Kuala Lumpur

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IMG 0373This reflection is written by Mary Haines about the history of the Church in Kuala Lumpur, following her recent visit.

One hundred years the Presbyterian Church of England (one of the predecessor denominations of the United Reformed Church) sent a young Minister, Andrew Drummond Harcus to become the first minister of St Andrew’s church, Kuala Lumpur, which his determination and effort had helped to become a reality. 

Mr Harcus had gone to Kuala Lumpur to a parish the size of Wales, and realised that the Scottish ex-patriots, who were working out there in the countryside, would benefit from having a Presbyterian church where they could meet together and worship God. However, the money available to build St Andrew’s did not stretch to also buying a plot of land, so he approached the government and asked if he could rent the land from them and build a church that would be paid for by the community.  In so doing this, little did he realise that he would protect the church from being demolished when all the big building contractors starting buying land in downtown Kuala Lumpur. St Andrew’s was ring fenced and now it sits amid densely packed sky scrapers, a two storey building towered over by modern architecture.

During the Second World War the church was commissioned by the Japanese, who destroyed all the letters and documents pertaining to the church along with removing all the plaques off the walls. So there is very little paperwork to refer to, but the present church community have spent a lot of time and effort recovering documents and letters from individuals with access to historical information and put together a fascinating portrait of the past one hundred years.

20180415 009 centenary inauguralMy grandfather served at St Andrew’s for five years after it was built, and married during that time. However, he contracted very bad malaria and was advised to return to the UK the year my mother was born.  How different our family history would have been if he had been able to fulfil his dream of working in Kuala Lumpur for his entire career. Nowadays ministers are only given a three year visa to work in Kuala Lumpur so the turnover is rapid. Many of the ministers come from Australia and New Zealand. The constitution at present does not allow for a Malaysian minister. In addition, the worshippers at St Andrew’s have changed greatly over the years from Scottish Presbyterian ex-pats, to now a wholly international congregation. Many of the congregation are only in Kuala Lumpur for a short time, so the congregation is quite transient compared to many British churches. For this reason I think they were very touched to have four members of my grandfather’s family making the effort to attend the centenary celebrations, and we were very warmly received. We presented a picture of my grandfather painted when he was Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of England.

My grandfather went on to serve as General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church of England, and attended the Coronation of the present Queen at Westminster Abbey. He was much involved in ecumenical work, later serving as General Secretary of the Free Church Federal Council.  He died in 1963 before the URC was formed, but we are glad he played a part in the early foundations.

During the weekend we were in Kuala Lumpur, I also attended HTBB, a branch of Holy Trinity Brompton, London. The pastor talked about his calling to go to Kuala Lumpur to plant the church and offer Alpha courses. Afterwards I met with him to share the coincidence that I was in Kuala Lumpur that very weekend to celebrate the church planting that my grandfather had done a century before. St Andrew’s has also been offering Alpha courses for quite some time!

Mary Haines is a member of St Andrew’s parish church in Farnham, Surrey, and her mother Jean is a member of Farnham URC.

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