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Happy, historic 125th: Hilo’s Central Christian Church celebrates milestone

Updated: 
August 11, 2017 - 8:09am

HILO — It was 1892 when Central Christian Church held its first worship services.

Back then, there were about 100-members who largely hailed from Hilo’s Portuguese-speaking community. They convened in a modest 48-foot-by 24-foot building on Haili Street, known as Church Street at the time for its plethora of churches, according to historical details written by early members.

“They came from Illinois after having fled persecution in Portugal,” said co-pastor Kevin Hill, adding the church was originally named Portuguese Evangelical Church. “In the 1840s, there was massive persecution in Portugal. … So they fled to Illinois in America, and those are the people who (eventually) came here and started the church.”

This week, Central Christian is celebrating its 125th anniversary. It currently has about 50 active members who are marking the occasion with a three-day community dedication and celebration which begins today.

Much is different from those founding days: Leadership has changed hands more than a dozen times, and membership over the years has fluctuated. In the 1930s, Central Christian began operating under its current name to represent its more diverse congregation.

Its original building still stands, however, and that’s where services continue to be held. The building is considered a historical site in Hilo and is even a stop on the Historic Downtown Hilo Walking Tour.

Inside, bits of its past also remain: For example, the worship area features stained glass windows installed more than 100 years ago and a pulpit from some of its first sermons.

Two active members also hold ties to the earliest days, including Mildred Yamamoto (Pavao), 74, whose relative helped construct the Kaiwiki Chapel in 1910. The now-decommissioned chapel, located on Kaiwiki Road, is a branch of Central Christian, built at the time to accommodate the large number of plantation families nearby.

Yamamoto said Thursday she fondly remembers regular Bible study sessions as a young churchgoer and weekly Sunday services with her large family. She said she’s seen many changes over the years, but said the congregation’s “love for each other” is the same.

Several of Yamamoto’s family members are pictured in historical photos currently on display for the 125th anniversary.

“Any church you attend might have changes, because the people in charge are doing things different,” Yamamoto said. “At the beginning you might question (changes), but after awhile you just enjoy seeing what has taken place. … And as you get older, you get attached more to people than when you’re young. For me, this is my home.”

Central Christian has celebrated most milestone anniversaries over the decades, though this week’s three-day event marks its first anniversary celebration in 15 years, according to co-pastor Kimi Hill.

Hill became co-pastor along with her husband in April 2016. The duo says they’re currently working to make needed renovations to the longstanding church building and further increase membership, particularly among young people.

“But it’s pretty special to have the kupuna,” Kevin Hill said. “It’s having the best of both. Because we have the newer, younger people coming but also the benefit of the previous (generation) and their values. … They are our continuity all the way back to the beginning 125 years ago.

“We hope the next 125 years is even more awesome than the last.”

Email Kirsten Johnson at kjohnson@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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