St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church,
A Brief History
(Extracted from Rev. Dr. R.S. Weniger’s Speech for the Centenary Celebrations)
As we think back to 1917, it is difficult for us to imagine what life was like for the residents of Kuala Lumpur. So much has changed in these 100 years. But there were some things that were true then and are still true today. They will be true 100 years from now, for they never change.
One of these things that never changes is the need we all have to be connected to our Creator. All people need to have a sense of why they are here, what their purpose is, what the meaning of life is, and what is their destiny when they die.
The message of the Christian faith addresses these questions, informing us that we are here because there is a loving God who created us for the very purpose of experiencing His love - in this life and forever. The Bible tells us that while we all have turned from God to go our own way – what the Bible calls sin – God acted in Jesus Christ to forgive our sins as He died on the cross and was raised from the dead, and now we can experience the fullness of God’s love as we are reconciled to Him through Christ.
This is the message that our founding fathers and mothers believed, proclaimed, and insured would continue to be proclaimed in Kuala Lumpur far into a future they would not see and could not even imagine.
When our founders established St. Andrew’s, they knew this is a dangerous and unpredictable world, for World War I was just ending. In this fragile world, they didn’t know what the future would be like. But an uncertain future did not deter or hinder them. They took the bold and courageous step of planting a church, for they looked ahead with confidence in God’s faithfulness, just as we look back with gratitude for God’s faithfulness.
The story of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church of Kuala Lumpur begins some years before there actually was a church. Presbyterian worship services were inaugurated in Kuala Lumpur in 1902, and for fifteen years were held in several different facilities in the city. Ministers and missionaries from Singapore and Penang led the services.
A key step took place in 1909 when a committee contacted the Presbytery of London North asking if they would help support a resident minister. The Presbytery responded favorably, and so in 1910 it was resolved to establish a church in Kuala Lumpur.
In 1914, the congregation agreed that it was prepared to financially support a resident minister. In addition, a Work Party was established under the leadership of Mrs. G. C. McGregor, which was critical in raising funds for the church building and manse.
Several important events happened in 1915. The Presbytery of London North formally recognized Kuala Lumpur as a Preaching Station under the care of the Session of Singapore. The Presbytery then commission Rev. A. D. Harcus as Minister-in-charge for a period of one year.
Rev. Harcus began his ministry in Kuala Lumpur on Sept. 5, 1915. Under Rev. Harcus’ energetic and capable leadership, the worked developed rapidly, so that by the end of his first year the Presbytery raised the Kuala Lumpur Preaching Station to the status of a fully sanctioned Charge. The Congregation extended a call to Rev. Harcus, and he was inducted into the pastoral charge on Oct. 11, 1916.
Aware of the need for a permanent house of worship, in May, 1915, the Congregation applied to the government for a piece of land suitable for a church. The government allotted a site on what was then known as Weld Road (now Jalan Raja Chulan). This thickly wooded hillside proved to be an ideal location as it is now in the heart of the city.
A building fund was begun, and by the end of 1916 sufficient money was collected so that at the Annual Meeting on Jan. 26, 1917, construction was authorized to begin. As money continued to be donated, the Foundation Stone was laid by Rev. W. Cross of Singapore on Oct. 3, 1917.
Wednesday, April 17, 1918 was a momentous day as the church was opened for public worship. Some 250 people gathered for the opening ceremony, led by numerous ministers and His Excellency Sir Arthur Young, the British High Commissioner. Four days later, on April 21, the first Sunday worship service took place, conducted by Rev. A. D. Harcus and assisted by Rev. A. S. Moore Anderson. As some of the construction was financed by loans, funds continued to be raised. On Oct. 30, 1921, the Church was declared debt-free.
At a congregational meeting on Oct. 3, 1920, the Church voted to purchase an adjoining piece of land from the government for the building of the Manse. Rev. Harcus moved into the Manse in Nov., 1921. The women of the church played a major role in fundraising for both the Church and the Manse. In 1923, Rev. Harcus was forced to return to England due to recurring malaria.
While the Church and Manse occupied this particular parcel of property, the parish itself was enormous, being more than half the size of England. The early ministers of the Church travelled extensively, ministering throughout the parish. By 1932, the Church’s first three ministers had travelled more than 250,000 miles.
