Local Church History

TMC ALOR STAR

Background

The Tamil Methodist Churches in Alor Star, Sungei Petani and Kepala Batas were all under one circuit spreading over the state of Kedah. After the Second World War, Mr. Eliathamby played an important role in the purchase of the land at 36A Jalan Kanchut, Alor Star. A house was located and services were held once a month. The present site had a double storey wooden house. The owner sold the land to the church for $16,000. The money came from the Conference, either in 1945 or 1946. After the War, the building was renovated for worship with money collected. At this time, only the Tamil Methodist Church used the sanctuary for monthly services. Since the building was used only once a month, Mr. Eliathamby invited the Chinese Methodist Church Lay Worker to stay in the building. The Chinese Methodist Church brought Miss Tan, a lay pastor to occupy the upstairs portion of the building.

Extensive Ministry by Bus

From 1949 to 1964 Rev. D.K. Gnananantham was the Pastor-in-charge of the North Kedah circuit of the Tamil Methodist Churches covering Alor Star and Sungei Petani. Church Schools and Youth meetings were held at Bukit Merah, Jitra and Baling. The Pastor’s ministry included several estates and hospitals. There were 56 Full Members and 87 Preparatory Members. His work scattered over 70 miles, and he had no form of transportation except the regular buses.

The District Superintendent Rev. Gunnar J. Teilmann Jr. in December 1957 reported: “There is no harder working pastor to be found in all Malaya than Brother Gnananandam. When he was completely blind in one eye and had only 20% vision in the other he continued to preach and to visit his people.”

In 1964, Rev. D.K. Gnananantham was appointed Pastor for the Kedah Tamil Circuit, comprising of Alor Star, Kulim and Sungei Petani. Pastor S.J. Manickam was the Supply Pastor. From 1965 – 1966, Rev. K.J. Timothy was the Pastor. In 1967 Rev. Noel Arputharaj took Pastoral charge and in 1968 it was Rev. John Abraham.

A Youth for the Fulltime Ministry

From 1969 – 1970, Rev. E.J. Thoraisingam took charge. In 1969, the Full Membership was 71.The members were scattered over a radius of 70 miles in the rubber estates and padi fields. The Church paid its benevolence of $400 in full. Their pastoral support was only $100 per month. Their Annual Income was only $3,162.80 cents. An HSC student, Mr. Jacob David, came forward for fulltime ministry. There was no WSCS or MYF.

Tight Finances - So Happy to Share Pastor

In 1970, the Full Membership was 64. After paying the Conference dues and pastoral support, there was not much left for ministry. The Pastor preached every other Sunday. In his absence, the lay helped. Regular cottage meetings were held. A WSCS was newly organized. The church would progress if they had a pastor of their own, but the members indicated that they could not afford a pastor fully. Therefore they were quite happy to share their pastor with Sungai Petani.

Help From the Ministerial Students

From 1971 – April 1974, Rev. I.G. Sunderarajan was the Pastor. In 1971 there was a decrease in membership (62) and finance. They expressed the need for a pastor of their own. In 1972 A Parsonage Fund was set up. Full Membership was 83. In 1973 Full Membership was 83. Mr. Lawrence Francis, a ministerial student helped organize the MYF, which had a membership of 20. Mr. Devadass Ratnam, another ministerial student, continued the good work. Weekly cottage meetings were held with good response.

From May 1974 – 1975 Rev. Paul Athimuthu was the Pastor. Full Membership was 74. The pastor took charge on the 1st, 3rd and 5th Sundays, while Mr. David Tharmakan covered the rest of the Sundays. Mr. Tharmakan also conducted weekly cottage prayer meetings, which were well attended. Weekly Bible study was held and regular visits made to the outlying areas as far north as Padang Besar. In 1975 the Full Membership was 76. The Boys Brigade under Mr. Peter Gnananatham was doing very well. The new arrangement of having worship services on Fridays gave the pastor Rev. Athimuthu more time to work in the outlying areas.

