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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, May 19, 2003

Pastor fails Kawaiaha'o vote

By Mary Kaye Ritz
Advertiser Religion & Ethics Writer

In a historic vote, Kawaiaha'o Church members yesterday rejected Kaleo Patterson as the new kahu.

Kaleo Patterson's backers suspected he would be a hard sell.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

It was the first time in the church's 160-year history that the congregation said no to a nominee for senior pastor.

Patterson, 48, fell four votes shy of being confirmed: Church by-laws required him to get a two-thirds majority, or 79 of the 118 votes cast.

Friends and family had gathered on the steps of Kawaiaha'o, known as the "Westminster Abbey of the Pacific," to show support for Patterson as congregants filed into the nearby church hall. There, discussion turned again to an earlier allegation of impropriety.

Despite a flurry of lobbying by some in the Hawaiian sovereignty movement, Patterson's backers suspected he would be a hard sell.

"He's a controversial figure," said Frank Pestana, moderator for the church. "And the (allegation) didn't help. ... I wanted him to be in, but God has other plans."

Pestana said the church would have to start from scratch, putting together a new nominating committee and finding a new candidate, a process he expects will take another year.

Patterson was nominated in October, but the process stalled for six months after the allegation was made. The complaint was investigated by the Hawai'i Conference United Church of Christ's Association of Hawaiian Evangelical Churches, but the group found nothing "that would jeopardize his standing as a minister in good standing in AHEC," Pestana said last month. So the vote went forward.

Patterson has denied the allegation.

Controversy has found its way up the stone steps of Hawai'i's first ali'i Christian church several times since 1997, when the Rev. William Kaina retired. After a three-year search, the Rev. James Fung was chosen to lead, but he resigned 18 months later, with little to say other than that his "Western style" was not the best fit for the tradition-drenched church.

"The bar is set really high," Brickwood Galuteria, a former moderator, said yesterday. "If Jesus Christ himself had been (nominated), they'd still be having questions."

In earlier interviews, Patterson talked about his activism, which earned him a national profile and also got him arrested about six times for trespassing and resisting arrest, though all charges were dismissed.

"I'm too much of an activist for the Christian church and too Christian for the activists," he said. "It's a very lonely place to be."

Patterson history is full of contradictions: Baptized at Kaumakapili Church (where he's one of three pastors whose contract will end in June), he found his calling at Swedish Covenant Church in Fairbanks, Alaska, where he had studied civil engineering, worked on the Alaska Pipeline and kept sled dogs.

A graduate of Wai'anae High School, he earned his master's of divinity before finishing his bachelor's degree in engineering. "I didn't step foot on State University (of New York) except to pay 'em" to consolidate his credits into a degree, he said.

Patterson said he intends to continue his work at Ka Hana O Ke Akua Church in Wai'anae and as president of the Pacific Justice and Reconciliation Center, but will take some time to consider his options.

"You gotta go with the process," Patterson said after the vote. "... I know it was a very big stretch, considering the history of the church and the years of brokenness. I just want to try to be as supportive as I can."