Isle church celebrates its 100th year
By Maureen O'Connell
Advertiser Staff Writer
A towering tamarind tree stands near the front door of Honolulu's First Church of Christ, Scientist. There are also expansive monkey pods and a sturdy karaka tree with a glossy canopy.
The mature greenery serves as a reminder that the property near Punahou and Wilder streets has long been carefully tended. The Christian Science movement — initiated in Boston by Mary Baker Eddy in 1866 — first formally organized a branch church here 100 years ago. The on-island membership has owned the site near Punahou School for nearly that long.
A centennial celebration set for tomorrow will include a morning service followed by tours of the historic buildings and grounds. There will also be a choral music performance. The public is invited to attend the open house events.
Designed by Hart Wood, a well-known Honolulu architect and church member, the church building was constructed in a style called Hawaiian Gothic, said Sally Hill, a church member for about five decades. Wood, she said, "blended elements from both the Hawaiian hale and the hālau" with European ecclesiastical architecture.
Hawaiian influence is evident in the church's texture-rich lava rock walls, which were constructed with hunks of rock found on the property. In addition, the church's steep roof, ceiling ribs and crossbeams, along with "massive columns," and wide lānai areas reflect Hawaiian touches, officials said.
Among the European influences is an organ screen inspired by a cathedral in Rowena, Italy. Woven into the design is the cross-and-crown emblem that appears on Christian Science books.
The overall church design, officials said, is intended to reflect the "openness , graciousness and serenity, which the teachings of Christian Science inspire."
Hill put it simply: "It feels like home." Of her spiritual dwelling place, she said, "I can expect to go there and have a sense of harmony."
The church's Sunday School building was designed by Vladimir Ossipoff, a pioneer in Hawai'i's 20th-century green architecture efforts who drew inspiration from the mingling of indoor and outdoor space, as advocated by architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
The church also maintains a Christian Science reading room in Waikīkī, which is temporarily closed. Until it reopens, an area in the church's side lānai is set up as a small library open to the public for spiritual study and prayer, said church member Virginia Aycock.
"It's our way of keeping our church open" for visits other than Sunday service and Wednesday evening meetings, where "students of Christian Science share accounts of various healings they've had through their study of the King James Bible and Eddy's writings," said Aycock, who serves as the church's second biblical reader.
Each year, members select two readers, with one presenting weekly biblical verses and the other passages from Eddy's writings, particularly "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," which was copyrighted in 1875.
Eddy — the first American woman to establish a religious denomination — credited biblical truths for healing injuries she suffered in a serious accident. She then spent more than four decades communicating her findings to others, Aycock said. Many Christian Scientists use the faith's healing system as their first choice for treatment, over drugs and surgery.
"We think that Christianity is science" and vice versa, Aycock said. "Christianity and science are one."
By the turn of the last century, when the first few Christian Scientists had moved to Hawai'i and were holding services in their homes, O'ahu natives, including Queen Lili'uokalani, began inquiring about the faith. According to church records, the queen reportedly obtained a copy of "Science and Health" and occasionally attended services.