The COHS History

The existence of the Church of Our Holy Saviour began in 1838 when James Brooke (1803 – 1868) headed a private expedition to Borneo to help suppress a revolt. Brooke became the first Governor of Labuan on 18th December 1846 when a treaty was signed with the Sultan of Brunei.

Letters of Patent were issued on 6th June 1855, erecting the “island of Labuan and its Dependencies into a Bishop’s See or Diocese to be styled the Bishopric of Labuan.” Rev. McDougall led the first group of missionaries from England to Borneo and was nominated as the first Bishop of Labuan. On 18th December 1866, He consecrated under the name of “St. Saviour’s Church”, a church erected at Labuan the previous two years under Rev. Moreton.

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In 1889, Rev W.H. Elton was the Rector-in-charged for the Labuan church. Being based in Sandakan, Rev. Elton visited Labuan every quarter up to 1899, when the Bishop made arrangements for the Rev. Fred Perry (Missionary for Keningau) to visit Labuan six times a year. Lay services were held by Mr H St. John Hughes on the other Sundays. The Labuan Mission had two centres, one at Victoria Harbour, where European Christians predominate, and the other at Coal Point (the other side of the Island), where the Chinese Christians have built themselves a little church and are ministered by Chinese catechists.

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In Rev. Elton’s 1891 annual report to SPG, he wrote: “The chief work of this third year of the North Borneo Mission has been building a third Mission station at Labuan. Just two years ago, the handsome little church (St. Saviour’s Church), built during Bishop McDougall’s Episcopate, was burnt to the ground in a jungle fire, and it was impossible to raise enough funds to rebuild the church; I am building a good substantial school-church, closer to town, on a site given to the SPG for a school some three years ago. The building was all but completed four months ago when a hurricane of unusual violence visited Labuan and completely wrecked the building. However, I went down to Labuan and signed a new contract for the rebuilding of the school church, and I have already raised more than half the sum required in North Borneo. I hope to open the school church before the end of the year. As yet, we have no English missionary for Labuan, so for the present, I intend to place a Chinese schoolmaster there and to visit him about once every three months, and then spend a Sunday there and hold service for the Europeans, of whom there now numbers twenty to thirty”.

Pending the rebuilding of the church at the former place, services were held in the school-church, which was completed in December 1892, and was opened the following February. A Chinese schoolmaster with excellent testimonials came from Hong Kong but left shortly after his first attack of fever. The school then was only used for services when the Bishop of Rev. Elton could visit Labuan or when a layman could be found who would take the services. In 1921, the Labuan church was in the care of an honorary reader called Chin Wai Sik. Rev. C Collis and Rev. Chin Pui Yin were taking turns visiting Labuan every month until Rev. Chin was made priest-in-charge sometime before 1933.

In light of the growing population of Labuan who lived in the town, the church site was considered too far for most. A decision was made to move the church nearer to town. In 1936, funds were sufficiently raised for a new church, and a third church, named “The Church of Our Holy Saviour,” was built.

In 1950, Mrs. D.M. Boyd donated the 3.17 acres of land in which our present church building stands. On 27th September 1949, Mr. Chin Tsun Leong was licensed as the first Honorary Lay Reader in Labuan. Since then, Labuan began to produce fruits for full-time workers. The Church received its first full-time Sabahan pastor in 1977 when Rev. Herbert Tong took over from Rev. Peter Stretton. Under the leadership of Rev. Herbert Tong and his wife, the church moved into evangelism, discipleship, stewardship, and the Children’s Outreach Sunday school. During his ministry, sister Chua Ping Ching responded to full-time calling in 1980.

n 1982, as Rev. William Vun succeeded Rev. Tong, the church reaped the fruits of evangelism when the first 100-barrier (attendance) was broken. The need for a bigger church was felt, which resulted in the building of the present Church building. It was during his time of ministry that we see Rev. John Yeo today standing as the first “son of the soil” who responded to the Lord’s full-time call then.

The charismatic renewal took place under the leadership of Rev. John Loh, Rev. Moses Chin, and Rev. Robert Vun. The body of Christ began to be aware of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. In 1996, Rev. John Yeo took office as Priest-in-Charge. The Church adopted the Cell-Church Structure on 18th March 1998. Mobilization of evangelism and discipleship is done through cell (small) groups. On 23rd September 2000, Rev. John Yeo was installed Rector of the parish of Our Holy Saviour, in conjunction of the church’s Jubilee celebration.