Star-Bulletin Features

Saturday, May 18, 2002

Kamehameha Schools junior Kiani Arkus introduced herself May 10 as a new member of the school's Deputation Team, which arranges religious activities.

Kamehameha builds
spiritual focus

Students and faculty at
Kamehameha Schools make
religion a daily routine
through prayer and activities

By Mary Adamski

Encircled by family and friends, smothered in lei, sequestered at an overnight party after graduation is pau, Kamehameha Schools seniors will celebrate their schooldays finale in the same high spirits to be found in any Class of 2002.

They will also find a spiritual theme in the festivities. Unlike public schools, where the prospect of a prayer arouses anxiety, religion is part of the daily routine at the school for Hawaiian youngsters.

Among the seniors will be several members of a student ministry team familiar and respected as class officers and athletes. They started each day with a prayer, broadcast on the campus closed-circuit television system, and invoked God at assemblies and athletic events.

Allysa Taylor, who has performed lead roles in school and community theater plays, is rehearsing this week to perfect her invocation for the May 26 commencement.

Laua'e Gouveia will speak at the baccalaureate earlier that day at Kawaiahao Church. He was chosen not just because he is student body president, but because of another title that he and Taylor hold.

The pair were chosen to serve as "keiki kahu" during the past year. In that role, they have composed and led prayers at numerous events, including the annual televised Kamehameha Song Contest.

Pono Enos and Kamuela Sing will read Scripture at the baccalaureate. Leading the traditional service will be the Rev. Kordell Kekoa, school chaplain who bears the "kahu" title as pastor of the school community, and associate chaplain Sherman Thompson.

"Prayer is a very healthy part of education," said Kekoa, who succeeded Kahu David Kaupu when he retired last summer. The religious aspect of education is being expanded at the school, he said, an accent on faith that reflects the view of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, whose will endowed the school. While she emphasized her own Protestant orientation, youngsters in the campus ministry come from a variety of Christian churches, including Catholic and Mormon.

Defensive back Preston Lingaton led the football team in prayer before every game. They didn't pray to win, he said; they prayed that they'd do their best and asked God to "help both sides of the ball."

Junior class President Desiree Koanui danced late at the Junior Prom, then got up early the next morning to participate in a service at Kaumakapili Church.

"You folks bring the student body to a spiritual focus," Thompson told the 13 members of the Deputation Team last week at their final pre-class breakfast meeting. "You share of yourselves and you share your faith. I challenge you, in our own churches, to do some public speaking."

The Deputation Team is the vehicle for student-led religious activities at the school and, in a tradition that dates to 1949, also takes the teenagers out to churches. The program, created by chaplain Stephen Desha, was intended to aid small Hawaiian churches, which often cannot support a pastor.

"It was the first outreach for Kamehameha," said Thompson, who has overseen the Deputation Team for 15 years. Members visited eight churches on five islands during this school year, reading Scripture, performing music and providing their personal testimony.

"I've seen students who are kind of on the shy side," Thompson said. "They become more confident, building on their faith. For the students, what comes out is the joy people in the churches have when they share their faith. For the older folks, they love to see the young people; they feel confident that their faith is going to continue."

Taylor said, "I usually talk about my family and growing up and what made me what I am today." Of all the churches where she prayed or testified, "If I had to pick one, it was Kalaupapa," she said. "The people were incredibly sweet and giving. It made us think of all they have been through, yet they put things in perspective and are living so generously."

Lingaton and Sing often took the pulpit with an ukulele in hand, offering a praise song or hymn as a form of prayer.

"As an athlete, I can reach out to other athletes," said Lingaton, who grew up attending Kapaa Mission Church on Kauai. He said he prayed when it came time to select a college, and decided to attend a Christian school, Whitworth College in Washington state.

"I like the opportunity to speak in church," said Sing, who has been on the ministry team for three years, played water polo and was president of the Concert Glee Club. "At school, I give my testimony to freshmen."

"We like well-rounded people," Thompson told the breakfast gathering. "It takes balance of your time and schedule."

The new members fit the profile. Kiani Arkus, an honor science student, told about her impending participation in the national science and engineering fair in Kentucky.

Last year's starting quarterback, Caleb Spencer, joined the ministry team, one of three football players now on board to do the locker room prayer.

Before the football team even gets on the stadium bus, there is always a brief service at the campus chapel. The adult chaplains speak, and the coach gives a pep talk and in between is "lots of quiet, three or four minutes to reflect," Kekoa said. "I don't think teens get enough reflective time."

Chapel events for the other athletic teams are scheduled before state tournaments or road trips.

The chaplains extended the tradition of the televised invocation beyond student participation this year, inviting teachers, coaches and other adults to share their words. President Mike Chun has taken his turn.

Kekoa sees the opportunity given students in ministry roles as "an alternative leadership training now that ROTC is gone."

"We teach the idea of servant leader," he said.

His duties include teaching the weekly "ekalesia" -- Christian education class -- which has been given in freshman year but will be extended to sophomores next year and eventually be added to the junior and senior curriculum.

The chaplains will give a training session during the summer for the Deputation Team. This is the first year that students filed applications, replacing a former system of referrals. The adult chaplains will chose the new "keiki kahu" and ask the rest of the team to affirm the choices.

"What we look for is integrity in the student, respect from other students, communication skills," Kekoa said.

A 1980 graduate, Kekoa returned to Kamehameha as a business teacher.

Kekoa said he hadn't heard of anyone objecting to the religious overtones at the school, where some students are not Christians. "We don't force it on anyone," he said. "They get comfortable with it. They realize it's not a bad thing."

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