The First Christian Church

Daniel McGilvary and the First Church

Reverend Daniel McGilvary and his family arrived in Chiang Mai in 1867. The American missionary family traveled from Bangkok to Chiang Mai by boat, which took three months. Reverend Daniel McGilvary and his wife Sophia McGilvary founded the Laos Mission in April 1867. North Thailand was known as “Laos” at that time….They founded the first Christian Church in 1968. In the years 1889-1891 Dr. Marion Cheek, a missionary doctor, designed and built a new church, which was the first Western style architecture building in Chiang Mai.

From 1870 until roughly 1890 McGilvary was the unofficial leader of the Laos Mission. He took the leading hand in expanding its work including establishing several rural Christian communities which became important Christian centers. In 1878 he played a leading role in obtaining the so-called “Proclamation of Religious Toleration” from the Thai central government, which gave certain civil rights to northern Thai converts.

House and church on a river

The Tanaka photo studio and the First Christian Church in 1928. Photo by Morinosuke Tanaka

The Laos Mission

McGilvary made a number of exploratory tours, beginning in the 1870s. He went as far as the Shan States in Burma and Yunnan Province in Southern China in the 1890s. Those tours inspired the Laos Mission with the vision of a greater mission to the Tai peoples of China and French Indochina, a vision which dominated mission work until the 1920s. During WWII Japanese forces church used the church as a military camp and modified the church’s clock tower as an anti-aircraft gun turret.

The new church opens in 1968

In 1968 the new Chiang Mai First Presbyterian Church opened on Charoenrat road. It was a very modern buidling in those days. The designer reverend Taylor Potter won a prize from one of the Architectural Institutes in the USA. On  November 19, 1968 a farewell church ceremony and procession to the new one was held. The Prince Royal’s College Marching Band led the parade following with reverends, pastors, church staff and church members marching to the new chapel. McGilvary is also credited with introducing Western medicine into Northern Siam. He continued active evangelistic work, including visiting established Christian groups, up until his death on 22 August 1911, in Chiang Mai. Throughout his life, his colleagues and the general public held McGilvary in great esteem. Businesses and government offices in Chiang Mai officially closed in mourning on the day of his death.

That is the short story of the First Christian Church of Chiang Mai.

Old wooden church

First Church Chiang Mai in 2018

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