Tuesday | August 22, 2017
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125 years of faith: Historic Hilo church with Portuguese roots celebrating another milestone

It was 1892 when Central Christian Church held its first worship services.

Back then, there were about 100 members who largely hailed from Hilo’s Portuguese-speaking community. They convened in a modest 48-by-24-foot building on Haili Street, known as Church Street at the time for its plethora of churches, according to historical details written by early members.

“They came from Illinois after having fled persecution in Portugal,” said co-pastor Kevin Hill, adding the church originally was named Portuguese Evangelical Church. “In the 1840s, there was massive persecution in Portugal. … So they fled to Illinois in America, and those are the people who (eventually) came here and started the church.”

This week, Central Christian is celebrating its 125th anniversary. It currently has about 50 active members who are marking the occasion with a three-day community dedication and celebration that begins today.

Much is different from those founding days: Leadership has changed hands more than a dozen times and membership through the years has fluctuated. In the 1930s, Central Christian began operating under its current name to represent its more diverse congregation.

Its original building still stands, however, and that’s where services continue to be conducted. The building is considered a historical site in Hilo and is even a stop on the Hilo Downtown Improvement Association’s Historic Hilo Walking Tour.

Inside, bits of its past also remain: The worship area features stained glass windows installed more than 100 years ago and a pulpit from some of its first sermons.

Two active members also have ties to the earliest days, including Mildred (Pavao) Yamamoto, 74, whose relative helped construct the Kaiwiki Chapel in 1910. The now-decommissioned chapel, located on Kaiwiki Road, is a branch of Central Christian, built at the time to accommodate the large number of plantation families nearby.

Yamamoto said Thursday she fondly remembers regular Bible study sessions as a young churchgoer and weekly Sunday services with her large family. She said she’s seen many changes through the years, but said the congregation’s “love for each other” is the same.

Several of Yamamoto’s family members are pictured in historical photos on display for the 125th anniversary.

“Any church you attend might have changes because the people in charge are doing things different,” Yamamoto said. “At the beginning you might question (changes), but after awhile you just enjoy seeing what has taken place. … And as you get older, you get attached more to people than when you’re young. For me, this is my home.”

Central Christian has celebrated most milestone anniversaries through the decades, though its been 15 years since its last anniversary event, according to co-pastor Kimi Hill.

Hill became co-pastor along with her husband in April 2016. The Hills say they’re working to make needed renovations to the longstanding church building and increase membership, particularly among young people.

“But it’s pretty special to have the kupuna,” Kevin Hill said. “It’s having the best of both. Because we have the newer, younger people coming but also the benefit of the previous (generation) and their values. … They are our continuity all the way back to the beginning 125 years ago.

“We hope the next 125 years is even more awesome than the last.”

Email Kirsten Johnson at kjohnson@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

IF YOU GO …

Central Christian Church’s three-day anniversary celebration begins at 6 p.m. today with a two-hour worship, prayer and dedication event.

It continues from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday with worship, giveaways, free lunch, games for children, free cotton candy and shave ice.

From 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Sunday, the celebration concludes with a history of the church presentation, free lunch, free cotton candy and shave ice.

The church is located at 109 Haili St. For more information, call 935-8025.

 

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