Known as the “First Christian Church of Hawai‘i,” Mokuaikaua Church in Kailua Kona is a landmark manifestation of the influence and dedication of many individuals and groups throughout its nearly 200-year history.
Henry ʻŌpūkahaʻia, one of the first native Hawai‘ians to become a Christian, was only 26 years old in 1818 when he died of typhoid fever in Cornwell, Connecticut. Yet, The Memoirs of Henry ʻŌpūkahaʻia, a book he wrote about his life and philosophies that circulated throughout New England after his death, inspired 14 American Protestant missionaries to embark on a 5 1/2-month voyage to Hawai‘i. Among those who arrived in Kailua Kona on the Thaddeus in April 1820, were Reverend Asa Thurston and his wife Lucy Goodale Thurston.
In 1823, Reverend Thurston dedicated a wooden church 60 feet long by 30 feet wide, built under the direction of Kuakini, governor of Hawai‘i Island. It was named Mokuaikaua Church, probably relating to the region in which ohia (native hardwood) timbers were cut for the building. The church was soon unable to hold its growing number of members. A new church, constructed of wood with a thatched roof, was dedicated on September 27, 1826.
A fire in 1835 encouraged Reverend Thurston to erect a more durable church. Men were sent to the forests to gather ohia timber. This time, the wooden structure was joined with ohia pins and huge cornerstones repurposed from existing heiau were set in place. Kona’s upland forests were scoured for the roof’s 50 ft. spanning beams. Coral dragged from the ocean floor and burned for its lime supplied mortar for the walls of the church, which measures 120 ft. by 48 ft. Building construction merged the expertise of native Hawaiians and foreign workers. The new sanctuary was dedicated on February 4, 1837, and has lasted to this day.
Mokuaikaua Congregational Church underwent major repairs in 1865 and in 1937. In 1910, a memorial arch was erected at the entrance to the church grounds to commemorate the arrival of the first missionaries. A steeple,
designed by renowned Honolulu architect Charles W. Dickey was built in 1926 and has become an iconic landmark of West Hawai‘i, associated worldwide with Kailua Kona.
Mokuaikaua Church has continued to serve and support the larger community for nearly 200 years with ministries, space sharing and partnerships that fulfill our three-fold calling of Missions, Education and Mercy Ministries. David de Carvalho leads the church as its 31st pastor. Born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, David moved to Hawai‘i in 1981 and has called Hawai‘i Island his home ever since. The Mokuaikaua Church building, dedicated in 1837 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, serves a congregation of multi-cultural member-families, many tracing their roots to the church’s founding. It hosts and welcome guests from all over the world for Sunday Services. The sanctuary is open daily, receiving 4,000 visitors monthly, with volunteer-led history talks available on Sundays immediately following the second service.
The Education Building, constructed in 1963, is currently leased to Kamehameha Schools for its Kona Preschool campus, a year-round program that serves 48 preschoolers all of whom share Hawai‘ian ancestry.
The Activity Center, constructed in 1972, houses administrative offices, gathering lanai, conference room and two multi-purpose rooms used for weekday ministries, special events, youth and Sunday school classrooms.
Church programs include:
• Sunday services and fellowship for seniors at Life Care Center
• Dress a Girl Around the World – volunteers sew dresses each month
• Journey to Bethlehem – a live interactive Christmas exhibit
• Hawaiian history lessons for students and school groups studying
• Hawaiian history and “History Talks,” volunteer-led tours of Mokuaikaua
• Ironman Triathlon Pancake and Prayer Breakfast – a community race
Outreach programs support the community with:
• Hope Services – to provide emergency food baskets for the most needy
• Jesus Burgers, a feeding and outreach program on Friday nights on our front lawn in partnership with University of the Nations
• Samaritan’s Purse and Operation Christmas Child to provide shoebox gift boxes
Mokuaikaua’s Economic Halo Effect on the Community
In April 2017, Partners in Sacred Places conducted an onsite survey to determine the monetary value that the church brings to Kailua Kona. By measuring Direct Spending, Magnet Effect, Individual Impact and the Invisible Safety Net, Partners reported that Mokuaikaua’s Economic Halo Effect on the community totaled $3,324,889 .
Partners for Sacred Places was founded in 1989 by a national coalition of leaders from the religious, philanthropic and historic preservation communities.