‘All are welcome here’

HANAPEPE — For 125 years, the Hanapepe United Church of Christ has brought individuals of all races, sexual orientation, class and creed into a closer relationship with God.

As the new year rounds the corner, parishioners Nancy Sato and Ann Bjork continue to promote the church’s message of acceptance by planning a grand anniversary celebration for the church that was established in 1890.

“The celebration is about reflection,” Sato said. “Part of it is going back and looking at the history and looking at the people who were so meaningful to us and then it’s also going to be a time of growth, where we make friends by the events that we’re going to be introducing.”

The goal of the celebration is more than marking another milestone. It’s about spreading the word of the church.

“We’re also trying to introduce ourselves, who we are, to the community,” Sato said. “To know that we are friends to everyone.”

As the church’s musical director, Bjork decided to create the celebration as a series of concerts featuring religious music.

“The idea is to draw the community in and to share our building, share our hopes and a little bit of our history with the wider community,” Bjork said.

The celebration will kick off at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 24 in the church’s fellowship hall and will feature the Celtic band “Whiskey-O,” a Moroccan chicken dinner and birthday cake.

Although the celebration is still in the planning process, they also intend to have festivities June 20-21. Two additional celebrations will be held later in the year. Each event will also feature different activities such as Bible studies, wreath making and music and food.

Many parishioners are looking forward to the celebration for the church they cherish.

“I really appreciate it as a part of our lives,” said parishioner Norman Hashisaka. “It’s been a long time if you think about it, but I’m glad they’ve lasted this long and I hope the church will continue to grow and continue for another 100 years.”

In addition to preparing for the anniversary celebration, the HUCC does its best to be there for the wider community, despite its small size, by offering lunch on Thursday afternoons, operating a thrift store and supporting institutions such as Nana’s House, Child And Family Service community center on the Westside.

An affirming parish, the church welcomes members of other religions to join them for services and fellowship.

“The church’s motto is ‘all are welcome here,’” Bjork said. “It’s a church where anyone can come and be welcome.

According to its documented history by Mitsugi Nakashima, the church was established as a mission station by the Board of Hawaiian Missions to minister for Japanese immigrants who came to Hawaii to seek work. As the years went on, the Hanapepe mission satellite station was established in 1902 at Makaweli Camp Two and served over 1,000 Japanese living in other camps during that time. The manager of the Makaweli Sugar Plantation requested the camp be established for the peace of the residents.

While missionaries were stationed in either Hanapepe or Makaweli, the Hanapepe station was named the Hanapepe Japanese Church by the Board of Hawaiian Missions in 1896. The church’s first home-grown pastor was Rev. Masao Yamada, who served the American military during World War II.

After his death, the church received many itinerant ministers, including Rev. Hendryk Martynse, who drew plans for the church’s educational building, and led the construction crew made of church members and friends of the church to establish the building.

In 1990, the church observed its Centennial Celebration.

However, tragedy struck the church on Sept. 11, 1992, when Hurricane Iniki destroyed the three HUCC structures: the education building, the sanctuary and the parsonage. Thanks to the efforts of leadership member Masao Nakashima, the church was rebuilt better than before, making the hurricane a “blessing in disguise,” church leaders said.

Through it all, the church is thriving. And it’s message is spreading.

“We’re not a church that has a set of beliefs that people have to stick to,” Bjork added. “Come if you feel comfortable here, come no matter what your religious beliefs are.”

Tickets for the event are $15 per person and may be purchased on hanapepeucc.com or by calling 335-5135 or 332-8451.

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