Central Union votes Corbett in as new senior pastor
Members of Central Union Church voted Sunday for a new senior pastor, calling a Presbyterian minister who has led an Arizona congregation for the past 18 years.
The Rev. Lawrence W. "Larry" Corbett, 63, was elected in a 340-62 vote to fill the top ministerial position at the Makiki church, one of the oldest and largest Protestant churches in Hawaii. He will take office in September.
Church leaders said a reason for some of the "no" votes was that Corbett was not ordained in the United Church of Christ, the denomination of Central Union Church members. The church announced he will seek standing in the denomination and retire from the Presbyterian Church.
The vote came at a meeting after Corbett made his preaching debut at a combined worship service attended by about 700 people. He and his wife, Meredyth, and grandson Joe, 13, spent the previous week here meeting with church committees and other members in informal gatherings.
Central Union Church was founded as a seamen's chapel 174 years ago by Hawaii's original Christian missionaries from New England. Through the years, it became known as the church of many of the island's business, society and political leaders. It now has 2,500 members on its rolls, said administrator Jack Simpson. The staff includes four ordained associate ministers.
Corbett has been a minister in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida and Arizona for more than 25 years. In 1989, he founded Pinnacle Presbyterian Church in Scottsdale, which grew from less than 100 members to the current 1,380.
"His biggest strength is his leadership skills," said Gregory Boxold, chairman of the search committee. "He is a healer." He said the committee investigated 60 applicants. "Of all those we talked to, he really did his homework. He really knew he wanted to lead us."
The senior pastor position has been filled by interim ministers since the Rev. Edward "Ted" Robinson retired in 2004 after 20 years.
"Central Union represents a tremendous challenge as it has been without pastoral leadership for three years, has many urban-related issues, and has vital leadership for Honolulu, Hawaii, and the UCC denomination," Corbett said in a message on the Pinnacle Presbyterian Church Web site. Corbett did not respond to requests for an interview.
Boxold said Corbett became "intrigued" with Central Union Church when his family was on vacation on Kauai last year during the winter flooding.
"When he read about what Central Union was doing with the homeless, that's when he decided to apply," Boxold said. "He saw that the congregation just did something spontaneously. He admired that and wants to be a part of that." The church mustered hundreds of volunteers and opened its new $10 million parish hall to feed and shelter homeless families who were driven out of Ala Moana Park by the city.
Although some congregation members were critical of recruiting outside the denomination, "it is common on the mainland," said the Rev. Charles Buck, conference minister of the United Church of Christ Hawaii Conference. There is a Formula of Agreement between the national UCC organization, Presbyterian Church USA, Reform Church of America and Evangelical Lutheran Church of America that provides for it. Presbyterian ministers have served UCC churches in Waipahu, Hilo and on Maui, Buck said.
"There is similarity in the theology" of the two churches, Buck said. "The difference is where authority lies. In the Presbyterian Church, it is with the ordained ministers. In the UCC, the authority is in the congregation."
Corbett "understands the UCC," Buck said. "He has expressed willingness to transfer to the UCC."
Corbett earned his doctor of ministry degree from McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. He and his wife have a grown son and daughter, and five grandchildren including Joseph, whom they adopted and are raising.
He and Jerre Stead, former chief executive officer of Ingram Micro Inc., are co-authors of "Leadership Unbound: A Primer for Leaders and Entrepreneurs," a 2004 book that compares elements for success in the church and the business world.