Termites are chewing away at the 136-year-old Ka'ahumanu Church, but at least four years of church fundraisers have not brought congregation members anywhere near the $850,000 needed to refurbish the iconic, often-photographed church.
On Thursday, Pastor Wayne Higa said that years of rummage sales, craft fairs, concerts, pulehu steak plate sales and the now-annual "Restoring Our History" event have not even reached $50,000.
"We have a ways to go," Higa said.
Termite and dry damage can be seen recently in Ka‘ahumanu Church’s steeple. An overhaul of the church’s structure is estimated to cost $850,000, but years of church fundraisers have raised less than $50,000.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Now, it's clear that small-scale fundraisers are "not going to fix the church," he said, and the effort is shifting to a "big capital fundraising program."
"Now, we just gotta raise the big money," Higa said, with church leaders setting their sights on grants from big donors, like corporations willing to support a historic preservation project.
Maui-based Hawaii Inspection Group has completed its work of determining what needs to get done, but the task ahead is to raise funds to "actually get the hammer and nails going," he said.
The scope of work includes restoring a leaning steeple, reroofing, waterproofing the church exterior, repairing its foundation and doing historical preservation on pews, windows and front doors.
Letters to potential corporate sponsors of the church preservation project should go out early next year, Higa said.
One concern, he said, is whether the church and its steeple could be further damaged from vibrations caused by the "banging and pounding" of the demolition of the former Wailuku Post Office across High Street.
Another worry is the deteriorated condition of old lumber in the church steeple, he said. "A lot of it is old and rotten and termite eaten."
A first step will be to fumigate the church to at least stop the termite damage, Higa said.
A large-scale project, such as a complete overhaul of the church structure, is beyond the experience of folks in the church's tiny congregation of 20 to 30 members, he said.
"We've never taken on something like this," he said. "It's new to us. It's a learning process as we move forward."
Another possible source of funding could be historic preservation groups, he said, but the problem is that those groups often don't have funding themselves.
Higa said he hopes that the project to restore the church also will "help bring the congregation together" and lead to growth in the church membership.
"We have a good group of people," he said. "It's still small, but it's more than when my wife and I started coming to church here."
Higa has been pastor, or kahu, of the congregational church for six years.
The church began Aug. 19, 1832, when services were conducted under a thatched roof. The church grounds are the site of a royal compound and heiau dating back to the 18th-century chief Kahekili.
The church structure was built in 1876 by Wailuku Sugar Co. and the Rev. Edward Bailey, and it was named in honor of Hana-born Queen Ka'ahumanu, the favorite wife of King Kamehameha the Great.
* Brian Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.