‘It’s bittersweet’

LIHUE — Rev. Paul Kirchner holds a deep love for Kauai.

And he will greatly miss his island home.

“Leaving the church and leaving the island and the people of the island — this is family and it’s just really hard to say goodbye,” Kirchner said.

The well-known pastor of Lihue Lutheran Church will be retiring from his 37-year-long mission as a minister and leaving Kauai this fall for his new home in Weesatche, Texas, with his wife, Karen.

“It’s bittersweet,” Kirchner said. “You’ve just got to come to the realization you can’t do what you used to do and I love the church too much to do less.”

Kirchner will leave Kauai on Oct. 1. He and Karen plan to raise cattle in Texas to donate to the Lutheran church program “Good Gifts.”

Individuals may provide cattle to the program, which ships them to farmers in Third World countries to help stabilize the economy.

“I think we are going to see if we can begin to feed people by doing that from her old homestead in Southeast Texas,” Kirchner said.

Kirchner is looking forward to beginning his new life on the Mainland but views Kauai as his other home.

“It’s leaving family,” he said.

Kirchner said he is happy to have met so many people from different religions and cultures during his 17-year ministry on Kauai.

“We are incredibly diverse on the island and yet also we are so totally alike in the human needs: human wanting, love, value, meaning,” Kirchner said. “Just those universal traits are wonderful on the island as well as the uniquenesses we each bring.”

Kirchner first felt God calling him to become a minister when he attended Carthage College in 1971 in Kenosha, Wis., after speaking with his professor, Albert Schweihart.

“He just took my little, too-small God, just ripped him up in pieces, and got me thinking ‘There’s either got to be something really powerful here or there’s nothing here,’” Kirchner said. “It was that kind of wandering and searching that led me off to the seminary.”

Kirchner graduated from the Lutheran Theology Seminary in Gettysburg, Penn., in 1979.

“It wasn’t one of those overnight, see bells and hear voices, but over time there was this constantly nudging,” he said. “‘Yeah, maybe this is what I should be about.’”

Kirchner arrived on Kauai to minister to the island on April 15, 1998.

“I got here by a huge mistake,” he said, laughing.

While Kirchner was living in Texas, Bishop Robert Miller of the Pacifica Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America called and asked him if he would like to be interviewed about becoming a minister on Kauai. Kirchner said no at first but was later convinced to come to the island.

“After I came here, introduced myself to the bishop and thanked him for his help in getting me here, his mouth dropped open,” Kirchner said. “He said ‘You’re not the Paul Kirchner I thought you were.’”

Miller was expecting another pastor with the same name.

Kirchner has no regrets about ministering here.

“It’s been the best mistake of my life,” he said.

Kirchner said his favorite moment during his ministry was celebrating Lihue Lutheran Church’s 125-year anniversary in 2006.

“Ministering on the island is just such an honor because not only am I the pastor of Lihue Lutheran Church but because it’s a small, family kind of island,” he said. “You have the wonderful opportunity to be a chaplain for the entire island.”

Kirchner will celebrate his last service at the Lihue Lutheran Church on Sept. 27.

“I think the biggest hope is that the church continue to be a light because there’s a lot of pressure on the people who live here,” he said. “It’s just been a fabulous ministry. Couldn’t ask for a better place.”

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