On September 9, 2000, the Lutheran Church of Honolulu celebrated its 100th anniversary with worship, music, skits, and feasting. The ministry of LCH had spanned the 20th century, closely entwined with the history of Hawai‘i and the nation. Nourished and shaped by this history, the congregation looks forward to continuing its witness and service into the future. LCH has evolved through several different eras.
The Hackfelds and the Isenbergs, two German families that arrived in the Kingdom of Hawai‘i in the mid-1800s, were instrumental in founding and funding the church. Merchant Heinrich Hackfeld began the firm later known as American Factors Ltd. or Amfac, and Paul Isenberg was a businessman and sugar plantation owner. In the late 1800s, Amfac brought 1,500 contract workers and their families from Germany to work on its plantations.
On September 9, 1900, the Territorial Government approved the Charter of the Deutsch-Evangelisch-Lutherische Gemeinde zu Honolulu. The Hackfelds and Isenbergs each donated $25,000 to build a church and import a pastor and pipe organ from Germany. Such generous donations by the founders, their relatives, and friends meant plate offerings were unnecessary during the early years.
When the United States entered World War I in April 1917, everything changed. Ties with the State Church of Germany lapsed. By 1919, Germans and German-Americans lost their positions at Amfac and the firm’s assets were seized. Although this sharply reduced financial support for the church, contributions from early German parishioners continued for another 40 years.
In the summer of 1916, the Rev. Dr. Arthur Hörmann, an American citizen educated in Germany, arrived to pastor the church. Under Dr. Hörmann’s guidance, LCH changed from a German-speaking, foreign-based congregation to an American church. English services were introduced gradually, and both languages were used in the ministry until 1941, when the U.S. entered World War II and the church legally became “The Lutheran Church of Honolulu.” Pastor Hörmann expanded membership beyond the German-American community and asked all parishioners to commit their time, talent, and financial support. He also encouraged LCH to affiliate with the United Lutheran Church in America, which became the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America after several mergers. LCH became part of the ELCA in 1991.
In the late 1940s following World War II, the Territory of Hawai‘i acquired the church’s first home on Beretania Street in what is now the Hawai‘i Capitol District. LCH bought its present site on Punahou Street in Manoa in 1952 and dedicated a new sanctuary and parish hall on October 4, 1953.
By 1970, the density of the neighborhood had increased, and the open architectural style no longer offered a quiet place for worship. Under the Rev. Dr. Donald K. Johnson, who became pastor in 1969, the church began planning for a major renovation. Respected local architect Vladimir Ossipoff relocated the altar to the middle of the nave and enclosed the worship space, enhancing the participation of the congregation in the Word and Sacrament and bringing the Eucharist into the midst of the people. Ossipoff’s design also made the Hörmann Courtyard a gathering place for families, friends and visitors. The new nave was dedicated in 1975.
Music has always been central to the worship life at LCH. Accordingly, the renovation included a new tracker organ by Rudolph von Beckerath of Hamburg, Germany. Cantor (music director) Carl Crosier has built a stellar music program for Sunday worship, special concerts, and recitals around the organ. Organist Katherine Crosier and technicians from von Beckerath have carefully maintained the instrument. LCH presentations of numerous works of J.S. Bach, most notably the performances to sold-out audiences of the St. Matthew Passion in March 2000, continue to reflect the congregation’s German heritage.
In an effort to model the healing love of Christ, church members voted overwhelmingly to become a Reconciling in Christ congregation in 1993. Since then, the church has received gay and lesbian persons, extending to them all rights, privileges, and responsibilities of membership. Our growing diversity has challenged us and immeasurably enriched our corporate life as people of God. LCH also led the Pacifica Synod to become a Reconciling in Christ Synod within the ELCA.
In 1998 the congregation voted to assume direction of the preschool, which had been operated by an outside service provider for many years. LCH subsidized the facility financially, and church members served on the board of directors. In early 2006, responding to overtures from Our Redeemer Lutheran Church and School (Missouri Synod) as well as illness on the part of the preschool director, management of the preschool was transferred to Our Redeemer. The school continues with a year-round enrollment of over 50 children, ages 2–5.
