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USA News

'Come to us for Christmas' fire-ravaged churches in Hawaii welcomed by other denominations as recovery continues

by Ros Mayfield

Churches on the island of Maui are putting denominational differences aside, and joining together for Christmas services, for congregations whose churches were lost in the devastating fire four months ago.

At least a hundred people died in a series of wildfires in August, and much of Hawaii’s early Christian heritage was burned to the ground.

The congregation of Holy Innocents Episcopal Church, in the town of Lahaina is just beginning to hold services again - worshipping at a United Methodist Church (UMC) in neighbouring Napili. The historic building, was destroyed along with the vicarage, office and pre-school.  Advent is a particularly poignant new beginning for them, as one of their members lost their life in the fire.  The parish’s first service at the UMC was on the first Sunday of Advent, and saw the congregation of 30 double in size, thanks mostly to tourists.

“Parishioners were happy to be together, to see each other and to give hugs,” Rev Sandy Graham, canon to Hawaii Bishop Robert Fitzpatrick, told the Episcopal News Service. “There’s a lot to be woeful about … . Some have more tragedy and more heavy hearts than others.”

More than 32,000 residents and tourists were evacuated over a 4 day period in August, in Hawaii’s deadliest wildfires in over a century.  Some of the older members of the community fear they may never worship in their home church again, because of the length of time it will take to rebuild.

Volunteers gained access to the site on 8 December, sifting through ashes in the search for any relics or mementoes worth salvaging for the new construction.

The altar cross was eventually found, but many items reportedly crumbled into ash when they were moved.

For now, Holy Innocents will continue holding its worship services at Honolua United Methodist Church. This year, Methodists and Episcopalians will hold joint Christmas services for their congregations.

“We’re very thankful for Honolua United Methodist Church for providing us a spot to worship,” Graham said. “Parishioners of Holy Innocents are doing the best they can and they’re hopeful and they’re lifting each other up.”


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