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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, October 24, 2002

Kaleo Patterson could perk up Kawaiaha'o

Finding a kahu to head historic Kawaiaha'o Church hasn't been easy since the Rev. William Kaina retired in 1997. A wrenching three-year search led to the appointment of the Rev. James Fung in 2000, but he resigned just 18 months later, with little to say other than that his "Western style" was not the best fit for the traditional Hawaiian church.

And so we are intrigued that the church's search committee has nominated the Rev. Kaleo Patterson, associate pastor of Kaumakapili Church and Hawaiian sovereignty activist, to take Fung's place.

Patterson, 48, an outspoken pastor and eloquent theologian, differs from the more conservative clerics who have led the congregation at Hawai'i's "Westminster Abbey."

And that might be what it takes to attract new generations of churchgoers. Consider the case of the new archbishop of Canterbury and spiritual head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, whose appointment was confirmed by the queen of England.

Rowan Williams, 52, is an outspoken critic of U.S. foreign policy. He also supports the ordination of homosexuals and has pushed for promotion of female priests.

As for Patterson, he grew up in Makaha and attended Kaumakapili. He earned divinity degrees from Bangor Theological Seminary in Maine and Chicago Theological Seminary and was pastor of Kapa'a First Hawaiian Church and Ko'olau Hui Ia Church on Kaua'i.

In 1993, he successfully led an effort to get an apology from the United Church of Christ for the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy.

Kawaiaha'o Church was founded by New England Congregationalists and opened its doors to more than 5,000 worshippers in 1842. Today, its numbers have dwindled to some 600 registered members.

Over the last decade, a growing amount of the church's focus has been largely on its Japanese wedding business. Some members of the congregation have felt that money matters eclipsed the religious program and yearned for a pastor to steer Kawaiaha'o back to the church's original purpose "of religion, charity and education."

Previously, Patterson's activism might have made the traditional elements of Kawaiaha'o Church nervous. But the church, which falls under the United Church of Christ, appears to be moving in a new direction.

Patterson strikes us as a strong candidate. After a rocky half-decade, Kawaiaha'o could certainly use a fresh approach.