Preachers take good word to surf and sand
By Mary Kaye Ritz
Advertiser Religion & Ethics Writer
Waikiki tourists, in their nicely pressed and matching outfits, sat on the sand to hear Pastor Alex McAngus relate the love of God and the love of country at a mid-morning service.
Sandwiched between surfboard rentals and the Atlantis Adventure boarding dock, McAngus, a Waikiki entertainer-turned-Christian-preacher, asked the crowd of about 50 people mostly middle-aged, sunburned Mainlanders to face an American flag. Then, with Diamond Head as a backdrop, he starts the service with a rousing medley of patriotic songs.
From the looks of things, God is showing up all over Waikiki these days, from the beach and poolside foyers to showrooms and hotel banquet halls.
"Most people, when they're on vacation, take a vacation from church," said Diane Bradley, from Minneapolis, her bright purple orchid lei bouncing on her chest as she laughed.
But Bradley and her husband, Byrle are among thousands of visitors to Hawai'i's islands who do make it to a worship service in their case, a Lutheran service in a hotel banquet room on the edge of Waikiki.
Many hotels offer their own nondenominational services, but concierges contacted said visiting Roman Catholics are the most likely to ask about Sunday Mass.
Some Japanese tourists will ask about Buddhist services, but that's rare. As one concierge noted, that may be because a visit to a temple may have already been planned as part of a tour.
Tourists jam services
Roman Catholics are eager to get to Mass because the church considers it a duty for them to fulfill a Sunday obligation, explained the Rev. David Travers, administrator of Sts. Peter and Paul church, which besides its Ala Moana parish services offers two weekly Sunday Masses at hotels. There's an 11 a.m. service at the Ilikai or a 9 a.m. at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. At the Hilton, services are held in the Tropics Showroom on Charo's old stage, the Tapa Room or another locale, depending on availability.
"Catholics are overjoyed" to find a Mass right in their hotel, said Travers. "They're delighted they don't have to go hunt for one."
Between December and April, about 75 percent of the Lutherans crowding into a banquet room in the Queen Kapiolani Hotel for the Prince of Peace Lutheran Church service are tourists, estimated its senior minister, the Rev. Dr. Nicholas Cristoff. The crowd was diverse last Sunday and even more so on Christmas Eve, when it pulled people from eight countries.
Bibles amid bikinis
By the time Cristoff and the Bradleys launched into the closing hymn of "Eternal Father, Strong to Save" last Sunday, the other side of Waikiki Beach by the Hilton Hawaiian Village was filled with visitors seeking a nondenominational look at God, via McAngus and the Waikiki Beach Chaplaincy.
Tourists lined up afterward to buy Christian CDs by McAngus and others under a thatched-roof umbrella for $15 a pop. (The money, he said, goes back into the ministry.)
Last week's was the second "church on the beach" service for Carl and Sue Seager, who were staying at the nearby Hale Koa. They returned the following weekend to hear more of McAngus' "powerful message," they said.
They didn't think it odd to be worshiping amid the bikini-clad and buff. Just the opposite.
"It's refreshing to be outdoors," said Sue Seager. "The surroundings are awe-inspiring."
Allan Pila of Vancouver, British Columbia, wasn't so impressed. "This is appalling!" he said, as he stopped to stare at the surfside service.
"What do other religions think of this?" Pila asked, craning his neck at the laid-back minister. "He's not even wearing a suit!" Then he pointed to the barefoot usher, taking an ipu from person to person: "And that guy is passing the bucket! Shouldn't this be in a quote, house of God, quote? I don't think it's right."
He eyed the parade of tourists, some stopping to take pictures of the Waipahu United Church of Christ halau's performance, adding, "When you come to Waikiki Beach, you expect to see a surfer. Not this."
But Monsignor Roy Peters, assistant pastor at Sts. Peter and Paul who helped launch the summertime Hawaiian Mass on the beach 31 years ago back when Frank DeLima was more a singer than a comedian and former movie actor Bob Turnbull led the Protestant service for Waikiki Beach Chaplaincy disagrees that church is a building rather than a frame of mind.
"The beach, the ocean ... that's God's cathedral," said the retired Army chaplain who's presided over services in all manner of locations, and once even did an underwater wedding. "He made it. It's better than a man-made church."
As for the lack of a collar, Peters defended his Protestant brethren: "Alex is just trying to blend in. People are probably there in bikinis, for crying out loud."
He quoted in Latin: "De gustibus non est disputandum." (Concerning taste, there's no dispute.)
A less-docile flock?
Peters realizes some priests frown upon having Mass outdoors.
"They don't want to take a risk," Peters said. "When you go into another place outside a church, first of all, you don't know who's coming. You don't know who'll set up for you. You're not sure if there are people who will challenge you.
"In church, we're the boss. When you go into a showroom or beach, we're at the mercy of the people."
But, Peters adds, "that's what makes it fun."
As a military chaplain who jumped out of planes in the 1960s with his supplies to do Mass in the Vietnamese jungle for soldiers, Peters said, "Our job is to bring God to people, and people to God. But we had to bring God to them first."
Then he laughed.
"I think the same thing is true here. People are trying to bring God to Waikiki."
Reach Mary Kaye Ritz at email@example.com or 525-8035.