The Early Years
The ministry in Sitiawan started as early as May 1907. Pastor Gnanamuthu made numerous visits and held open-air meetings in different places such as Lumut and Pangkor. In 1910, a five acre land (near the present Sitiawan aerodrome) was acquired to build a Tamil Methodist Church. The church was built in 1918 at a cost of $2,300 and was dedicated in early 1919. This set the church on a journey to experience God’s amazing faithfulness.
Pre-World War II Period
The Tamil Methodist Church building was shared by the Chinese congregation from the 1920s and the Wesley congregation from the 1930s. In 1921, under the leadership of Pastor Edward Isaac, the membership grew from 44 to 70. But the growth slowed from 1922 to 1924 because many estate workers returned to India when rubber prices slumped. Pastor Paul Ponniah worked faithfully and there was some progress. In 1925, Pastor Devadason was sent to take charge of the Tamil Circuit in this region. The Tamil church was shared by the Hokkien speaking Christians who moved from Kg. Koh Pioneer Church. In 1929, a Chinese parsonage was built next to the Tamil church. At the same time, the existing Tamil parsonage, which was in bad condition was rebuilt. In 1938, the Tamil Methodist church was also shared by the English speaking Christians. They held monthly English services under Rev. Eugene McGraw. In December 1941, the British demolished the Tamil Methodist church and the two parsonages to make way for an aerodrome for a military defence program.
Post World War II and Formation of Local Conference
In 1948, missionary worker Miss M. Dirksen negotiated with the government to allocate two acres of land (the present Tamil Methodist Church, Sitiawan land) to build a new church. This land was in replacement of the five acres occupied by the Tamil Methodist Church near the aerodrome prior to the Second World War. Compensation from war damage was given to the Tamil Methodist Church and channelled towards building the new church. Additional funds were raised by the Wesley, Chinese, Tamil and Anglican members. Finally, a new church was built for all three congregations; Tamil, Chinese and Wesley amounting to $30,000. The church was dedicated by Bishop Raymond L. Archer on 27 December 1953. The Tamil Methodist Church Sitiawan was also formed as a Local Conference in 1953 (Local Church Building Dedication Souvenir Programme 4th December 2011 p.33).
In January 1955, the DS reported:, “Mr. Jebamoney has been at work during the past year seeking to revive Tamil work in the Sitiawan area which was discontinued several years ago because of lack of support.” This was again reported in the January 1956 Journal p. 51 “Sitiawan Tamil Work which was discontinued several years ago has been organised this year and the work is carried on satisfactorily.”
The Tamil, Chinese and Wesley parsonages were built in 1955 at a cost of $27,500. The $14,455.76 from the war damage claim to compensate the loss of the Tamil and Chinese parsonages, together with the additional funds raised by the Wesley, Chinese and Tamil members, helped build these three parsonages. They were identical in size and construction.
Fragmentation of the Estates Causes Drastic Drop in Church Membership
From 1956 – 1958, Rev. D.A. Chelliah was the pastor. In 1957, the church membership decreased drastically due to the fragmentation of the estates. Many members left the plantations and moved elsewhere. However there was a growing number of Christians in Pundut. In December 1957 under the leadership of the pastor, there was gradual improvement. He visited the neighbouring estates once a month using an auto-cycle bought with the help of the school and church members. In December 1958 the Full Membership was 21.
In December 1959, the District Superintendent reported: “The greatest increase among Tamil churches has been at Sitiawan, where several Hindus have been baptised and the membership raised to 27...” Also an Education Centre was built near the Tamil Church by the Chinese members. The Centre provided extra space for all the three congregations to conduct various programs. In December 1960 Pastor C.A. Watson with the assistance of a Trinity College student, Mr. Joseph M. Devasagayam, organised new Sunday schools. In December 1961, the Full Membership was 117 as compared to 100 the previous year. Mr. K. Isaac, after his training in the Pakianathan Seminary, was a great assistance to the pastor. Mr. Eddy Joseph returned to the District and worked for two months in Sitiawan at mid-year. In December 1962 Rev. C.A. Watson left on a Crusade Scholarship and Rev. Jebamoney was appointed to Sitiawan in August, but Rev. Jebamoney passed away ten days later. Mr. I. Robert Chelladurai manned the pulpit. Though appointed at the end of 1962, Rev. A.G.J. Rasanayakam could not take appointment until 28 February 1963. A church building was built in Pundut, on Madam Ellammah’s land with the consent of her family members. It was dedicated by Bishop Lundy in 1963.
