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Kahu Jeff Crews leads an ‘amazing treasure’ in Waiola Church

By BY CINDY SCHUMACHER - | Apr 9, 2015

On Feb. 21, 2015, Waiola Church installed its new senior minister, Kahu Jeff Crews. “I am passionate about the history, culture and faith in our church. Together, our congregation can be a beacon of light and hope in the community,” he said. PHOTO BY CINDY SCHUMACHER.

LAHAINA – “No matter who you are; no matter where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome to be part of Waiola Church in Lahaina,” said its newly installed senior minister, Kahu Jeff Crews.

“Whether you are a lifelong Christian or are engaging your faith for the very first time, there is a place for you in this community!”

Kahu Crews, called to serve the Waiola community on Easter Sunday in 2014, and his spouse, Bill Ickler, feel continuously welcomed and blessed in their new home.

“As I travel and visit other churches, I realize what an amazing treasure Waiola – the first Christian church on Maui – and this congregation are to Lahaina and to Hawaii,” said Kahu Crews.

“We are particularly aware of the richness and importance of our heritage, having celebrated 190 years of service to the community.”

Waiola Church, the first Christian church on Maui, is located at 535 Wainee St. in Lahaina. It was established in 1823. PHOTO COURTESY OF WAIOLA CHURCH.

Waiola, established in 1823, offers a Sunday service both spoken and sung in Hawaiian as well as English. The walls slide open, allowing the breezes to flow through while guitars and ukuleles fill the air with music.

“It is an open air service with welcoming people where the history of Hawaii is begging to be told,” said Kahu Crews.

During his first year at Waiola, Kahu Crews learned that the Hawaiians have much to teach the world. He believes it is their understanding of the land, sea and importance of community that offer the ability to understand that the ecosystems are tied to spirituality.

“Poi was never made alone,” he said. “It takes a community to restore, plant, harvest and pound the kalo. This church believes the same thing. We hold high the ideals of the cultural practices of our ancestors, such as Hawaiian language, music, dance and ‘ohana.”

Kahu Crews felt his first call to serve the church at the age of 12. “However, I didn’t find my spiritual home, an open and affirming church that said it accepted everyone and meant it, until I found the First Congregational Church in Fresno, California.”

After 17 years as a Naval aviator, Kahu Crews became one of the first pilots to fly F/A-18s from aircraft carriers. Later, after various business experiences, Kahu Crews returned to his calling and graduated from the Pacific School of Religion in 2010 with a Master of Divinity Degree.

“I served churches in Orinda, California, and New Haven, Connecticut, before being called to Waiola Church,” said Kahu Crews, noting that members of the United Church of Christ embrace a belief that it is the nature of God to include rather than exclude.

“On a vacation to Maui nine years ago, I wondered if I could ever be so blessed to be able to serve here,” he added.

Now deeply immersed in Waiola’s past, present and future, Kahu Crews is “on fire” in his newly formed partnership with his congregation.

Along with Kahu Pono ‘Anela Rosa, he has initiated a new Sunday school to welcome the keiki into a relationship with God. In addition, there is a recently formed choir, weekly Bible Study and more in an environment that replenishes the soul and inspires the spirit.

Waiola Church is considered the place where Christianity first took hold on Maui. It was the church of the Hawaiian royal family when Lahaina was the capital of the kingdom. Many of the ali’i (royalty) are buried in the adjacent cemetery alongside missionaries and community members.

Waine’e Cemetery was the first Christian cemetery in Hawaii. “A group, Na Kia’i o Waine’e, formed in the fall of 2011 and took over the process of grounds care,” said Kahu Crews. The cemetery is known as a sacred site often visited by tour groups.

“Queen Keopuolani is among the ali’i buried in a royal tomb in the cemetery, along with her daughter, Princess Nahi’ena’ena. Also buried there is King Kaumuali’i, last king of Kauai, among other royals,” Kahu Crews explained.

Waiola Church was rebuilt four times due to windstorms and fires. The present church was built and dedicated on April 26, 1953 and underwent a name change from Waine’e (“creeping waters”) to Waiola (“living waters”) in 1954.

Hale Aloha, the parish hall, also suffered damage throughout the years. Its restoration remained unfinished until an agreement was reached between Maui County and the Lahaina Restoration Foundation to complete it. Today, it is available to rent for a variety of occasions.

“Waiola Church and Hale Aloha are two properties of the Lahaina Historic District. They were designated as a National Historic Landmark District on December 2, 1962,” Kahu Crews said.

He explained that the original bell from the destroyed bell tower now has a permanent home on the front lawn of the church. “The sister bell, almost an exact replica of the original, was installed in the belfry in 2008,” he added.

Kahu Crews and Kahu Pono Rosa invite locals and visitors alike to Waiola Church.

“Join us in an environment that preserves the traditions of the church while accepting a path that is open to change and brings everyone into the ‘ohana of aloha and Christian spirituality,” he concluded.

For more information, go to Waiolaucc.org, e-mail Waiolaucc@waiolachurch.com or call (808) 661-4349.