The Early Years
The Methodist Mission in Penang began when Bishop J.M. Thoburn in April 1891 appointed two Canadians, Rev. Daniel D. Moore and Rev. B.H. Balderstone. Rev. D. D. Moore was appointed over both the English and Tamil congregations. In 1894 Simon Peter and P.F. Gnanamuthu founded the Tamil Church in Northam Road. In 1895, Rev. Simon Peter was ordained a local deacon and Mr Gnanamuthu was granted a local preacher’s license. The Full Membership Roll was 37. In 1896, the church shifted to Datuk Kramat Road. This resulted in increased attendance because the new place was very close to the Tamil quarters. With the arrival of Rev. & Mrs J.F. Pykett, the work was further strengthened. The Pyketts knew the Tamil language well and loved to work among the Tamils. The church had a total of 45 Full Members and this increased to 57 in 1897. The others who served as pastors include: Rev. J.M. Hoover, Rev. J. David, Rev. V. Devasagayam, Rev. D.M. Toomey, Rev. J.A. Supramaniam, Rev. S.S. Pakianathan, Rev. Y.J. Jesudasen, Rev. James Pearce, Rev. V. Devasahayam, Rev. V. Samuel, Rev. J.A.P. Oswald, Rev. Kingham Joseph, Rev. Simon James Arthur, Rev. J. Milton David, Rev. S. Ratnasamy, Rev. KJ Timothy (See Pastoral Roll).
Note: From 1894 to 1932, the church moved twice before finally coming to Perak Road. The present site of 24,500 square feet was purchased in 1932 for $ 4220. The corner stone was laid by Bishop Lee on 3 December 1934, and on Easter Sunday 1935, he dedicated the building.
In 1938, when Rev. Fred David was the pastor, a five day Religious Education School was organised by Miss Dorothy Moreton in Penang, and this saw a registration of 90. The pastors of the Presbyterian and Anglican churches cooperated in organising this. In 1955, Rev. E.J. Ponniah taught Tamil classes in the Penang A.C.S. and also carried a full load of school work in the Methodist Afternoon School.
The Post 1957 Years Celebrating Silver Jubilee In 1957, when Rev. V.A. Subramaniam was the pastor, there was a complete renovation of the parsonage at a cost of about $3,000. Miss Kathleen Clancy gave able assistance to the women and youth of this church. The church had a total membership of 125 and Full Membership of 60. In 1959, with Rev. V. A. Subramaniam as the pastor, a special service marking the Silver Jubilee and rededication of the newly redecorated sanctuary was officiated by Bishop Amstutz.
The Boys’ Brigade was started by Mr. Joseph Devasagayam and he gave strong leadership to the 40 member strong Boys’ Brigade ministry. This 4th Penang Company drew many young Tamil boys to the church. Captain S.C. Mani, as he was fondly known, came as a 12 year old boy to the church at the invitation of Mr Devasagayam in 1952/3. In 1963 he accepted Christ as his Saviour and eventually became a member of the LCEC, representing the Boys’ Brigade.
This is the first Tamil Boys’ Brigade with all Tamil boys mainly from the labour quarters. From the church there were about ten boys. Mani says that about 15 boys accepted Christ through this ministry and about seven of them became pastors. The Boys’ Brigade gave support to all church functions. He sadly noted that this ministry had declined in recent years due to a lack of support from pastors and a lack of committed Officers.
In 1960 Miss Grace Paul, one of the four trainees from the Ipoh Tamil Methodist Seminary, completed the six month training course. She conducted bible study and social service projects among people in five separate areas on Penang Island. She served the church for nearly forty years bringing God’s Word to those who could not attend regular church services. She was a great help in the Church School ministry.
In 1966, during the tenure of Rev. I.R. Chelladurai, there were major repairs to the church and parsonage. The church roof was repaired and the whole building was re- painted. The fence surrounding the church compound was re-built. A new electric organ was purchased. In 1967 the Full Membership was 112.
Celebrating 75th Anniversary:
In 1968, while celebrating its 75th Anniversary, the District Superintendent and local church pastor Rev. I.R. Chelladurai noted that the membership of the church had not grown, and gave various reasons for this. They noted that many young people had left the island to settle elsewhere and very few Tamil Methodists came on transfer to Penang. In 1971, there was no appointment of a resident pastor. Rev. I.G. Sunderarajan initially helped but his commitment to the Kedah Circuit, made it difficult for him to continue. Retired Minister Rev. K.J. Timothy helped in the rites of Holy Communion, Baptism, Burial etc.
Giving Birth to TMC Prai and Major Property Development
From 1976 to January 1979, Rev. Chellaraj Fenn was the pastor. During this period, many lay members became active in the church. The ministry in Prai was also initiated. From January to June 1979, the church was without a pastor. A layperson Mr John Oorjitham, took charge of the worship services and kept the church going.
