St. Nicholas Episcopal Church in Kapolei was looking for a new leader who was young, vibrant and a bit of "a rock star" to draw young people.
Enter Paul K. Klitzke, who at 30 is the youngest priest in the youngest church in the Episcopal Diocese of Hawaii. He plays electric guitar in the church band. He sports an earring and tattoos. He zooms about Kapolei on a red motorcycle.
Someone he met here told him he looked more like a biker than a vicar.
(Indeed, he is planning a Blessing of the Bikes service later this year.)
Klitzke came from Wasilla, Alaska, where he served as priest of St. David’s Episcopal Church and developed activities for youth the last five years. He arrived in March and will be ceremoniously installed tomorrow by Bishop Robert Fitzpatrick. Established in 2002, the congregation meets at Island Pacific Academy, 909 Haumea St.
"We were looking for … someone said ‘a rock-star priest,’ somebody who would draw families, attract a lot of people … exciting," said Cheryl Chee, a member of the St. Nicholas committee that interviewed Klitzke for the job. "He seemed to fit what we were looking for, his experience and appeal to young people."
Said Klitzke: "They wanted someone who could relate to the culture and the people instead of someone who wears a clergy shirt and shows up on time. I usually do wear a clergy shirt on Sundays, but otherwise I dress like everybody else. … They don’t have to worry about kissing my ring — I’m joking. They can be themselves around me.
"I preach and teach in a way that I can connect with them. We also meet over lunch and coffee, and I actually care about their lives," said Klitzke, who has two young children with his wife, Sarah.
Since his arrival, the church has drawn an increased number of 20-somethings who aren’t parents — a demographic that churches often struggle to reach — and the longtime regulars are more active, he said.
"It’s not a matter of being entertaining. It’s presenting your message in a (certain) way. Being a little self-deprecating helps; so is a story about yourself — how I messed things up and how I recognized it. We can be foolish and sinful together and rejoice in the fact that God loves us anyway."
Though he grew up with Bible stories and scripture, Klitzke said he reached a turning point when he was 12 and feeling frustrated with life after his grandfather died.
"I heard my grandfather say my name so clearly I turned around, looking for him. His tone was … assuring. He only said it once.
"I didn’t see him, but I did see a beautiful day, the sun shining on the field, the wind blowing through the trees. The things I was frustrated about — it wasn’t a big deal anymore. I was at rest knowing my grandfather was in heaven. I had faith in a new way — not just an academic faith, but a spiritual understanding," he said.