Tay became a Christian at the age of 13. His heart to spread the Gospel caused him to join the London Missionary Society (LMS) theological class in Amoy. In 1897, because of ill health, he decided to move to Singapore with its warmer climate. There he joined Archibald Lamont, an English Presbyterian missionary with the Hokkien Church. Soon he was invited to become pastor of the Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church and, with Lamont, began to plan new churches, first in Paya Lebar in 1903, Spiritual Grace Church in 1905, then a church at Seletar in 1908. He had the distinction of being the first Chinese-ordained minister in the synod of the Singapore-Malaya Presbyterian Church.
Tay also pastored a new church opened in Tanjong Pagar in 1904 which was eventually to become the Jubilee Presbyterian Church of Outram Road. The Tanjong Pagar premises reflected the interests and influence of Tay: there was a book room for the sale of good Chinese literature as well as a reading room (to replace the earlier one started by Tay in Cross Street), a meeting place for discussion of Chinese affairs (known as Su Po Sia), as well as the headquarters of the Christian Endeavor movement. He was involved in many other projects for the Chinese community such as the Chinese Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), which he declared was to be “for all Chinese young men of good character, whether professing the Christian faith or not.”
Tay also helped raise thousands of dollars to provide medication for opium addicts. He was a prime mover in establishing the Opium Refuge, the Khai Eng So, in 1906. However, his ill health continued to plague him and, in 1912, he resigned from the post of minister of the church in Tanjong Pagar. Even then he continued to play an active part in church development, particularly in the founding of Zion Presbyterian Church and Choon Guan School in 1923. He died in 1944.
The substantial testimonial to Tay in the 90th and 70th Anniversary Commemorative Volume of the Presbyterian Church in Singapore and Malaya records that he played a significant part in the establishment of the Presbyterian Church in Singapore and Malaya. The churches he founded were self-supporting, both in terms of finance and human resources. His contribution to society was considerable both in the field of education (schools and kindergartens) and in welfare agencies such as the Anti-Opium Council and the Chinese YMCA.
This article is reproduced, with permission, from A Dictionary of Asian Christianity, copyright © 2001 by Scott W. Sunquist, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.
- Bethune Cook, J. A., Sunny Singapore (1907). Sng, Bobby E. K., In His Good Time (1980, 1993). 90th and 70th Anniversary Commemorative Volume of the Presbyterian Church in Singapore and Malaya (1970).