From January 1976 to January 1979, Rev. Chellaraj Fenn was the DS and stationed in Penang. He administered the Holy Communion for TMC Alor Star and Sungai Petani when Pastors Simon Chandran and A.E. Joseph were student pastors. He administered Holy Communion in Alor Star till Rev. Tevaraji was made pastor-in-charge and given authorization. From January to April 1976, Mr Simon Chandran was the student pastor. From June 1976 to May 1977 Mr. A.E. Joseph was the student pastor.

New Seminary Graduates Take Charge

From June 1977 till May – 1981 Rev. P. Tevaraji was the Pastor. He stayed in the Wesley parsonage from Thursday to Saturday. He used to cover Padang Besar, Kangar, Arau and Jitra. The Church School was very active with Mrs. Ruth Peter as Superintendent. Mr. Rishyakaran, an engineer by profession, was very helpful in the youth ministry. The young people carried out many activities.

In 1979 the Full Membership stood at 80. Mrs. Annamal Swamikan, the Bible Woman, helped with the Church School and Estate ministry. It was noted that the work was growing and the church needed a pastor of their own – a resolution to that effect was sent to the Conference in 1979. In 1980 the Full Membership was 83. The Church had two Church Schools. A bus was hired for $45 a month. Jitra and Arau were their Outreach Points.

From June to December 1981, Pastor Victor Vethamani, a new graduate, was appointed the Pastor. The Full Membership was 82. The pastor stayed in one room at the Wesley Alor Star parsonage. Worship service was started in Jitra from 26 June 1981. Weekly Bible Study and Prayer Meetings were held regularly. There were five Church Schools. Mrs. Swamikan was involved in four of them. The first Church School was started in Jitra. Mr Daniel opened his house to have this ministry every Friday at 9.00 am. About 20 – 25 children actively attended this. Jitra Outreach worship service started on 26 June 1981. They gathered every week at Mr Daniel’s, Mr Isaac David’s or Mr Pandian’s house.

From 1982 – 1985, Rev. S. Duraisingam was the Pastor. In 1982 the Full Membership was 80. Weekly services were held at Jitra and monthly services at Arau. The church received a subsidy of RM300 from the Conference. In 1983, a choir comprising of 20 young people was formed to enrich the worship. A youth, Mr. Alfred Samuel, applied for the fulltime ministry. In 1984 the subsidy received was RM 100. In 1985 the Full Membership was 79. From 1 March till June Mr. A. Selwyn, a Church Worker, gave pastoral leadership. The church was without any appointment for 2 months. During this time, the DS Rev. Tharmakan took care of the weekly worship services and other pastoral needs of the church.

From 1 September 1985 – 1990, Rev. Devadass Ratnam was appointed Pastor- in-charge. Pulau Langkawi was also visited and worship services were held once in two weeks. In 1986 the Full Membership was 76 and rose to 83 in 1987. As there was no one to take up the Church School ministry, this ministry did not function. But ‘Children’s Day’ was observed. In 1988 the Church School was revived. They met on Fridays at 4pm. They had 15 children. MYAF was newly formed in July 1988. About 8 gathered regularly. They started three ministries on an experimental basis - English Reading Library, Tamil Reading Library and Video/Cassette Library. The Langkawi Outreach was initiated by Mr. and Mrs D. Daniel and Mdm. Santhosham Pakkianathan. They visited the needy and conducted the service twice a month. The Padang Besar, Arau, Jejawi and MADA Estate outreach work started as Mr D. Daniel encouraged a group of people to follow him in his own van to minister among the people there. They visited these places every Friday except on the 1st week.

In 1990, the Full Membership dropped to 59. The church faced a crisis from March 1990 when some key leaders resigned and one left the church. They then had a completely new LCEC with young leadership. The DS and local church pastor, Rev. Devadass Ratnam noted: “…A shaking up from complacency has resulted and members are more conscious of their Christian lives and open to the Word of God.”