Following Pastor Johnson’s retirement in early 2000, the Rev. David J. Barber was called as intentional interim pastor. Pastor Barber arrive towards the beginning of Lent, just a month before the St. Matthew extravaganza, and soon realized (as he said in his Easter sermon that year) that there is something a little “insane” about LCH. Over the next year, which included the 100th anniversary of the founding of the congregation, the match between Pastor Barber and LCH became apparent to many. Even though normal procedures do not allow a congregation to call their interim as pastor, Pacifica Bishop Murray Finck granted an exception, and the congregation joyously installed Pastor Barber on September 9, 2001.
The tragic events of September 11, 2001, could not quelled our momentum to move forward. The congregation approved a new mission statement in June 2002 and launched new initiatives in youth and family ministry, outreach, and communication. In the fall of 2003, the congregation undertook a three-year Capital Funds Campaign (2004–2006) for improvements to the LCH campus. This campaign was planned as the first phase of a long-term project to ensure that our facilities can support the congregation’s mission. The congregation has also hosted two seminary interns: Katy Grindberg (Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, 2004–2005) and Joshua Graber (Luther Seminary, 2005–2006).
Following Pastor Barber’s retirement in May 2006, LCH again entered an interim period. Under Interim Pastor Steven Jensen, the Ministry Planning Task Force and the Call Committee led the congregation to clarify goals for future ministry and began the search process. At the same time, through extensive congregational involvement in demolition and various phases of the construction, the kitchen and the restroom were completely gutted and remodeled, bringing the three-year Capital Campaign to a successful conclusion.
Working with Bishop Murray Finck and staff of the Pacifica Synod and guided by the Holy Spirit, LCH called the Rev. Jeff Lilley as the twelfth called pastor of the Lutheran Church of Honolulu, and he was installed on May 20, 2007. In subsequent years, Pastor Jeff has challenged the people of LCH to be actively involved in the mission of God, who is at work in the world.
Responding to this call, the congregation voted in May 2011 to begin a fundraising campaign designed to provide staff and physical resources that will enable us to fulfill the congregation’s mission planning efforts. This m1ssion campaign has already carried out a complete renovation of the parking lot behind the church, called an associate pastor, and begun planning to cover the Hörmann Courtyard to support additional ministries.
2011 also marked a significant transition in the music ministry of LCH. The previous year, Carl Crosier had announced his retirement as cantor in August 2011, kicking off “another year of insanity” in the LCH music program. (These plans led Kathy Crosier, LCH organist, to begin her her popular blog to document the insanity.) That season included the Monteverdi Vespers, Bach’s Mass in B-Minor, five Bach cantatas, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass. Carl’s 38-year ministry was celebrated at his final worship service on August 21, 2011, and Dr. Miguel Felipe took over the music ministry as director of music and liturgy shortly thereafter.
In March 2012, the congregation voted to call Pr. Angela Freeman for a two-year term as associate pastor. As a full partner in the ministry of LCH, Pr. Angela will share the full range of pastoral duties as part of a comprehensive ministry team where each member’s gifts and talents will be utilized to share Christ’s mission. Her particular areas of ministry will include outreach to the Makiki/Manoa neighborhood and Waikiki; work with youth, young adults, and families; and work with students and staff at the University of Hawai‘i and Hawai‘i Pacific University. Pr. Angela arrived in mid July and will be formally installed August 18.
The Lutheran Church of Honolulu is a dynamic Christian community. While shaped by history and grounded in tradition, LCH seeks pastoral and theological growth. We desire to deepen our faith, expand our understanding, and contribute to the healing of our broken world through worship, music, child and youth programs, adult education, and ministering to the hungry, the homeless, and people with HIV/AIDS. Wherever you are on your journey of faith, we invite you to join us.
A history of the Lutheran Church of Honolulu, For Beer and the Bible, by Sandra Wagner-Wright, Professor of History at University of Hawai‘i Hilo, was commissioned for the church’s centennial in 2000 and is available for $15.00. Please contact the church office at 808-941-2566 to order this book.