Monday, May 19, 2003

Kawaiaha‘o Church
rejects Patterson
as head pastor

His appearance and arrest
record may have alienated
some in the congregation

Kawaiaha'o Church members have rejected the nomination of Hawaiian sovereignty activist Kaleo Patterson as senior pastor.

Patterson had been nominated in October by the church's Pastoral Search Committee to replace the Rev. James Fung, who left in November 2001.

"The vote wasn't in favor of Kaleo," said Frank Pestana, moderator of the 600-member congregation. Pestana said he believes it was the first time in the church's history that a nomination was rejected.

After morning services yesterday at which Patterson delivered the sermon, dozens of congregation members gathered in a room adjacent to the landmark church to vote on the nomination.

One woman told the group, "I don't believe he's ready."

Another woman said, "I don't believe he's the right person for Kawaiaha'o."

At that point, members of the media, who had initially been asked to wait outside the room, were escorted off church property. It was learned later that Patterson came up four votes shy of the two-thirds vote needed to approve his nomination.

A total of 118 members voted; 75 voted yes, 41 voted no and two submitted blank ballots.

"I'm kind of relieved," Patterson said yesterday afternoon.

"I was really not sure how I would be able to help the church. I was just going to give it my best shot."

Patterson speculated that he was rejected for varying reasons: an allegation of impropriety lodged after he was nominated, his bearded and long-haired appearance, his arrest record and his role as a Hawaiian sovereignty activist.

Patterson did not provide details of the allegation, except to say that it did not involve a church member and was not of a criminal nature. "It was all hearsay. It's all speculation," he said.

"A lot of political things were behind that. It's very unfortunate," he said.

Kawaiaha'o Church and the Ministries of the Association of Hawaiian Evangelical Churches met to resolve the matter.

Pestana said there were no findings to support the allegation. The Rev. Kekapa Lee, head of the Association of Hawaiian Evangelical Churches, could not be reached for comment.

Patterson was arrested twice -- once in 1993 during a protest over the "Star Wars" missile defense system at the Navy's Pacific Missile Range Facility at Barking Sands, Kauai, and again during the eviction of squatters at Makua Beach on Oahu's Waianae coast in 1996.

Pestana said: "He's not a clean-cut-looking guy. Some people don't share (his view) in the movement (sovereignty)."

None of the church members who voted yesterday were available for comment.

Pastoral Search Committee members were looking for a pastor who was knowledgeable of Hawaiian issues. They also preferred someone of Hawaiian ancestry who was fluent in the language.

"He was by far the strongest," said Pestana. "He had the most experience."

Patterson is the executive director of the Hawaii Ecumenical Coalition. He earned his Master of Divinity degree at Bangor Theological Seminary in Maine and a doctorate in ministry from the Chicago Theological Seminary.

Though Patterson was not selected as the senior kahu, he said he thought "it was important to at least be considered."

"We don't have very many Hawaiian ministers in the denomination."

Pestana said the church will return to the drawing board and select a new pastoral search committee. He said the congregation hopes the Rev. Kimo Merseberg continues as interim minister.

Patterson said he is looking forward to returning to his duties he had put on hold since being nominated. He has been an associate pastor for Kaumakapili Church in Kalihi since 1995. His contract at the church ends next month. Patterson is also a pastor at Ka Hana O Ke Akua Church in Waianae.

"I'm from the country," Patterson said. "Kawaiaha'o is a city church."


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