(From top left to right: Rev. Goto, Thomas, Mary.
From bottom left to right: Samuel, Esther, James, Mrs. Goto, John)
A Short History of
Kahalu’u United Methodist Church
(October 11, 1931 – October 11, 1991)
By Sei Serikaku, Former Lay Leader
The farming community of Kahalu’u first felt the influence of the Methodist Mission in 1927 when the Reverend Chinpei Goto, who was affectionately known as "C.P.”, was transferred from Pukoli’i to Kaneohe. To this energetic and zealous Christian, the whole Windward Coast from Waimanalo to Kahuku was his parish.
Parker Memorial United Methodist Church was founded under his leadership in 1929 and Kailua United Methodist Church followed the next year. Our own Kahalu’u United Methodist Church was completed and dedicated on October 11, 1931, with a membership of 19 adults and 164 children enrolled in the Sunday School. On the first Sunday, 57 people were baptized by District Superintendent Dr. William Fry. Remarkably another 45 people were baptized the next Sunday by the Rev. Chuzo Nakamura, who had converted the Rev. Goto to Christianity. The Goto equation was one Christian convert equals three churches all within three years. He was assisted mightily in his endeavors by his wife Umeno, and Dr. William Fry who served 33 long years as the District Superintendent of the Hawaii Mission.
Prior to the official establishment of our church, an ordained local deacon, Rev. Eisaku Tokimasa and his daughter, Grace, and her younger sisters had, on their own initiative, organized the first Sunday School in their home. Later on, it was moved to the Japanese Language School building at Libbyville in Kahalu’u. Rev. Tokimasa, at that time, was employed by the Libby McNeill and Libby Company, which had their original cannery in Kahalu’u, because the Methodist Mission could not pay his salary. Much of the pineapple was grown by the independent growers in the area. Since the majority of them could not speak English, Rev. Tokimasa was employed as an interpreter and arbitrator between the company and the growers. Many of the older Nisei members of our congregation remember the Tokimasas fondly.
With the coming of the Gotos, the Sunday School was again restarted in 1927 in the Japanese Language School, which had since been moved to the location where our present parsonage stands. But, because of misunderstandings and the desire of the trustees of the school to keep it independent of any religious affiliation, the Sunday School was asked to move out. A Mr. Uyesato, a charter member of the church, who owned a store and repair shop on Kamehameha Highway, offered his repair shop as a place to meet. On Saturday afternoons after his work was done, he would clean it out and place wooden planks on boxes which became benches for the children to sit on for Sunday School. In this humble setting, the Sunday School carried on until October 11, 1931 when our first church building was finished and dedicated.
Rev. Goto’s love and knowledge of baseball (having been a member of the Senior League Asahi team) enabled him to establish rapport with the youth of the community. But with those parents who came from Buddhist and ancestral worship backgrounds, it was another story. Fortunately, Rev. Goto’s ability to read and write English offered him the opportunity to assist these farmers. He helped them in interpreting documents received from government or other agencies, or businesses. He also, if necessary, assisted them in obtaining government documents. Through these contacts he was able to invite them to church and to speak to them about the Christian message.
These churches, Parker, Kailua, and Kahalu’u United Methodist Churches, all started as Japanese language churches and Rev. Goto served as the language pastor of all three until his death in 1954. His faithful and sagacious widow continued his work for two more years after his death.
Succeeding years have seen many changes in the community and the church, with growing emphasis on work in the English language. To this end, Rev. Paul Morimoto was appointed in 1937 to hold services in the English language among the three churches. With this additional service, the three exclusively Japanese churches opened their doors to other ethnic groups to join in.
In 1942, despite the shortages caused by the Second World War, Dr. Fry was able to scrounge enough building materials to build a small parsonage on the church grounds. Rev. and Mrs. James Terauchi became our first residents there. The shepherd had finally come to live among his flock.
The years of World War II was times of great turmoil and uncertainties. The church remained a sea of calm and a sanctuary for the people of Kahalu’u. Since many of the Buddhist priests were interned during the war, many of the non-Christian people of the community turned to the church for the sacrament of marriage and for performance of funeral rites.
It was also a time when many servicemen stationed in the area began to attend our Sunday afternoon services. Furthermore, many of the young men of our church left to enter the armed services.
The end of World War II saw the beginning of many building projects that had been set aside during the crisis. The sanctuary which was built in 1931, was used for everything from sanctuary to classrooms to social hall. The need for a new sanctuary was apparent to all who visited the church. This led to Rev. Shuey Fujishiro securing plans that were carried out by Rev. Warren Thomas. Mr. Paul Jones, an architect, designed the building – the first of its kind in the island, using utility poles as rafters. The members themselves built and assembled the furnishings (pews and altar). The stained glass windows came as a gift from the Methodist Church in San Francisco in 1952. This simple but beautiful sanctuary was dedicated in 1953 and cost fifteen thousand dollars. Gifts, through the efforts of J. Wesley Hole and George Steed, from churches and members in Southern California and across the nation, made possible this beautiful church.
