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Founded in 1889, Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church has stood on Telok Ayer Street for more than a hundred years. IMAGES: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/@ROYSOUZA (LEFT) AND @MARCIN KONSEK

National Monuments Of Singapore: Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church

What is a National Monument? Who gazettes them? How many national monuments are there in Singapore? To date, the Preservation of Sites and Monuments, a division of National Heritage Board, has identified and gazetted 75 buildings, structures and sites of national significance as an integral part of Singapore’s built heritage.

And we're here to tell you all about them - one National Monument at a time!

You've probably passed by or stepped into more than a few of them without realising they were National Monuments: Al-Abrar Mosque, Asian Civilisations Museum, the Civilian War Memorial, Saint Andrew's Cathedral, the Esplanade Park Memorials, Fort Siloso on Sentosa - no need to plan an itinerary for friends visiting from overseas; just show them this article ✌️

In this edition, we zoom in on the first Chinese Methodist Church to be established in Singapore, Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church (TACMC).

πŸ“ Location

TACMC was the 21st building to be gazetted as a National Monument in Singapore, and is located near other iconic National Monuments - the Thian Hock Keng TempleFormer Keng Teck Whay Building and Former Nagore Dargore. The MRT stations nearest to it are Telok Ayer and Tanjong Pagar.

πŸ“… Significant dates

Dates built:

  • 1889: Began as Hokkien Church on Nankin Street
  • 1905: Relocated to Boon Tat Street, now known as Telok Ayer Church
  • 1913: A tent was built on the land upon which TACMC today stands
  • 1921-1924: Construction of TACMC


  • 1915: A wooden hut with a zinc roof was built
  • 19 Jan 1924: The stone-laying ceremony of TACMC took place
  • 11 Jan 1925: TACMC was consecrated by Bishop Titus Lowe of the American Mission
  • 7 Feb 2024: 100-year-old time capsule extracted
  • 14 Feb 2024: Time capsule opened

Date gazetted: 23 Mar 1989

πŸ“œ History

In 1887, an American medical doctor (who was also a Methodist missionary) named Benjamin West arrived in Singapore with his wife. Two years later, after moving to Chinatown, he opened a clinic in a shophouse on Nankin Street (located on the site of today's Hong Lim Park). Shortly after, West converted the shophouse into a space for Sunday worship services. This was the humble beginning of TACMC.

Initially, the congregation comprised mainly Hokkien and Foochow Chinese. As those speaking the Foochow dialect increased in number, they left to form a new church, Foochow Methodist Church. The remaining congregation at Telok Ayer Church – as the church was known then – became predominantly Hokkien-speaking.

A parcel of land at Japan Street (today’s Boon Tat Street) was subsequently acquired in 1905 to accommodate the growing congregation. In 1913, the church’s pastor, Reverend F. H. Sullivan, bought a plot at the junction of Telok Ayer Street and Cecil Street (where TACMC stands today).

Services were conducted under a tent on the vacant plot, but the structure soon collapsed in 1914. The Chinese congregation then met at Fairfield Girls’ School on Neil Road for weekly worship. By September 1915, another temporary building made of wood and corrugated iron was constructed on the same vacant plot.

It was only in 1921 that plans to construct a permanent church building began. More land was acquired, and the foundation stone was laid by the local Methodist bishop, G. H. Bickley on 19 Jan 1924. A year later, on 11 Jan 1925, Bishop Titus Lowe – the successor to Bishop Bickley – consecrated the church.

In its early years, Telok Ayer Church even provided welfare to its parishioners, such as helping the illiterate to write letters to be sent to their families in China.

During World War II, when the Japanese began attacking Singapore, the church’s exterior walls along the five-foot-way were thickened to provide additional protection against stray bullets and bomb shrapnel. About 300 refugees took shelter within the church building. During the Japanese Occupation (1942–1945), weekly Sunday services continued to be held.


πŸ“ Design and architecture

TACMC was designed by Denis Santry of Swan & Maclaren, who was also the architect for the Cenotaph (another structure gazetted as a National Monument of Singapore).

The building’s architecture is an eclectic fusion of Eastern elements and Western functionality. European architectural features, such as the extensive use of arches, can be seen around the church building. The structure on top the front of the building, however, is capped by a distinctively Chinese-style roof. 


In addition, the piers and columns running along the five-foot-way with small crosses decorating their cushioned capitals are features derived from Byzantine architecture. Several doors and windows with louvres ensured that the interior was well ventilated prior to the advent of air-conditioning.

On the ground level is the church’s social hall, named after Benjamin West. The sanctuary is located on the building’s second storey.

Shortly after being gazetted as a National Monument, the church embarked on a restoration project, during which the four original timber panels behind the altar were uncovered in 1995. On the panels are gold-leafed characters that read shang di shi ai (上帝是爱, "God is Love").

On either side of the altar are round decorative windows with coloured glass. Lining the walls of the sanctuary are six Chinese characters representing both Christian virtues and Chinese values: gong (恭, "reverence" or "respect"), qian (θ™”, "piety" or "sincerity"), sheng (圣, "holiness"), xin (δΏ‘, "faith" or "trustworthiness"), ren (仁, "benevolence"), and ren (忍, "tolerance").

βŒ› 100-year-old time capsule extracted and opened

Did you know that a time capsule lay buried somewhere in TACMC?

As time went by, the exact location of the buried time capsule became unknown, up until recently, when members of the church’s archives committee were consolidating materials for a heritage gallery to be launched in celebration of TACMC’s 100th anniversary in 2025.

During their research, they found an article from The Malayan Saturday Post that described the time capsule’s placement beneath the laying of the church’s foundation stone on 9 Jan 1924. 

And serendipitously or as part of some divine plan, the time capsule (a slim metal box measuring 300mm by 300mm by 50mm) was only discovered and extracted at the church's momentous 100-year milestone, and not any earlier; the church's restoration work had been significantly delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Once extracted on 7 Feb 2024 (a process which took six hours), the time capsule and its contents were left to adjust to the environment for another seven days before the box was opened on 14 Feb 2024. Some of the items included:

  • A pocket-sized hymnal (a book of hymns)
  • A Chinese translation of the original 1784 version of the Methodist Episcopal Church’s Book of Discipline
  • A booklet of the minutes of a meeting conducted at the Malaysia Conference under the Methodist Episcopal Church
  • A copy of The Straits Times published on 8 Jan 1924

πŸ•– Opening hours

The church is temporarily closed for renovations. Find out more here.

🎟️ Admission

Entry is free.

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