From June 1979 to December 1982, Rev. Simon Chandran was the pastor. There was a surge of activity in the church. The church football team emerged champions in the Inter-Church Football competition in 1980. Penang’s Outreach Prai became a Local Conference on 21 April 1981. The church again underwent major roofing and ceiling repairs under the able guidance of Steward on Finance and Treasurer, Mr C. Natkunasingham. The preliminary work on transepts on either side of the main building was begun. It was, however, completed when Rev. David Tharmakan was pastor (January 1983 – August 1990) at a cost of RM 120,000. The extension was officially opened and dedicated by Bishop C.N. Fang on 18 May, 1986. Full Membership in 1986 was 220.
In 1992, the Nibong Tebal Outreach Point was taken over from Perai Church during the tenure of Rev. John Kovilpillai. Mr Subramaniam was appointed as Church Worker there. Dato’ Dr Peter C. Vanniasingham provided effective lay leadership for more than two decades. He gave generous financial contribution to the property maintenance and development.
Centennial Celebration and Vision for the Future
During the tenure of Rev. Victor Vethamani, the church had its Centennial Celebration in 1994. It was the first Tamil Methodist Church in Malaysia to do so. Mr. and Mrs. A.P. Paul, Ms. Grace Paul and Mr. and Mrs. V. Yesaiah were recognised for their long and dedicated service. During this period, the need for added facilities for the local church was strongly felt. A Building Committee was formed under the able leadership of Mr Manasseh Manoharan.
At this juncture the Church formulated a Ten-Point Vision for the Future: 1. Financial Stability: To grow in the grace of giving cheerfully and sacrificially, and to have enough financial resources for the total church programme. 2. Evangelism Thrust: To establish more Tamil Methodist Churches in the island of Penang through effective outreach. 3. Missionary Fervour: To be involved in mission work through prayer, finance and by sending out missionaries. 4. Property Development: To plan for maximum use of the present church land, with the aim of putting up buildings that will have all the facilities needed for effective church programmes. 5. Community Involvement: To be involved in the community with the aim of eradicating social evils and helping the needy. 6. Membership Growth: To seek for the transforming power of Jesus to build Christian character (within the membership) that will enhance growth in witness (adding to the membership). 7. Lay Mobilization: Training of the lay and giving opportunities for participation in the total church programme. 8. Literature Centre: To set up a place where the church members and the community can have access to good Christian literature. 9. Language Integration: To keep alive the Tamil language, while continuing the use of English and to introduce the Malay language into our worship. 10. Prayer Ministry: Strengthen the Prayer Ministry of the church, in order to do God’s work in God’s way and with God’s strength.
Source: Back Cover of the Centennial booklet 1994.
Bishop Denis C. Dutton, in his message in the Centennial Souvenir Programme states: “When my thoughts turn to the Tamil Methodist Church in Penang one name stands out, namely, Mr Ramanathan. Mr Ramanathan, once the mayor of Penang was a staunch Methodist. He was present at Port Dickson when that historic decision was taken to form the Tamil Provisional Annual Conference.”
In 1995 the ministry among the USM students was started. The first Area Fellowship was conducted in Bandar Baru on 7 August. The Boys’ Brigade First Founder’s Day Celebration was held and it was a great success. The MYAF was started under the leadership of Mr Christian Kirubaisingam and a church library was set up.
On 17 November 1996, the Full Membership was 175. The LCEC accepted the Building Committee’s recommendation to put up a two-storey block, with a foundation for five- storeys. However, on the recommendation of the architect, Mr. Derrick David, the idea for a five-storey building was dropped on aesthetic grounds. The old parsonage and Fellowship Hall were demolished in February 1998. The new double-storey Building, named Wisma Shalom, which included the parsonage, hall, office and other ministry rooms, was built when Rev. Robert Selvakumar was the pastor. The Ground Breaking Ceremony was jointly conducted by Rev. A.E. Joseph (DS), Rev. Robert Selvakumar (local pastor) and Rev. Victor Vethamani (previous pastor) on 11 April 1999. The Cornerstone was laid on 25 July 1999 by Rev. P. Tevaraji, the TAC President. The construction work commenced on 13 September 1999. The Wisma Shalom building was completed and dedicated by Bishop Dr Peter Chio Sing Ching on 8 July 2000.
Focusing on Discipleship and Small Group Ministry
Rev. C. Jayaraj, the next pastor, focussed on discipleship with an emphasis on Small Group Ministry. In 2001, the Air Itam Outreach was started under the leadership of Mrs. Pushpam Gurusamy. Outreach ministry at Batu Maung and Batu Feringghi were carried out “Manna’s Square”, which was the church library, was upgraded. A Christmas Evangelistic Concert “Touch of Love” was held at the MBS Penang with an overwhelming attendance of 350.
