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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, May 21, 2003

What does Kawaiaha'o want in a chief kahu?

Brickwood Galuteria wasn't that far off the mark when he quipped that even Jesus Christ wouldn't be a shoo-in for kahu of Kawaiaha'o Church.

Hawai'i's historic "Westminster Abbey" remains without a permanent spiritual leader after church members rejected nominee Kaleo Patterson, an outspoken pastor and eloquent theologian.

With a two-thirds majority needed to win the post, the bar does seem awfully high. After all, Patterson fell only four votes shy of being confirmed. Given some of the razor-thin margins that have landed political candidates in powerful positions, including the U.S. presidency, Patterson didn't do too bad.

Presumably, there are other reasons why Patterson, a staunch Hawaiian activist, didn't make the cut, and perhaps the outcome is for the best.

But that doesn't lift Kawaiaha'o Church out of the limbo that began when the Rev. William Kaina retired in 1997. After a three-year search, the Rev. james Fung was chosen to replace him. But he resigned after only 18 months, saying he was not the right fit.

Church Moderator Frank Pestana estimates it'll take a year to find a new nominee. First they have to put together a nine-member search committee representing the church community. Picking a candidate could take another nine months. According to the church bylaws, the candidate would preferably be of Hawaiian ancestry and speak Hawaiian. But as several church members have pointed out, that pool is thin.

Before Kawaiaha'o Church embarks on a search for a new kahu, it seems imperative that its congregation realistically defines its expectations of a spiritual leader. How important is ethnicity? How much of the church's mission should be devoted to Japanese weddings? And do they want to attract a new generation of churchgoers or remain steeped in tradition?

Something is going to have to give to bring stable leadership to Kawaiaha'o Church.