After a 100-year history involving various sites and waves of immigrant parishioners, Christ United Methodist Church's current sanctuary was built in 1998. Margaret Kim viewed photos there earlier this year.

Immigration roots

The Christ United Methodist Church
celebrates its beginnings in the
Korean immigration to the islands

The celebration under way at Christ United Methodist Church this weekend is the finale of events this year marking the 100th anniversary of Korean immigration to Hawaii.

About 1,000 current and former church members are expected at social events today and the Centennial Commemoration service at 4:30 p.m. tomorrow at 1639 Keeaumoku St. Nine former pastors are among the speakers. A exhibition of historic photographs will be shown through Friday in the social building, Fry Hall.

The opening of the first Korean Methodist Mission at River and Hotel streets on Nov. 10, 1903, is remembered as the founding of the church. But its roots as the first Korean Protestant church established outside Korea are in the arrival of the first shipload of Koreans recruited to work on Hawaii sugar plantations.

Historians estimate that as many as one-third of the early immigrants were Christians, according to a pictorial history published for this centennial year. The first plantation workers at Waialua and Kahuku organized worship services within weeks of their January 1903 arrival.

The church history was a thread in the story of Koreans in Hawaii and in the politics of the old country, said University of Hawaii history professor Yong-Ho Choe, who wrote text for "Christ United Methodist Church 1903-2003: A Pictorial History."

After Japan forcibly annexed Korea in 1910, Hawaii was a center of efforts to regain sovereignty. Local Koreans became divided in a feud between two nationalist leaders, Syngman Rhee and Young-man Park. Rhee, briefly principal of a Methodist school, severed his tie with the Methodists in 1915 when his goal of educating future leaders for Korea conflicted with the mission's aim to educate good U.S. citizens. His loyal followers left the church, which recorded a 60 percent decline in members by 1920.

During World War II the U.S. government required Koreans to register as "enemy aliens." Despite the "unspeakable humiliation" of being linked with the Japanese conquerors, more than 80 young men of the church joined the U.S. armed forces, Choe wrote.

Members voted in 1965 to change the name from First Korean Methodist Church, reflecting a movement away from ethnic identity for congregations within the Methodist Mission in Hawaii. A majority of members at that time were second- and third-generation Korean Americans who spoke English.

"In retrospect, it was highly ironic that the church changed its name," Choe wrote. That was the same year that the United States adopted a new immigration law that ended discrimination against Asian immigrants. Hawaii saw a new wave of immigration from Korea begin that year, and the Makiki church membership "was soon swelled by these new immigrants, most of whom spoke only Korean."

The Korean church occupied sites on Punchbowl and Fort streets before the Makiki property was bought in 1947. The current church sanctuary was completed in 1998, replacing an earlier structure.

Three of the four Sunday services are in Korean, attended by about 750 adults and 100 children. About 150 people attend the English-language service. The Rev. Eun Chul Lee is the 20th senior pastor called to the church. He and the Revs. Paul Hwal Joo and Kyu Woo Nam officiate at Korean-language services and Sunday school, and the Rev. Gordon Marchant leads English-language services.

The book "Christ United Methodist Church, 1903-2003: A Pictorial History" features photos of the church in different Oahu locations over the past century. These include members in front of the church at Punchbowl in 1906...

art Kahuku in 1908...

...and on Keeaumoku Street in 1947.

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