“(T)he chapel in which we worshipped was the first ever erected on the ruins of idolatry in this land; and though of the simplest and rudest construction, being entirely in the native style, it was on this account beautiful and lovely in our eyes.”
“We had completed a long voyage, and were permitted to tread the shores of our destination under circumstances of peculiar mercy; and now had the privilege of paying our vows of gratitude to God from one of his peaceful temples, though in the humblest form.”
“I can never forget the excitement with which I entered its lowly roof, trod the matted ground, its only floor, and looked at its unbarked posts and rafters, and coarse thatch of grass: primitive as every thing appeared, I felt that it was a house of God, and one of the happy gates of heaven.” (Stewart)
Then, disaster struck …
“Sabbath evening, (May) 30, (1824) nine o’clock. About an hour since, we were alarmed by the ringing of the chapel bell, and on reaching the door, discovered the south end of the building in one entire blaze.”
“Being entirely of grass, in five minutes the whole was on fire, but not until, by the prompt exertions of a few foreigners and natives, every article of any value, such as the bible, lamps, pulpit – which was moveable – window and door frames, and seats, were removed.”
“The loss was trifling, as to real value; the house was very old and shabby, and, to be used at all much longer, would have required rebuilding.”
“The chiefs have determined to build a stone chapel, as soon as Kalaimoku’s house is finished; but to have a house of the kind destroyed by an incendiary, is painful.”
“Suspicion, as to the perpetrator of the deed, has fallen on a drunken man, who was reproved for improper behaviour during the service this afternoon, and who was heard to threaten to burn the ‘hale pule,’ house of prayer.”
“Others say it has been destroyed by way of retaliation for the death of Kaumuali‘i, who they think was the victim of our prayers.”
“Whichever may have been the cause, it originated only with the father of evil. We could not see it sink into ruins without an emotion of sadness, especially as it fell by the hands of baseness.”
“Many of the natives wept aloud, I doubt not with most unfeigned sorrow, and the air was filled with the exclamations, ‘Aloha ino! aloha ka hale pule – ka hale O ke Akua! auwe! Auwe!’ ‘great is my sorrow, great my love for the house of prayer, for the house of God! alas! alas!’ uttered in most piteous tones.”
“The class of native teachers who are at present under my instruction, were most of them quickly on the ground, and earned all the articles rescued from the fire, within the walls of the mission yard; they manifested much indignation at the wickedness of the ‘kanaka naau po’ – ‘dark-hearted fellow’ – who had done the deed.”
“Monday, 31. Namahana, her husband La‘anui, and several of the chiefs, were at the mission house before sunrise this morning, to sympathise with us for the loss of the chapel.” (Stewart)
This was the first of several earlier buildings that served as a Honolulu church/meeting house, until the present “Stone Church” (Kawaiahaʻo) was completed in 1842.
On December 31, 1820, Levi Sartwell Loomis, son of Elisha and Maria Loomis (the first white child born in the Hawaiian Islands) and Sophia Moseley Bingham, daughter of Hiram and Sybil Bingham (the first white girl born on Oʻahu) were baptized.
This first church building was built of thatch and lined with mats; however, it had glass windows, doors, a wooden pulpit and 2-rows of seats, separated by an aisle. In August of that year, Captain Templeton presented a bell from his ship to be used at the church.
Within a year, Hiram Bingham began to preach in the Hawaiian language. 4-services a week were conducted (3 in Hawaiian and 1 in English.) Congregations ranged from 100 – 400; by the end of the year, the church was expanded.
The church conducted its first funeral in January 1823 for Levi Parson Bingham, infant (16-days) son on Hiram and Sybil Bingham. Three days later, a Hawaiian chief requested similar services on the death of a royal child. (Damon)
Within a couple of days after the fire and destruction of the first church, Kalanimōkū ordered a new church to be built at public expense. A new thatched building (25 by 70 feet) was placed a short distance from the old; it was dedicated July 18, 1824.
1825 saw another sad funeral when the bodies of Liholiho (King Kamehameha II) and his wife Queen Kamāmalu were brought home from England. The church was draped in black.
Interest in the mission’s message outgrew the church and services were held outside with 3,000 in attendance; efforts were underway to build a larger facility to accommodate 4,000.
Kalanimōkū marked out the ground for the new meeting house “on the North side of the road, directly opposite the present house, whither they have commenced bringing coral rock formed on the shore and cut up in pieces of convenient size.” (Chamberlain – Damon) Timber frame and thatching completed the building.
In December, 1825, the third Meeting House building was opened for worship; however, shortly afterward a violent rain storm collapsed the structure.
In 1827 (after Kalanimōkū’s death,) Kaʻahumanu stepped forward and “caused a temporary house to be erected which is 86 feet by 30, with 2 wings each 12 feet wide extending the whole length of the building. … It is not large enough to accommodate all who attend the service on Sabbath mornings, many are obliged to sit without.” (Mission Journal – Damon)
Since that building was considered temporary, the next year, on July 1, 1828, “the natives commenced the erection of the new meeting house which will soon be built.” They were called to bring stones to set around the posts.
The last of the thatched churches served for 12-years. It measured 63 by 196 feet (larger than the present Kawaiahaʻo Church) – 4,500 people could assemble within it.
Then, between 1836 and 1842, Kawaiahaʻo Church was constructed. Revered as the Protestant “mother church” and often called “the Westminster Abbey of Hawai‘i” this structure is an outgrowth of the original Mission Church founded in Boston and is the first foreign church on O‘ahu (1820.)
The “Stone Church,” as it came to be known, is in fact not built of stone, but of giant slabs of coral hewn from ocean reefs. These slabs had to be quarried from under water; each weighed more than 1,000 pounds. Natives dove 10 to 20 feet to hand-chisel these pieces from the reef, then raised them to the surface, loaded some 14,000 of the slabs into canoes and ferried them to shore.
Following five years of construction, The Stone Church was ready for dedication ceremonies on July 21, 1842. The grounds of Kawaiahaʻo overflowed with 4,000 to 5,000 faithful worshippers. King Kamehameha III, who contributed generously to the fund to build the church, attended the service.
Kawaiaha‘o Church was designed and founded by its first pastor, Hiram Bingham. Hiram left the islands on August 3, 1840 and never saw the completed church. Kawaiahaʻo Church is listed on the state and national registers of historic sites.
Kawaiaha‘o Church continues to serve as a center of worship for Hawai‘i’s people, with services conducted every Sunday in Hawaiian and English. Approximately 85% of the services are in English; at least one song and the Lord’s Prayer (as a congregation) are in Hawaiian.