Saturday, June 19, 1999

Two churches
seek portion of
redress grant

The historic churches have a
last chance to appeal for financial aid

By Mary Adamski


The governing body of the United Church of Christ in Hawaii will hear a plea today for financial aid from the pastor of a Big Island church that was wiped out by a 1960 lava flow and restored 10 years later.

"We were dormant but not dead," said the Rev. Harold Heard of Pu'ula Church, which is now in Nanawale subdivision in Pahoa.

Heard and the Rev. Vernon Tom, pastor of Po'okela Church in Makawao, Maui, are asking for a share of the $1.5 million given to Hawaiian churches at the annual meeting of the church, which is the spiritual descendant of the New England missionaries who brought Christianity to Hawaii.

Some 48 churches have been given $28,000 each in the grant approved in 1996 as redress to Hawaiian churches for the role played by church members in the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy.

Previously rejected by the panel

The redress implementation committee did not believe the two churches qualify for the money. The pastors' last stand is to persuade the 250 delegates to the Aha Pae'aina annual meeting, which concludes today at Makiki Christian Church.

Heard said about 65 members worship in the same wooden structure that served the Kapoho congregation for more than 100 years. It was left standing when most of the village was covered with lava and the congregation was scattered.

The Pu'ula Church building was moved in pieces to a Nanawale lot and rededicated on Easter Sunday 1970. Unlike its original, mostly Hawaiian community, it has a multicultural congregation including Hawaiians.

Most of the church records dating back to 1840 burned in a 1980s fire in the social hall.

The Maui church also suffers from a lack of historical documentation, said Tom, pastor since 1984 of the multicultural congregation of about 270 people.

Jonathan Green, who came with one of the first companies of Congregational missionaries, established the Upcountry Maui church in 1843 and at one time had as many as 1,000 Hawaiian worshippers. The sanctuary he built still stands, Tom said.

Green, who opposed slavery in the United States, withdrew from the Hawaiian Evangelical Association because the Congregational board of missions failed to take a stand against it.

'We didn't die but are going ahead'

Tom stresses the importance of 1878 letters in the archives from Green's wife, written after his death, asking that the church be reinstated and thanking the association for its "favorable reply." But there is no documentation it was an association member until 1904.

Redress committee member Arthur Goto said key criteria in giving the redress grants were that a church was in the Hawaiian Evangelical Association at the time of the overthrow and has been in continuous existence to modern times.

Goto said the committee could not confirm that Po'okela Church complies with the first requirement. And it found that Pu'ula Church today is a new church, organized in 1970, and not a continuation of the original Kapoho church.

Tom said: "I'm not here to make an argument. I just want to tell our story."

Heard agreed that it is not a matter of contention. "We didn't die in 1960, we didn't die in 1980 and we are going ahead today."

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