The plight of every rural community, the exodus of its bright young people for higher education and for jobs elsewhere, hit our church very hard in 1954. Due to the severely depressed economic conditions, many of our leaders and pillars of this church left, not only Kahalu’u but the islands altogether. The majority left for the green pastures of Southern California. This left the church severely crippled for many years to come. The Tomeis, Yonamines, Yonashiros, Kobashigawas and the Yogis left us at that time. That year can be called “Exodus 1954.”
Fortunately, as Kahalu’u gradually changed from a farming to a “bedroom” community in the late 1950s and 1960s, others who have moved here and our own youth who had married and moved back, have gradually taken the place of those who left. This present membership with a much more diverse background, will be better able to meet the challenges of the future.
Hawaii experienced a large influx of Samoan migrants in the 1950s and 1960s. Our church was enriched by the membership of these mobile people as they moved down from the North Shore to Kahalu’u. They were ministered to by the Rev. Vaiau Alailima and later by his brother, Elia. They later moved to Kaneohe and transferred their membership to Parker Memorial United Methodist Church.
The church has always had a strong Sunday School and youth group. Eventually, the old termite-infested former sanctuary and former World War II barracks became inadequate. Plans were drawn by Paul Jones, the same architect who designed the present sanctuary. A building committee was elected and a building fund was started during the pastorate of Rev. James Terauchi. The fund drive successfully raised forty thousand dollars within the local congregation. This was matched by the National Board of Church Extension. The education building was built and dedicated in 1968 during the pastorate of Rev. Ignacio Castuera. The final payment for the building was made and a joyous mortgage burning and consecration service was held in February 1978.
In the early years of the church, before Kahalu’u Elementary School was built, there were no public buildings in Kahalu’u. The church provided, free of charge, a meeting place for many organizations in the community and continues to do so. A further use of our building, at a nominal charge, was extended to the Head Start Program and the Kaiser Health Service.
We celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of this church on October 11, 1981 and it was fitting that our pastor was one who grew up in this church and community. Robert Nakata served as director of the Key Project, a private social service agency, and part time pastor of our church. His prophetic vision of social justice for all people led the church into a deeper involvement in community problems and its solutions. Thereby the Methodist heritage of a strong emphasis on social justice came alive in our church.
For many years, this church has had the dubious reputation of having the most inadequate parsonage in the whole Hawaii district of the United Methodist Church. To correct this situation, a building committee was appointed to raise funds for a new parsonage. A sum of $30,000 was raised through cash and pledges. The parsonage was started in the summer of 1988 and completed in November of that year. The completion of the new parsonage has enabled us to house our pastor in an adequate home.
In the summer of 1989, a group of young people from the Blaine United Methodist Church in Seattle, Washington came to work with our youth for two weeks. Rev. Robert Hoshibata, their pastor who had served as an intern at this church, initiated this project. Their stay here provided much fellowship between the two groups. It also gave our youth the impetus to plan for a return visit to the Blaine Church. Although our youth have been busy raising funds for this trip, due to commitments to summer school and for other reasons, this plan fell through.
To compensate for this unfulfilled plan, Margo Segimoto and Traci Ikegami from the Blaine Church, who were here two years ago, volunteered to come back this summer to work with our children and youth. Their knack for working with young people have brought much joy and Christian enrichment to them. Their unselfishness has made them excellent role models for our youth. We have much to be thankful for these two wonderful young women and the Blaine Church.
We have been blessed by God through many people, both lay and clergy, who have sacrificed and persevered to start this church and to see that it continues. We also owe a great deal to the National Board of Mission and Church Extensions, the Hawaii District, and the annual Conference for their generous support in pastors’ salaries and financing of church buildings. The Church is now able to fully support the pastors’ salary.
The first sixty years of this church have been spent in establishing itself and serving and helping to mold the lives of its members. Several of our bright young people who have moved elsewhere are presently active members of other churches. Our students have also provided more than their proportionate share of the leadership at the Wesley Foundation at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. As this church begins the next sixty years, it may be called on to play a greater role in helping to mold the future of this Kahalu’u community.
The period of the 1950s and the 1960s was a time of great physical and social changes in Kahalu’u. It slowed down in the 1970s but the forces of great changes are stirring again. If the church does not get involved in these things which vitally affect the lives of people, it will be cast aside as irrelevant. Will we be ready for the challenges of the closing years of the Twentieth Century and the beginning of the Twenty-first? The sacrifices of the founders of this church demand that with God’s help, WE BE READY.