Kawaiaha‘o Church represents the movement from old to new Hawai‘i. With its founding came a hope and the fiber with which to build a Christian nation. Kawaiaha‘o stands as the first Christian church to be built on O‘ahu, and today is respected as the Mother Church of Hawai‘i, where God’s work continues and the Hawaiian culture and language is perpetuated.
Prior to the missionaries arriving in the islands, the flat plain just south of the village of Honolulu was a barren, windswept dust bowl – little more than a desert. However, in the midst of this sun-parched land there was an oasis, a spring whose waters were reserved exclusively for the land’s high chiefs and chiefesses. One such noble who frequented this pool was the chiefess Ha‘o. Eventually these waters, and the surrounding land, came to be known as Ka Wai a Ha‘o-the freshwater pool of Ha‘o.
In 1820, the first missionaries arrived in Hawai‘i, and found themselves well-accepted by royalty as well as the general populace. They were granted land at Kawaiaha‘o for the purpose of establishing their residence, and thatched houses were erected by local labor on orders of King Kamehameha III.
Thatched with grass and lined with mats, the first sanctuary was erected in the native manner. . Measuring 54 feet by 22 feet, the structure was designed to seat 300. As the congregation continued to grow, and in some cases as the result of fire or severe wind storms, three more thatched structures were erected to replace their predecessor. It was not until 1837 that the gathering of materials for the great stone house of worship begun.
On July 31, 1838, the digging of the foundation was begun. It was no minuscule task, nor was it one lacking in support as many as a thousand people assembled on the grounds of Kawaiaha‘o to dig down to bed rock to ensure the best footing for their cathedral.
The “Stone Church,” as it came to be known, was in fact not built of stone; but of giant slabs of coral hewn from ocean reefs. These slabs were not easily accessible; and had to be quarried from under water and transported, each weighed more than 1,000 pounds. Natives dove 10 to 20 feet to hand-chisel these pieces from the reef, then raised them to the surface, loaded them into canoes, and ferried them to shore. The physically and spiritually strong hauled some 14,000 of the slabs to their final destination.
Following five years of labor The Great Stone Church was ready for dedication ceremonies on July 21, 1842. The grounds of Kawaiaha‘o overflowed with 4,000 to 5,000 faithful worshippers. King Kamehameha III, who contributed generously to the fund, attended that service. It had taken the community five years from commencement to completion – two years less than it took Solomon to build his temple. The estimated cost was $30,000. Kawaiahaʻo Church has witnessed much history, within the walls the kingdom’s royalty prayed, sang hymns, were married, christened their children, and finally laid in state. On the grounds surrounding the church are buried a number of original missionaries. The 9/11 tragedy found many in prayer in the sanctuary.