Celebrating Twenty Years of being a Local Conference
From 1965 – 1977, Rev. S. Sundararaj was the pastor. In 1970 the Full Membership was 122 and eventually in 1974 the number dropped to 96, when an update was done. Services were held on Sundays at Sitiawan and Pundut. Services were held every fortnight at Harcroft and Cashwood Estates. During this period Church Schools were held in 5 places with a total number of children ranging from 240 – 270. In 1971 Rev. Sundararaj left for India following the sudden death of his father. The ministry was carried on by the Official Board and Mrs. Ruth Sundararaj. In 1972. There were 35 members in the MYF and they were a great help to the pastor. In 1973 the church renovated and painted the parsonage. Based on the fact that the church was made a Local Conference in 1953, the church celebrated its 20th anniversary on 27 October. In 1975 Rev. John Kovilpillai spent a week in Sitiawan for Evangelistic meetings.
Post TAC Years
From 1978 to 1981 Pastor Seenisamy was the pastor. In 1978 the Full Membership was 69. It increased to 88 in 1980 and 96 in 1981. The five Church Schools continued but with fewer numbers: 134 children and 5 teachers. The church had a small choir. In 1979, most of the members lived away from the town and the pastor had to visit the estates to conduct services in the homes and schools. In 1979 the church had four Church Schools. These schools were run by the pastor and his family members.
Becoming a Self-Supporting Church
From 1982 to 1987, Rev. P. Tevaraji was the pastor. A revival was seen during this period. Work was done in Cashwood, Harcroft, Walbrook, Kg. Pundut, Pundut Estate, and Sitiawan Estate. In 1982, a Bible Study was started on Tuesdays in Pundut. The Full Membership was 135, compared to 98 the previous year. This increase saw 19 confirmed, 11 converts, 9 restored and one received on transfer. Full Membership hit a historical mark of 154 in 1983 and eventually in 1987 it rose to 214. The Church School was conducted in six places and had 92 pupils with 11 teachers. Monthly newsletters were released to keep people informed of the church activities. From July 1985 the Church became self- supporting. A new Church School was started in Kampong Sitiawan. Special speakers included Mr. James Santhosham, Mr. Mohan Lazarus, Dr Pushparaj and the Arumainayagam couple. Outreach ministry was carried out in at least five places: Taman Manickavasagam, Walbrook Estate, Ayer Tawar, Wellington Estate and Kampong Columbia. The church, after long deliberation decided to sell the land in Kg. Sitiawan for $25,000 and channelled the money to the Air Tawar Building Fund.
Becoming Sole Occupants of Church Premise
As the membership of the Chinese and Wesley church grew, a larger worship place was needed. From 1985, to overcome the space constraint, the Wesley members began holding their Sunday Service at the Methodist English School Hall, and eventually moved into their own church in Kg. Selamat, Sitiawan in 2002. However they continued to utilise the Education Centre and the Chinese parsonage at the Tamil Methodist Church until 20 June 2007. The Tamil Methodist Church compensated them with RM 50,000 to vacate the premises and in return they donated RM10,000 to the new church building.
Multipurpose Hall with Added Facilities
From 1989 to 1994, Rev. T. Devadason Peter was the pastor. In 1988 the Full Membership was 215 and it increased to 264 in 1994. In May 1991 a two day VBS was conducted. The Pro Tem Committee in Pundut functioned well. However, the giving of the church was not sufficient for it to be proposed as a Local Conference. The church built a multipurpose hall at a cost of RM 75,000.
It had a fellowship hall, pastor’s office, administration office, library and three classrooms. The Church also carried out tuition classes for needy students and provided boarding for participants of church programmes. In 1993 the church bought a piece of land in Ayer Tawar to build a hall which seats 250 people. Dedication was on 24 October 1993.
The church received a new van as a gift from the FGBMF. A kindergarten was also functioning. The church received a grant of RM 26,000 from the Government for the Ayer Tawar building. In 1995, Rev. Jeyabal David served as the pastor for a short period. The church continued to progress. The Full Membership was 259. A new Building Committee met on 2 February 1995 to look into the possibilities of building a bigger church.
From 1996 to 2002 Rev. Sandireaseheran was the pastor. In 1996 the Full Membership was 246. There was growth in the outreach programmes. Sketch drawings of the renovation project were presented to the local church on 30 March 1997 for approval. It was also on this day that the church officially launched the Fund Raising Project among its members. With the church members’ approval, the church then proceeded to engage an architect to draw the final plans for submission to the Majlis Daerah Manjung. After four years, the church finally received the Certificate of Fitness for the multi-purpose Hall. The Pantai Remis Outreach ministry began when a few people gathered at the home of Mr. and Mrs. K. Daniel in 2000. The idea of building a new and bigger sanctuary continued during Rev. Sandireaseheran’s leadership. In fact, members began donating and raising funds towards the proposed new building as early as 1997.
