Saturday, November 29, 2003


Moanalua Community Church will have a plaque dedicated on Dec. 7 announcing that the building was put on the Hawaii Register of Historic Places.

Saving History

Moanalua Community Church
seeks to preserve its historic building
in the face of development

While the anniversary of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor is being officially marked at the Arizona Memorial, another ceremony next weekend will be a mile away at a place where military families have sought spiritual and social support for 62 years.

Moanalua Community Church will be the setting of a 10 a.m. Dec. 7 service. The four congregations that worship there have invited other congregations to join them for reasons that are as much about self-preservation as about worship.

They will dedicate a plaque that announces that the 1958 A-frame building was put on the Hawaii Register of Historic Places in August and will honor the architect Clifford F. Young.

They will pray that the structure at 20 Bougainville Drive will not be dismantled in the Navy's planned development of the area.

Selection by the Hawaii Historic Review Board might hold off the bulldozers, but change is inevitable in the area the Navy has slated as the site of a 37,000-square-foot building to house various human resources and family service agencies. The church and its preschool stand amid a mishmash of 34 fast-food restaurants, auto services and small shops known as Moanalua Shopping Center.

"We know it's a landmark but not many other people do," said Goldrino Balatico, moderator -- an elected lay leader -- of the Moanalua Community Church, which is in the United Church of Christ denomination.

Only when they get inside do visitors experience the feature that, beyond the architecture, ensured its landmark status. A triangular stained-glass window, 44 feet wide at its base and 30 feet high in the center, makes up the front of the building. Made in 140 sections, the creation of John Wallis, of California, is billed as "the largest connected stained-glass window in Hawaii."

Joy Lacanienta, church historian, said personal records of the late artist reveal that he wove many ideas of the 1950s church community into his design. People from various cultures surround a large figure of Christ over the quotation "For You Are All One in Christ Jesus." Military insignia, a map of Pearl Harbor and aircraft and ship figures reflect historical battles from the Revolutionary War to World War II. Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and Confucian symbols are included, a vision of diversity ahead of its time.

The window displays "the holistic effect of our country, the overlying theme of oneness in faith and justice, the changing face of people in the United States," Lacanienta said.

About 300 people worship in the light of that glowing window each Sunday. New Life Pentecostal Church's 3 p.m. service draws many young adults from military services. Cup of Freedom's mostly Samoan congregation meets at 9 a.m. before the host congregation, which includes many Filipino senior citizens and families. The Presbyterian Young Pak Korean Christian Mission meets at noon.

Most of the 80 children attending the preschool are from military families, said lay minister Gloria Ganibi.

Ganibi said the Moanalua congregation was served by an interim pastor until July, and it has not sought to replace him while the status of the church is unsettled.

"It wouldn't be fair to expect someone to make a commitment when we can't promise the job will last," Ganibi said. Visiting pastors preside at Sunday services.

THIS YEAR, the church's Moanalua Community Services received one of the first grants funded in Hawaii under the Faith Based and Community Initiative established by President Bush. The Compassion Capital grant will provide up to $80,000 over three years for "capacity building" of social projects for low-income people, such as the help given "women in transition" to get training and find jobs.

On Thanksgiving morning, just as the other 364 days of the year, volunteers in the "Bread Ministry" went to Safeway stores at 5 a.m. to collect unsold bread and pastries for delivery to the Institute for Human Services.

It all began just months after the Pearl Harbor attack, when the Navy set aside a Quonset hut inland from Pearl Harbor to serve as a Protestant chapel for people from Navy housing. A Lutheran Navy chaplain was assigned as minister in 1941. In 1946 the congregation organized itself as Pearl Harbor Memorial Community Church.

After the war, the Board of the Hawaiian Evangelical Association was one of nine religious organizations to be given land leases to build churches in the area, and the congregation raised $80,000 for the current sanctuary. Their lease expired 22 years ago, but the $1-per-year rent continued.

Not only isn't that great deal feasible anymore, it isn't legal, said a Navy spokesman.

"We are required to let market prices set the level, whether with a church or Jack in the Box," said Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Davis. "This has been a touchy issue. ... We have to look at things that affect our mission first."

Earlier this month, the Navy held an informational meeting with prospective developers describing the deal it seeks for the 14.5 acres mauka of Nimitz Highway. Davis said the Navy wants a developer to build a center where the Navy would consolidate its "quality of life facilities" now scattered around several locations that help its families handle shipping personal goods, seek housing and receive family and social outreach services.

In return, the developer will be allowed to rebuild "this tired old shopping center" and collect rent from commercial tenants for 40 years in a "noncash transaction" with the Navy, Davis said. "In competitive bidding, we'll pick what is the best taxpayer value.

"One of the caveats on the deal is that the A-frame be preserved, in place or they could move it. It could continue to be used as a church, or it could not. What type of sublease would be up to the developer," Davis said.

Members of the Moanalua Community Church congregation met with Navy representatives after being notified that their lease would end. And now the larger United Church of Christ organization is getting involved in the process.

Giving the project over to a developer "puts the Navy at arm's length," said Jack Keppeler, of the UCC property management committee. "They can say, 'It's not our fault, it is just commerce.' They view churches as nonprofitable service providers, offering counseling and other services in competition to Navy-provided services.

"The irony is that a half-century ago, the admirals turned to churches and other social agencies and enticed their services through zero rent," Keppeler said. "The Navy's experts now think we are soft-hearted and soft-headed.

"We are counting on innovative developers used to doing mixed-use developments," Keppeler said. He said such an investor will recognize that although the Navy center will attract customers for restaurants and other businesses, "our use pattern is off-peak hours and still generates the commerce. These are people who come regularly and not occasionally."

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