In 2006, the Full Membership was 201. A family camp was organized in Cameron Highlands and about 130 members, including children, attended. The Prison Ministry and Migrant ministries among workers from Myanmar and Nepal were formalised. In the same year the outreach point in Bayan Baru was started on 5 February. Another high-point was that all the interest bearing loans were settled and RM 420,000 remained to be settled to TAC and the churches. A Christmas Open House was organized on 19 December at Bayan Baru and about 600 people attended. In 2007 “Good Deed Team” was formed to assist in the area of education, employment, social problems, finance, health and hospital expenses. The Street Ministry was started in partnership with the Harvest Assembly.
The church grew both spiritually as well as in numbers. This was further strengthened by the able lay leadership of Mr Michael Raja. The outstanding debt for the Building stood at RM220,000. Rev. Jayaraj, the local church pastor, was elected as the Conference President in November 2008.
Rev. Joseph Yesupatham took responsibility as the pastor from January 2009. On 22 February the same year, the Methodist Senior Fellowship was formed. Street Ministry was replaced by “Kawan Ministry” in reaching out to the Indian community. In 2010 the first Open House Christmas Celebration was held and it was a big success. The Full Membership was 248.
Major Sanctuary Repair and Emergence of New and Young Leadership
In 2011, the electrical and flooring of the sanctuary were in dire need of repair. Funds were raised and at the end of 2014, RM 100,000 were collected. In 2015 the LCEC decided in faith to go ahead with the project and the estimated cost for the renovation works was RM 244,388. While the renovation work was in progress, the Sunday worship was held in the Wisma Shalom from 12 July 2015. The first Sunday Service in the renovated sanctuary was held on 20 December 2015. A Thanksgiving/Dedication Service for the renovation was held on 9 July 2016. During Rev. Joseph Yesupatham’s tenure, there was a new surge of youths coming forward to take the reins in church leadership. During this period, Mr. Sham Kumar from Penang was the Northern District Lay Leader. From January 2016, Rev. Jeremiah Thomas became the pastor. His emphasis has been on reconciliation and church unity.
Celebrating 125 Years of God’s Faithfulness
In 2019, Rev. Jeremiah Thomas became the pastor with Mr. Elemperu Valuthi Kuppu as the Lay Leader and Mr Gunalan Samuel as the LCEC Chairperson. The Full Membership is 258. All the Agencies are doing well and their membership is as follows: MYF (25), MYAF (32), MSF (30) and MW (45). A Bible Study is conducted on Fridays at 8pm. and about 30 attend. There are 8 Cell Groups meeting fortnightly on Tuesdays. As for the Church School: In the Main Church there are 50 children and 15 teachers; in Bayan Baru, there are 15 children and 3 teachers and in Padang Tembak, there are 15 children and teachers from the Mother Church take turns to help Ms. Seetha Devi to teach.
Their Outreach ministries in 2019 are as follows: The Bayan Baru Outreach is coordinated by Mr Raymond Silvanathan. It has 10 families regularly attending the Sunday worship services. Most of the children attending the tuition classes are from non-believing families. Ms Seetha Devi coordinates the Padang Tembak Centre. They are in contact with 7 families. They conducted healing service, prayer walk, Christmas Celebration and community carnival. They provided provisions and school uniforms to the families in need.
Conclusion: TMC Penang is 125 years old and for a long time they have had a vision to establish another local church in the island. This is yet to materialize. However, TMC Penang was involved in establishing TMC Perai as a local church in 1981 in the mainland. The Full Membership of TMC Penang began with 37 in 1895 and in 2019 it is 258. Though the cost of building Wisma Shalom in 1999 took a big toll on the church financially, they have settled all loans and the added facilities are a great blessing for the church’s ministry. The Church, in view of their expanding ministries, has requested for a church worker from the Annual Conference.
TMC Penang was formed as a local church in 1894 and is the oldest Tamil Methodist Church in Malaysia. They celebrated their 125th Church Anniversary with a Thanksgiving Service and Dinner on 5 October 2019. Present at the Celebration Service was Bishop Dr Ong Hwai Teik, the Bishop of the Methodist Church in Malaysia. Also present was Rev. Dr Dennis Raj, the President of the Tamil Annual Conference of the Methodist Church in Malaysia.
Many pastors and lay people have sacrificially contributed towards the growth of this local church. But all this was made possible by the Lord Jesus who said: “I will build my Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16: 18). All glory and honour belongs to Him alone.
1. Methodist Journals – MAC, TPAC, TAC
2. Short History of TMC Penang by Rev. V.A. Subramaniam
3. TMC Penang Souvenir Centennial Celebrations 1994
4. Church Souvenir Program Dedication of Wisma Shalom, 2000
5. Church Souvenir Program, Church Renovation Dedication Service 2016
6. First Local Conference Report 2019