroll design at the column-beam joint and a moulded column base. The ceiling is a coffer ceiling formed by the reinforced concrete longitudinal and cross beams complete with mouldings.
- The first storey is a multi-purpose hall named after Dr Benjamin West. The south entrance to the hall consists of two long doors to ventilate the room well.
- The third storey was originally an open terrace with a parapet wall. The terrace was roofed over subsequently and small function rooms put in on either side of the central area consisting of a large room and a multi-purpose hall. The ceiling is also a coffered ceiling but of a simpler design than the original coffered ceilings on the first and second storey.
- The church sanctuary is on the second storey. On the apse side of the church is the altar. The wall behind it has the Chinese words "God is love". To the left and right of the altar are round windows with stained glass. On either side of the sanctuary are long arched windows with timber louvres. The longer windows have wooden panels with Chinese characters in gold.
- There is a pavilion on the rooftop with a Chinese-style roof. Telok Ayer Methodist Church is the first Chinese church to have this feature. The pavilion on the roof faces a small rectangular room that balances the outline of the building. This room now houses the air-conditioning system.
- The pavilion has recessed windows with semi-circular openings and square relief mouldings at the top edge of each recessed panel. Below the recessed panels are windows.
- The space inside the pavilion is used as a prayer room.
- There are two staircases to the upper levels at either end of the north side of the building.
- On the south side above the windows is the name of the church and its established date, given as 1889.
- Lee Geok Boi (2002), The Religious Monuments of Singapore, Landmark Books, ISBN 981-3065-62-1
- Norman Edwards, Peter Keys (1996), Singapore – A Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, Times Books International, ISBN 9971-65-231-5