During the first three decades, the church was severely tested by times of extreme financial difficulty at the national and international level. But by the mid-1930s, economic recovery was running strong, which coupled with the rapidly growing population of Kuala Lumpur, led to robust days for St. Andrew’s, including the purchase of a new organ.
Unfortunately, dark days soon returned, this time in the form of World War II. Japanese troops invaded Malaya at Kota Bharu on Dec. 8 1941. Soon British forces abandoned Kuala Lumpur, which led to the looting of St. Andrew’s. The organ pipes, books, Bibles, hymnals, and various worship items were stolen or destroyed. Important Church records disappeared. Finally, local English-speaking Methodists took over the building for regular worship and prevented further destruction.
Many members of St. Andrew’s were sent to internment camps, and a number died in the POW camps in Singapore, Sumatra, and Thailand. The minister of St. Andrew’s at that time, Rev. Alfred Webb, was among those imprisoned. But even in the midst of this despair, a significant decision was made for the Presbyterian ministry in Malaya. Discussions between the imprisoned Church members while in the camps led them to conclude: “We had been too exclusively the Church of the white man. To have a church isolated from others churches, other races, is wrong. We came out of internment determined to throw off any isolation of the past.”
British forces liberated Malaya in Sept. 1945, and by early 1946 a small group of Presbyterians returned to Kuala Lumpur, launching worship services once again at St. Andrew’s. By the end of 1947, Rev. Sydney Evans was installed as pastor, and soon the physical property was restored.
About this time, Alice Smith, a member of St. Andrew’s began a school. When she had to leave the country, Rev. Evans was instrumental in founding the Alice Smith Schools Association and served on the school’s first Board of Governors. The Church continues to have a permanent seat on the Board. The Alice Smith Kindergarten met on the Church premises from 1951-1963.
In 1953, the women of St. Andrew’s began raising money for a stained-glass window. The window at the front of the sanctuary was installed in 1955, and is dedicated to the church members who died in the two World Wars. Other developments regarding the church facility include an extension in 1988 that enlarged the Fellowship Hall and added space for education and administration, and the installation of the Organ Cross in 1992.
The 1990s saw an increase in church attendance, resulting in the addition of a second worship service. Three significant ministries began during this time. In 1992 the Stephen Ministry was launched, through which many lay people were trained to minister to fellow church members. This was the first Stephen Ministry program in Malaysia, and continued until 1999. Another ministry launched during this period for the first time in Malaysia by St. Andrew’s was the Alpha Course, which has led to many people coming to faith in Christ.
This decade also brought a dramatic change in the make-up of the church as it shifted from an ex-pat majority congregation to a local majority congregation. Still, the church has been able to maintain its international identity while still serving English-speaking Malaysians. This was confirmed by the 1999 Millennium Statement adopted by St. Andrew’s: “Fulfilling the Great commission by offering Christian ministry and fellowship to people of all nations, especially the international community, and uniting them all one in Christ Jesus.”
In the first decade of the new millennium, some changes were launched in the area of worship. In 2003 the SAVE Team (St. Andrew’s Vocal Ensemble) began to lead the congregation at the 11:00 service in worship through singing. Also during this time, the church hosted the Bible Study Fellowship meetings until they outgrew our facility.
On May 25, 2008, St. Andrew’s adopted the Book of Order at the AGM. This brought about a change in the church government, as the Church Committee was replaced with the Session, along with the Board of Managers.
A thriving Indonesian ministry began to grow, with the result that in 2011 they began to have their own worship service once a month in the late afternoon. They now meet every Sunday afternoon for worship services in their own language and in keeping with their cultural traditions.
As we look back on the 100-year history of St. Andrew’s, it is good for us to remember that the success of a church is not determined by its longevity, but rather by its love for God and for one another, by its obedience to our Lord and its service to others.
As St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church looks forward to its second century, we do so with much hope and confidence – not in ourselves but in our great God. From our founding fathers and mothers a century ago, to our present dedicated church members, God has used ordinary people in extraordinary ways to change lives and bear witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ in Kuala Lumpur and throughout Malaysia. For this we give thanks to God, and we look forward to the future with the great hymn ringing in our hearts, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.”