Options to Expand Seating Capacity in the Church
From 2003 to 2009, Rev. James Ravindaren was the pastor. In January 2003 the Full Membership was 239. Tremendous growth was seen in the Sitiawan church and also in the Pundut, Ayer Tawar, and Pantai Remis outreaches. At the Building Committee Meeting on 24 February 2003, there were three different proposed plans in building the new church. Plan A – the existing church would be demolished to make way for a larger church building. Plan B – an extension building would be added to the existing church building to maintain and to preserve its heritage. Plan C – to build a separate building while maintaining the existing church building. It was later decided that the plan to build an extension to the existing building would be a better approach. The Ayer Tawar Chapel was dedicated by the TAC President, Rev. P Tevaraji on 5 March 2005. The church Full Membership reached an all-time high of 274 in 2006 and then rose to 316 in 2009. Pundut church was renovated in 2007 by the believers in Pundut to provide more space and comfort. Four worship services were conducted in Sitiawan, Pundut, Ayer Tawar and Pantai Remis. There were two Cell Groups. In 2009 the building plans were approved. The President officiated the ground breaking ceremony.
Church Extension Project Completed
From 2010 to 2012, Rev. Seenivasagam David was the pastor. In 2010 the Full Membership in June was 278 and in 2012 it rose to 307. A youth service was started. The Property Chairman reported “The church has embarked on a Church Extension Project for RM 775,000. The building is estimated to be completed in six months and the cost may escalate to approximately 1.35 million when completed.” (Journal 2010 p. 230). The Building Project had a shortfall of RM 360,000.
The Church and Parsonage Building Projects were completed and dedicated on 4th December 2011. In 2012 the AEC loan was settled. From 2013 to 2014, Rev. David Abraham was the pastor. He was assisted by Rev. S. Krishnan. In 2013 the Full Membership stood at 311 and in 2014 it was 320, when nine adults were baptised. The church had three Outreaches – Ayer Tawar, Pantai Remis and Pundut. Revival meetings were conducted from 11 to 12 September with Pastor Peter Murgasu from India as the speaker. On 15 September, Rev. David Rasahpandy conducted an evangelistic meeting.
Sending Out Workers into the Harvest Field
From 2015 – 2018, Rev. John Simson was the pastor. In 2015 the pastor was assisted by Mr. Daniel Isaac, a fulltime Church Worker. In 2014 the Full Membership was 325, and in 2018 it was 293. A new Cell Group was started in the Ayer Tawar area. The church gave financial support to Pastor Ruben Rajandurai in the Bruas and Pantai Remis ministry. In 2016 Miss Susannah Ruben was recommended for fulltime missions and she is at Seminary Theoloji Sabah. Cell Groups met in 12 places with 10 leaders, with a total average attendance of 60 – 70 people. At the Outreaches, Pundut had 16 attending and in the other two, they had 15 members each. In 2017, Mr. Vickneswaran (Vicky) joined full time missions work. In 2018, there were area based Church Schools and these were conducted in homes. They met in five areas. The purpose was to reach out to the local children. There was a combined childrens’ gathering of all the areas on every 2nd Sunday. Mr. Jerry John was recommended for full time mission work with TAC. He completed 6 months Mission Field Assignment in East Malaysia and did a church assignment for three months in TMC Prai and then completed another three months in TMC Penang
In 2019, Rev. K. Segaran was appointed as the pastor. The church is in the process of updating their Membership Roll and it is currently at 288. They have three Outreaches: Kg. Pundut, Pantai Remis and Ayer Tawar. The church has started Saturday morning prayer at 6.00 am and about 5 members attend this. They have nine Cell Groups. Free tuition is provided for 20 children. Care Cell Leader’s Training and Care Cell Group Meetings are held every alternate Tuesday and about 20 people attend. As their first church was dedicated in 1919, Rev. Segaran took the initiative to observe the 100 Years Celebration. This was held in 3 stages: Open Day (6 July 2019); Worship and Praise Night (27 July 2019); and Special Worship Service (17 August 2019).
Conclusion: The Tamil Methodist Church Sitiawan has journeyed a hundred years since their first sanctuary dedication in 1919. To capture the significance of this event, the church celebrated God’s faithfulness with a Thanksgiving Service on 17 August 2019. The church also celebrated the fact that TMC Sitiawan is the home church for Rev. John Kovilpillai, Rev. Hendry Ponniah and Rev. Sandireaseheran. The church, no doubt, can look forward to reaching greater heights in the years to come.
1. Methodist Journals – MAC, TPAC. TAC
2. Local Church Building Dedication Souvenir Programme 4 December 2011