From 1991 to 1993, Rev. Joseph Komar was the Pastor. In 1991, the Full Membership was 59 and rose to 69 in 1992. The church supported three young people for mission work. Two were with Youth With A Mission (Mrs. Jennifer Dharam and Mrs. Lorinda Alexandre) and one with Operation Mobilization (Mr. Edward David).

A believer, not a member of the church, donated a rent- free house for the pastor. The MYF and WSCS were not officially functioning. In 1993 the Full Membership rose to 79. MYF was officially formed in July. Outreach work continued in Padang Besar, Langkawi and Jitra. A place was rented for Prayer Cell and worship.

From 1994 – 1998 Rev. James Solamadan was the pastor. In 1994 there were twenty children in the Church School. A Tamil class was conducted for the children. A new Econovan was donated to the church by a believer from Kuala Lumpur. In 1995, a monthly pastoral subsidy of RM 585 was received from the Conference. The church paid up all its commitments. In 1996 the Full Membership was 97. Though the church had 11 added through Confirmation, yet there were 11 removed through transfer. A Building Committee was formed with Mr. David Swamikanoo as the Chairman. The LCEC decided to put up the parsonage on the land allocated for them in the church compound. They had about RM 65,000 in the Building Fund.

In 1997 no services were held in Langkawi as the members had moved out. The church had about RM 71,000 in the Building Fund. In 1998 the MYF could not function from the beginning of the year because some key members of the group had moved outstation for study and work. But later, with the return of some youths, about 10 met regularly. The Full Membership was 86. It was 94 the previous year.

Finally a Parsonage of Their Own

In 1999, Rev. A.E. Joseph was the Pastor-in-charge. Pastor James Ravindaren was the “Minister on Trial’. The Full Membership dropped to 77. This was due to the removal of 17 members through Local Conference Action. These members had moved out and settled in other towns and were worshipping in other churches. Their removal/transfer was made with the consent of the affected members. From 2000 to 2002 Rev. A. James Ravindaren was the Pastor. In 2001 the Full Membership rose to 86. Increase in membership was mainly through Confirmation. The church finally bought a building for their parsonage for RM 145,000. In 2002 the Full Membership rose to 92. There were two Cell Groups, one in Alor Star and the other in Kangar. The pastor played a vital role to restart the MYAF in the church. About 20 active church members took great efforts to organize multiple programmes in the church. The Church School conducted VBS at SJKT Paya Kemunting. Around 100 children including non-believers joined the VBS. This was a great achievement by the Church School.

Pastor’s Resignation Causes Major Church Crisis

In 2003 Rev. A.E. Joseph was the Pastor-in-charge with Pastor Anthony Panan assisting. A Korean Church in Penang came forward to help Kangar Outreach with the rental. The Korean Church considered Kangar Outreach as its Missions Project. In 2004 Rev. John Mark was the Pastor till 1 September.

The Church went through a major crisis during his tenure and following his resignation from the Conference in early September. About 32 members of the Jitra Outreach withdrew their membership. Following them were a host of new converts, about 17 of them, who were waiting for baptism. Due to Rev. John Mark’s resignation, the members who withdrew their membership started to worship independently. The Northern District pastors helped to conduct the worship in Alor Star, Kangar and Jitra. Rev. Mark Subramanyam, who was studying at Malaysia Baptist Theological Seminary (MBTS) Penang, also helped. The Korean Church in Penang continued to help the ministry in Kangar by contributing RM300 a month.

Few but Faithful

From 2005 – 2006 Rev. Barnabas Baskaran was the Pastor. The Full Membership in 2005 dropped to 69 as many members had withdrawn their membership in 2004. Participation in ministries was encouraging as all the remaining members joined hands in prayer to build the church again. In early 2006, Rev Barnabas resigned from the Conference due to personal reasons. Rev. Ezekiel and Ministerial Student Mr. Jeremiah Thomas, sacrificially helped to serve the church until the end of the year.

