On Sunday, August 25, 2013, we celebrated church’s 50th Anniversary with a special Consecration Renewal Service, commemorating 50 years we have been in mission at our present location in Waialae/Kahala, Honolulu. The first Consecration Service was held on the same Sunday morning in worship, exactly 50 years earlier, on Sunday, August 25, 1963.
Wesley United Methodist Church began when a small group at the Old River Street Japanese Methodist Episcopal Mission near downtown Honolulu started a branch mission on South King Street in 1899. (The Old River Street Mission eventually became Harris United Methodist Church). The group met in a small wooden structure built on what was then nothing but pasture land at the intersection of Kalakaua Avenue and South King Street. The new branch mission was named the South King Street Japanese Methodist Episcopal Church. Rev. H. Kihara was its first pastor, followed by Rev. Gennosuke Motokawa in 1903. During Rev. Motokawa’s ministry, a new building was constructed on Punahou Street, just below South King Street and Kalakaua Avenue intersection in 1912.
Church services were conducted primarily in Japanese, until the need was realized for an English speaking service. Rev. Harry Komuro was assigned to the church as the first English-speaking pastor in 1936. Rev. Komuro was succeeded by student pastor James Terauchi for a year. Rev. Hilo Himeno was assigned in 1940 and was bilingual, so he preached for both language services. With the outbreak of World War II, Rev. Himeno was interned in 1942. Fortunately, his wife, Emma, who was also a seminary graduate, took over the pastoral responsibilities and ably ministered to the needs of the English speaking congregation.
Rev. Phillip Solbjor came to the church from the mainland in 1944. During his 5-year tenure, the church became self-supporting in 1945, the sanctuary was enlarged and a new educational unit was added. On April 14, 1946, the church became known as the Wesley Methodist Church.
In 1949, Rev. Robert McNabb was appointed to Wesley’s English congregation, and Rev. Seikan Higa to the Japanese congregation. Rev. Higa’s faithful service spanned a period of 23 years when he retired in 1972. Rev. McNabb took great interest in the ministry with young people, especially those in the military service. The church adopted the slogan: “The Friendliest Church in Town.” Indeed, it was the friendliest church. By this time, the need to explore the feasibility of relocating the church became apparent. With the assistance of the Division of National Mission of the Methodist Church, the church undertook in late 1950 a feasibility study of the present site for adequacy of facilities for future expansion and growth, along with a survey of community needs in the developing areas in Honolulu. The conclusion was the need for relocation.
The first of four building campaign drives began in 1958 under thedirectorship of Rev. Leon Blackman of the Division of National Missions and assisted by Rev. Shuey Fujishiro (the pastor of Wesley then and at the new Kahala location) and Ernest Akamine, chairman of the Building Committee.
The campaign netted $34,915 in pledges for a 3-year period. The old site on Punahou Street was sold for $110,000 in 1961. With an additional loan of $71, 534 , the new site in Kahala was purchased from the Bishop Estate for $181, 534. Ground was broken on December 2, 1962 on the new site on Hunakai Street, and construction of the first phase of the Sanctuary-Christian Education Building began. On Sunday, August 25, 1963, we formally moved to the new site with a Consecration Service for the new buildings, with the Hawaii Mission Superintendent, Rev. Frank Butterworth, preaching in the worship service. After 64 years at the old site, our church relocated to a new site with great expectations and hopes to expand our ministry to a new and growing community.
As members and friends of Wesley United Methodist Church, we rejoice and praise God for the blessing of this sacred place, this Beloved Community and the continuing opportunity to serve our community and be in mission in the world. We honor with gratitude the faithfulness and devotion of the “saints” and forebears of Wesley who have gone before us – the “cloud of witnesses” who left us a living legacy to embrace and carry forth with new vitality and vision.