As Bishop Thoburn and Oldham held the first Methodist Crusades in Singapore, beginning from 8th February 1885, there was a Chinese convert among those who placed their faith and their lives in Jesus Christ.
That convert became the lone Chinese probationer at the establishment of the first Methodist Episcopal Church on 22nd February 1885, about two weeks after the first evangelistic meetings. This significant conversion lighted the path for further outreach among the Chinese immigrants in Singapore. The entry into Chinese work was catalysed by the setting up of a dispensary by Dr Benjamin West in 1889, where he endeavoured to “teach them the way to spiritual healing, to lead them to that Great Physician who beareth all our infirmities and healeth all our sicknesses.”
During the initial stage of ministry among the Chinese, the Chinese Methodists met at a chapel located at the junction of Waterloo Street and Middle Road. The locus of the work among the Chinese, particularly the Hokkiens, was however, located in the area around Telok Ayer Street. Increasingly, the need for a church building spurred the construction of the first Chinese Methodist Church at Telok Ayer Street to further the work among the Hokkiens, at the turn of the century. Several inroads to the Chinese were established through ministering to the children of the Chinese in the area of education as schools were later established such as Anglo-Chinese School and Chinese Girl’s School (later Fairfield). Subsequently, the other dialects groups began their own dialect ministries and established churches along these dialects groups, which include the Foochow, Hinghwa and Hakka. These dialect churches ministered to immigrants from China, Malaya and various other places and through their evangelism drew the converts. The growth of these spawned and fueled the later ministries among the cantonese and Teochews.
While the earlier years of the history of the Annual Conference was facilitated along dialect distinctive, the next phase of the growth saw the establishment of the church planting work in the (previously) outskirts and rural areas of Singapore. Churches were established in the outlying areas such as Paya Lebar, Bukit Panjang, Chai Chee (Changi) and Geylang.
The Chinese Annual Conference of the Methodist Church in Singapore emerged from the reconstitution of the autonomous Methodist Church in Malaysia and Singapore in December 1976 along geo-political lines, which subsequently became the Methodist Church in Malaysia and the Methodist Church in Singapore. In view of the languages and sensitivities of the various ethnic groups, countless hours were spent in negotiations, in laying the foundational principles of the two churches in Malaysia and Singapore. Subsequently, Bishop Kao Jih Chung was elected as the Bishop of the Methodist Church in Singapore and from that leadership sprang forth a growth of the various Methodist churches in Singapore.
The next phase of growth and development of the CAC complemented the introduction of satellite towns by the government of Singapore in the 70s. The rise of new towns such as Queenstown, Toa Payoh and Ang Mo Kio sparked off collaborative efforts among the three conferences (ETAC, TRAC and CAC) in the building of churches in these three new towns. In tandem with the progress Singapore has achieved in her education policies, English-speaking congregations in the CAC were later established in Charis and Grace Methodist Church.
Increasingly, with the Singapore’s emphasis on bilingualism, while the English-speaking congregations have become an increasingly important ministry of CAC churches, the significance of Mandarin services has also not waned. The Chinese Annual Conference of the Methodist Church in Singapore continues to fulfill that mission of reaching out to the Chinese community, be they English-speaking or dialect speaking. The CAC’s strength and distinctive continues to lie in the myriad of dialect work and ministry among the diverse ethnic and linguistic background of Singaporeans.