In 2007 Rev. Ezekiel Raj was the Pastor and he was assisted by Pastor Stephen Gunaraja. The Full Membership was 78. New musicians and worship leaders were trained. VBS was conducted in Alor Star and 43 children attended. From 2008 – 2013 Rev. Stephen Gunaraja was the Pastor-in-charge. The Full Membership ranged from 43 in 2010 to 51 in 2011. There was a combined Vacation Bible School with Tamil Methodist Church Jerai in Jerai. The parsonage was repaired and the Conference gave a loan of RM 5,000. It was sold in 2009 for RM 200,000. During this time the pastor had a spinal bone medical condition and was on leave for two months. The church leaders and Northern District pastors took up the responsibilities to conduct the worship services. There were three active Cell Groups. In 2011, the Kangar Outreach was blessed by the presence of a couple from India, Mr. & Mrs. Arun Jeritta, both PhD students at Unimap Perlis. They were a great help for the pastor in the ministry. Some students from the university started coming for the worship service. It is to be noted that TMC Alor Star have had students come to attend their services even before 2011. Though there was a shortage of lay leaders, which meant the pastor had to do more work, the local church acknowledged the contribution of the previous Lay Leader, Mr. Thamaraiselvam, who helped in developing the Kangar Outreach. Mr Paul Krishnan and Mr. and Mrs Arun helped the pastor to preach in the chapel and in Cell Groups during his absence. The pastor being single was able to accommodate and he worked hard. In 2012 the Jitra Outreach was closed due to the shortage of members. In 2013, there were three active Cell Groups. The pastor, in his seven years of ministry, did much to improve the church.

From 2014, Rev. E. Kunabalan was the Pastor. From 2014 to 2016, he was assisted by Church Worker, Mr. Ben Richard. From 2017 onwards he was assisted by Church Worker, Mr. Joshua Raj.

In 2014 and 2015, it was reported that there was no Children’s Ministry because there were too few children in the church. The Full Membership in 2016 was 53 and remained 53 in 2017. It increased to 61 in 2018. Mr. Ben Richard, the Church Worker, resigned from the ministry in 2016. Rev. Stephen Gunaraja, though on Voluntary Location, still helped the church.

In 2017, there were three active Cell Groups. In 2018 the MYF organised Easter carolling, through which the youths spread the gospel to 19 non-believers’ families. The church bought a parsonage for RM 390,000 in September. The attendance at the worship services increased.

In 2019, Rev. Kunabalan is the Pastor. Mrs. Rosaline Gopal is the Lay Leader and the pastor, Rev. Kunabalan is the LCEC Chairperson. The Full Membership is 61. There are 10 members in the MYF and 13 in the MW. The church still has no Children’s Ministry because there are too few children. They are encouraged to work with the children they have. They have two Cell Groups.

Conclusion: The history of TMC Alor Star began in earnest at the end of the Second World War. Mr. Eliathamby played an important role in the purchase of the land and a house for the ministry. The work was first part of the North Kedah region as a Sungai Petani – Alor Star Circuit. The work grew and both Sungai Petani and Alor Star were established as individual Local Churches, often sharing the same pastor. Along with the many pastors and lay leaders was the faithful Mrs. Annamal Swamikan, the Bible Woman, who helped with the Church School and Estate ministry. Another faithful servant of God for many years was Mrs. Dora Thamboo who helped in the services by playing the piano. She also was looked upon as a mother-figure by many members and was a great encourager to the pastors. The church had faced many challenges and several members had moved on to other places and churches for various reasons. But those who stayed on have been faithful to carry on the mission of Jesus Christ. The work is steadily growing and by the grace of God and the commitment of the people, we will see the glory of God in TMC Alor Star in the days to come.

Sources:

1. Article by Mrs. Dora Thamboo

2. Article by Mr. Eliathamby

3. Methodist Journals – MAC, TPAC, TAC

4. Feedback Letter from the LCEC of TMC Alor Star”

Last Updated : 30 Nov 2019