A Brief History of the Diocese of West Malaysia

Anglicanism came to the Malay peninsula following the establishment of the British East India Company’s administered settlement on Penang island in 1786. The local magistrate, a George Caunter, was appointed a Lay Clerk/Acting Chaplain to provide spiritual ministry to the settlers. Under his ministry the first entry into the Church Register was made in 1799.

The See of Calcutta provided episcopal supervision for the chaplaincy work on Penang island and the first Anglican Church building, the Church of St. George the Martyr, was built and consecrated by the Metropolitan, Thomas Fenshaw Middleton, in 1819.

The See of Calcutta extended from India to New Zealand and was thus practically unmanageable. As a result, in 1855, a Diocese of Singapore, Labuan and Sarawak was created by Letters of Patent for the better administration of these outlying areas. The new diocese became a missionary diocese of the Archdiocese of Canterbury.

In 1867 the whole of Penang island came under direct British rule, precipitated by the foreclosure of the East India Company. Consequently, the chaplaincy of the Madras Presidency in Penang ceased. Meanwhile, a major shift in mission outlook took place with the Society for the Propagation of Gospel in Foreign Parts taking an active role in procuring ‘chaplains’ for the Crown in its colonies. This led to a time of great missionary activity in the new Diocese and a period of Chinese and Indian immigration.

For better administration in-line with the political changes taking place in the region, the Diocese of Singapore, Labuan and Sarawak was further reorganised into the Diocese of Singapore in 1909 with the See located in Singapore. After 120 years, the Anglican church in South-East Asia was finally positioned to take responsibility for its own mission and growth.

Church life and ministry was drastically affected by World War II and the Japanese Occupation of the peninsula between 1941 and 1945. In the midst of great hardship and war-time atrocities, Christian witness continued to thrive. Bishop Wilson, the incumbent, proved a great example of godly leadership in times of great distress. Without the benefit of its expatriate clergy who had been interred, the work of the church fell on Asian shoulders. These Asian workers operated with surprisingly responsible independence.

The War and the loss of its expatriate leadership precipitated a sense of self-determination among the local Christian community, and an urgent need for training Asian leaders for this developing part of the Anglican Church. This need led quickly to the establishment of Trinity Theological College, Singapore.

Malaya gained her independence from British rule in 1957. Following this, in 1960, the Diocese was renamed the Diocese of Singapore and Malaya to give due recognition to the political importance of Malaya. In 1963, Malaya became the Federation of Malaysia with the inclusion of Sabah and Sarawak under one central government.

Ten years after the creation of the Diocese of Singapore and Malaya, in 1971, a new and independant Diocese, the Diocese of West Malaysia, was incorporated by an Act of the Malaysian Parliament.

In 1996, the Province of Church in South East Asia consisting of the dioceses of Sabah, Sarawak, Singapore and West Malaysia was created by the Archbishop of Canterbury, thus making the Anglican Church in the region self-governing, self-supporting, self-propagating and and truly indigenous.