Vandals start fire in Kilauea church

KILAUEA — Easter Sunday services were held thanks in part to the quick action of a police officer who helped prevent a historical church from burning down at the hands of vandals.

At approximately 10:15 p.m. on Saturday evening, police dispatchers received a report of a fire at the Christ Memorial Episcopal Church, the historical structure on Kolo Road in Kilauea.

A patrol officer from the Hanalei police station responded and had the fire extinguished before the Kaua‘i County Fire Department arrived, according to county communications.

“We are thankful that the fire had been contained and that the damage wasn’t more extensive,” the Rev. Robin Taylor of Christ Memorial said Wednesday.

As a mission church of the Diocese of Hawai‘i, it is also a tourist attraction along the Lighthouse road and is open during the day and locked in the evening. Taylor said it is unclear at this point how the vandals entered or if the church was open.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation. The church is still waiting for the insurance estimate of the damages.

Taylor said about 120 people were able to celebrate early morning Easter Mass, including many children sitting up front.

“It was an enormous group of people and a wonderful celebration of the resurrection,” Taylor said. “We can’t concentrate on the negative.”

Taylor said she informed the congregation of the incident at the start of the service. She said many people have come forward to offer help with repairs.

“For that, we are very grateful,” she said. “It helped to unify the congregation in working together on this challenging situation.”

Taylor said she was called in about 11 p.m. Saturday and joined two others in scrubbing the walls and cleaning up broken glass, soot and trash throughout the night. Someone reported smoke coming from the building to police and fire, who she said responded after calling the church junior warden, an Episcopal leader in charge of the building.

Glass, trash and plants were strewn all around the church, she said. Two stained-glass windows were also damaged, and a fire was started.

The vandals used prayer books and hymnals to start the fire, she said. A bench was burned along with a picture, and the back wall caught fire before it was extinguished in time.

There wasn’t an obvious hate message to explain the vandals’ actions. Instead, Taylor said they left behind a conflicting message of lighted candles on the altar and a prayer book open as if they held a service.

“It didn’t fit,” she said. “Were they having a service or burning the place down?”

Taylor said the people who came to church on Sunday couldn’t appreciate how much damage had been done. By that time, the walls had been scrubbed.

A brass crucifix was dismantled and damaged, as was the welcome sign outside.

There were many flower plants in place for Easter Sunday that were strewn about the church.

An oil-filled candelabra in the front alcove was tossed about and broken. She said the church workers patched it back together and cleaned all the oil off the floor.

Tombstones were knocked over, and two were broken. They predate the church building to the 1880s.

That the vandals struck on the eve of Easter Sunday was deplorable, but it also accentuated the meaning of the greatest celebration in Christianity, she said. Taylor said Easter is about the resurrection of life, God’s love and the forgiveness of sin.

“We have to acknowledge the grief and shock and pain that we feel, and then give it to God and say ‘help me with it’,” she said.

Taylor said it is a strong and resilient parish.

“I really believe that the hand of God was involved with all of this,” she said. “It is really a gift.”

All Saints Episcopal Church in Kapa‘a loaned the Kilauea congregation prayer books and hymnals until its own replacements arrive.

Taylor was invited to serve as the church leader this past August and wasn’t aware of any similar incidents.

Some of the grave stones on the property date back to the original Hawaiian Congregational Church that predates 1888.

Many of the graves remain unmarked, and its community included employees of the Kilauea Sugar Co. that deeded the churchyard and stone for the Christ Memorial Church that was built in the 1930s and consecrated in 1941, according to the church website.

Christ Memorial owns the property surrounding the church and three buildings across the street, including a thrift store and community hall.

• Tom LaVenture, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or tlaventure@thegardenisland.com.

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