Central Union Church celebrates 130 years
Central Union Church sits amid an expanse of greenery and is easily recognized by its colonial-style steeple.
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Nicknamed “the church in the garden” when first built on the corner of South Beretania and Punahou streets, Central Union Church sits amid an expanse of greenery and is easily recognized by its
The stone spire symbolizes the sanctuary of hope that Central Union has been for 130 years, churchgoers have declared through sermon and poetry long ago.
It first ministered to lonely whaling seamen, then became the home church
for Congregational missionaries transplanted from
The historic landmark was birthed from the merger of Bethel Union Church and Fort Street Church, and renamed
Central Union Church on Nov. 12, 1887. The major milestone was celebrated with a luau Saturday and a special Sunday service will be held at 10 a.m. today.
Over the years, Central Union spawned more than 20 other congregations, schools and nonprofitsincluding First Chinese Church of Christ, the
Nuuanu Congregational Church, Makiki Christian Church and Palama Settlement. It also helped bring the first Anglicans of the Episcopal Diocese of
Hawaii in 1840, and Methodists in 1857.
Senior Pastor David Rivers, who has led the United Church of Christ body since 2014, said the members’ greatest hope is that they “embrace all,” focusing on ethnic diversity and inclusion of all members of society. “Social justice is one of the root forces that pushes our church, and we really can’t do it by ourselves,”
so partnering with numerous nonprofits strengthens the community, he said.
“We have the whole continuum of life here on campus — people from 2 years to 101 years old,” and activities ranging from weddings to memorials, and pre-school to senior day care, Rivers said.
Church council spokeswoman Carolyn Bell-Tuttle
said more than 10,000 people come to the campus each month. Recently added partnerships include Touch A Heart, which uses the kitchen to help homeless women gain cooking skills useful for employment; and Hoola Na Pua, which is “committed to
renewing lives of girls who were once trafficked.”
Elspeth Cantlay Kerr, called “Eppy” for short, is “not the oldest member here but I’m about to be 90,” she said, adding, “I’ve been coming here since I was a baby with my family.”
Her fondest memories include attending the festive Christmas Eve service every year, taking part in the Christmas plays growing up, and that “we always had kids singing.”
“I got my first job here as an assistant for the summer school program for $10 a season” as a teenager, and was christened and married in the church, Kerr added.
Strong ministers and a robust musical program have historically made Central Union “a strong church.”
Although attendance is on
a downturn in keeping with the national trend, “we have a very good program that can reach a broad spectrum of people,” Kerr said.