Church chronicles 170 years of history

Family members (from left, first row) Magdalene, 52, Girlie, 76; (second row) Pearl, 48, Aaron, 49, Phui-Nah, 45, Paul, 47; (third row) Thaddaeus, 19, Kara-Anne, 21, Evan, 13, and Elliot, 15.

SINGAPORE - For five generations, Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church (PSPC) has been more than a church to Madam Girlie Tan's family.

Her grandfather Tan Boon Chin, a church elder, was baptised there in 1879. Its Widows and Orphans Home was also where Madam Tan spent her youth with her mother and brother after losing her father in the Japanese Occupation.

"It has been like a home to me and provided shelter for us in those early years," said the 76-year-old, whose story is one of several featured in the church's commemorative book for its 170th anniversary celebration this Sunday.

The book chronicles PSPC's history, including its growth as the first church here for the Straits Chinese. It also details the memories of 30 members from a cross section of its 700-strong congregation, including that of Dr Ho Yew Kee.

Coming from a poor family with five boys, Dr Ho used to get into gang fights when he was young. Then he joined the church's Boys' Brigade company, the first in Singapore when it was founded in 1930.

That helped turn his life around and the 49-year-old is now head of the department of accounting at the National University of Singapore's Business School and president of Boys' Brigade Singapore.

"Instead of just hard, historical facts of our earlier publications, we decided to include the memories and experiences of our young and senior members to see what the church means to them and to detail God's faithfulness," said senior pastor Darryl Chan, 37.

He explained that such publications, which the church has striven to put out every decade since its 150th anniversary, help foster a sense of identity and community among members. Most of the 1,300 copies printed will be distributed to members during its anniversary service at the Marina Mandarin hotel.

PSPC, which is at 77 Prinsep Street, was started in 1843 by Reverend Benjamin Keasberry, the son of a British colonel in the Indian army. The church was gazetted for conservation by the National Heritage Board (NHB) in 2000.

Keen to share its heritage, the church has also been part of the NHB's guided heritage tours since early last year.

Church manager Edmund Chan, 57, said that the sanctuary's red brick facade has become a significant landmark and given the street an identity of its own. "The church stands as a link to our past."

Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.