The Samoan Congregational Christian Church, near Pearl Harbor Elementary School, sat empty earlier this month. The Navy tore it down as a "security buffer' for its newly opened commissary/exchange project leaving the congregation with no place to worship. The First Samoan United Church of Christ Congregation Church next to it was also torn down.

Navy evicts 2 churches
from Pearl Harbor property

By Rod Antone

It was just last month that the sound of a Samoan church choir singing could be heard on Sundays across the street from Pearl Harbor Elementary school in Salt Lake.

But after decades of worshiping on rent-free land provided for by the Navy, the First Samoan United Church of Christ and Samoan Congregational Christian Church have been demolished and their respective congregations evicted.

"We really appreciate the Navy letting us worship here all this time," said Wilson Afoa, secretary for the Samoan Congregational Christian Church. "After our original lease was up in 1982 they let us stay for free. Before that, we were here since the 1950's, when the Navy let us lease the land for a dollar."

"We knew this day was coming."

Afoa said both congregations, which together had about 500 members, held their last services earlier this month. Since then congregation members have been looking for other places to gather and pray.

Navy officials said after years of peaceful co-existence, they could no longer stand in the way of progress and had to evict both congregations to make room for what will probably be parking for the new $50 million Mall at Pearl Harbor project, a 340,000-square-foot facility that boasts the largest Navy Exchange in the world and the largest commissary in the state.

"We are grateful for the dignity and courtesy that representatives from the two congregations have shown throughout the entire process," said Navy spokesperson Lt. Cmdr. Jane Campbell.

"It has always been understood that if the Navy needed the property, it would no longer be available for use by the church congregations. The quality of life of our sailors and their family members takes priority in the use of this Navy property."

Campbell said the property the churches are located upon needed to be vacated because the Navy also needed a "security buffer" for its commissary/exchange project, especially after the events of Sept. 11, 2001. The Bank of Hawaii building that used to be located at the corner of Radford and Bougainville drives was the first structure to be demolished several months ago.

"It's a shame," said Rev. Sualauvi Tuimalealiifano, an interim pastor for the Samoan Congregational Christian Church. "It's such a beautiful church ... $200,000 in renovations inside."

"They (the Navy) offered us an old chapel at Barber's Point, but it was extremely expensive, $4,000 to $5,000 a month, I think."

"We would like to ask the community if they know of any place we can worship on Sundays ... Perhaps another church or chapel could give us some time and some space. Anything they can do to help us will be appreciated."

Afoa said First Samoan United Church of Christ members have already pretty much disbanded and its membership separated to find places to worship individually. Currently, members of the Samoan Congregational Christian Church have found a temporary place to pray at the Bread of Life Church in Kalihi Valley, where they've been gathering for the past two weeks, but it is a situation which cannot last forever.

"We have to find somewhere else," said Afoa. "A lot of our members are in Waipahu, Ewa Beach, a lot on the Leeward side ... We are very grateful for having this place in Kalihi, but we need somewhere closer to where we were before."

"We're trying to help them look for other spaces," said John Derby, executive secretary for Hawaii Conference Foundation (United Church of Christ). The foundation is taking calls from those who might have an available property for either congregation at 537-9516. "If anyone knows of a space we can use we sure would like to hear from them."

E-mail to City Desk


Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
© 2002 Honolulu Star-Bulletin --