In the 1930s, colonial Singapore seemed an idyllic island city, impervious to the dark clouds that had threatened many throughout the then developed world. The ominous waves of the Great Depression, following World War I, had not touched the lives of ordinary Singaporeans. However, rumours of war saw an increase of the British and European community in the military bases scattered throughout the island. It was under these circumstances that then Archdeacon Graham White caught the vision to expand the ministry of St Andrew’s Cathedral to the rural outlying communities of Singapore. Assisting him on this mammoth task was George Rae Koehler’s, a server at the Cathedral.
St Paul’s Church started as a house church. A handful of worshipers met in an old mission’s house- home of the late Mr J Gibson, a stone’s throw from the present location of St Paul’s Church. (This house has since been rebuilt and was the Sin Ming High School and currently the premises of The Helping Hand.)
Under the leadership of Archdeacon White and Mr WPD Parsons (a member of the laity), the house church grew fast and soon the Diocese saw the need to purchase a plot of land to build a church for the community.
Thus was laid the foundation of Christian fellowship at St Paul’s.
Together with the land, purchased in 1935, and building costs donated by George Rae Oehlers, on 3 December 1935, the foundation stone was laid by Archdeacon Graham White and Bishop Basil C Roberts. This was witnessed by Sir Andrew Caldecott, the Colonial Secretary and Governor-elect of Hong Kong. Built in the design of a cross, the church building was completed in April 1936 and on 4 April 1936 it was dedicated to the glory of God. World War II soon engulfed the region. Although information is sketchy, there is anecdotal evidence that church services continued throughout the war period, although not necessarily in the church building. Rev Dong Bin Seng, one of the few local ministers at that time, shepherded the Church during this difficult period.
The end of the War in 1945 saw a new phase in the life of St Paul’s. Although handicapped by the absence of a full-time priest, it was revived, and the Church became an oasis of healing from the wounds of war. The Church also became a food distribution centre of the Social Welfare Department. In 1946/47, a Girls Life Brigade Company was established with Mrs Eng Neo Raman as the Captain. The rehabilitation of the Church was led by the clergy from St Andrew’s Cathedral, including Archdeacon White, Canon Sorby Adams, Rev Clayton and Rev Jeremy Sampson. By 1950, the congregation had grown and the finances of the Church was stable, and it was felt that St Paul’s could become independent from its parent church, the Cathedral, and have a full-time priest for the first time. By 1955 the vicarage and verger’s quarters were completed and later that year, Rev Marrison became the first full time priest appointed to St Paul’s Church and the first resident of the newly completed Vicarage. Rev Marrison did a great pioneering work to establish the presence of St Paul’s in the Upper Serangoon area, and this work was continued by his successors.
In 1957, Rev Marrison was succeeded by Rev Edward Charles, who worked tirelessly to make the Church a vigorous and active unit. After Rev Charles left for UK in 1958, he was succeeded by Rev Michael Corea. In 1959, the church was granted independent status as a Parish Church, due much to the work of then Archdeacon DD Chelliah. Rev Corea carried on the ministry, until he himself left for Malaya in 1960, when his place was taken by the Rev A Kurian. By then the congregation had grown, and the first extension to the church building was completed in 1960.
In 1961, Archdeacon DD Chelliah was appointed the Vicar of St Paul’s Church. He faithfully served the Church until his retirement in 1971, without taking the vicar’s salary. During his tenure, the church grew in its services to the community, especially through the work of the Kindergarten and other ministries like the Sunday school, Women’s Fellowship, and the Youth Fellowship. It stabilised our financial situation and laid the groundwork for St Paul’s Church to make the transition to the modern era.
In September 1971, Archdeacon Chelliah was succeeded by Rev Simon Acland. With a heart for the needy and underprivileged, a new session of the Kindergarten was opened, with the support of volunteer teachers, to cater for the needy students in the neighbourhood. It was also a period in which some of the existing ministries grew and St Paul’s reached out to the surrounding community (pre-HDB flats), touching the lives of many families.
It was also a period of great fellowship amongst congregation members, and established the strong platform from which a strong youth ministry would flourish under his successors.
In September 1974 Rev Villie Devapiragasm was appointed Vicar of St Paul’s Church and he served till 1979. His time at St Paul’s was perhaps marked by two great revivals, the youth fellowship ministry, which witnessed many youths coming to know the Lord; and the Charismatic revival. The Home Prayer Meetings, Home Fellowship Group (cell group) ministry and the Adult Fellowship were also established and took root during this period. As the congregation grew, plans were being made for a new Church building and a proper Church Parish Hall. The Parish Hall was built and dedicated in July 1982 and the new Church Extension (the present configuration) was eventually completed in 1994.