Hawaii’s First Christian Church Gets New Roof in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii
by Ali Turner, editorial & multimedia manager
Mokuaikaua Church in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, was the first Christian church established on the Hawaiian Islands, and today it remains an important part of the local community. In 1820, East Coast missionaries arrived in Hawaii, landing at what’s known today as Hawaii’s Plymouth Rock. Mokuaikaua Church was built in Kailua-Kona by Reverend Asa Thurston and his wife after they arrived on the ship Thaddeus. The name, Mokuaikaua, is from the forest area above the town, where timber was sourced for the construction of the church. The first version of the church was 60’ long by 30’ wide, but the congregation quickly outgrew the small building, and a larger version was built in 1826.
The original roof was thatched with pandanus leaves, but fire threats led to the congregation erecting a sturdier timber-beam roof. Ocean coral was burned for its lime and used for the mortar of the walls of the church. Major repairs occurred in 1865 and 1937, a memorial arch was built in 1910, and a 112’ steeple was added in 1926. The church building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, and in 2014 was named one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places by the National Trust for Historic Preservation®.
It was in 2013 that a routine termite inspection uncovered more critical issues with the historic building. Then, in 2016, a 6.7-magnitude earthquake shook the island and exposed safety and usability risks throughout Mokuaikaua Church. Reverend David de Carvalho and Mokuaikaua’s Board of Trustees came up with a building preservation plan and began a capital campaign to restore the beloved building. Various large-scale donations came in from community members and global contributors, as well as a $250,000 grant from the National Fund for Sacred Places.
Construction began in April 2019, starting with strengthening the structural integrity of the building from the ground up. This included installing large steel beams, replacing termite-damaged posts, preserving the New England-style steeple, and much more. Mokuaikaua Church leadership brought on Ali’i Builders LLC, Kailua-Kona, to complete the roof and bell tower renovation project. “The existing roof had to be removed first in order to complete structural components of the project,” explained Eric Moxley, construction manager and estimator, Ali’i Builders LLC.
Ali’i Builders installed CertainTeed® Landmark® Pro Architectural Shingles and CertainTeed Shadow Ridge® Hip and Ridge Accessory Shingles, both in the color solaris silver birch, on top of a CertainTeed WinterGuard® Underlayment. Landmark Pro Architectural Shingles employ substantial weathering asphalt and a tough fiberglass mat, making it a great choice for the weather-prone location of Mokuaikaua Church. The shingles also include CertainTeed’s NailTrak™ feature, which enables a faster, more precise installation.
Heavy rain, pedestrians, and an onsite preschool made the installation process challenging for the Ali’i team. Also, Mokuaikaua Church is a tourist attraction in the town, so visitors from around the globe were always a stone’s throw away from the construction site. The new roof was attached to the walls with brackets, and those walls were straightened and reinforced. The entire renovation was a community project, and the Historic Hawaii Foundation donated $75,000 to help restore the steeple.
Mokuaikaua Church’s 200th anniversary celebration in 2020 was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but plans to preserve and renovate the landmark church building remained. More funds are required to complete the restoration project, with hopes of further strengthening the iconic steeple, as well as additional cosmetic work on the church’s property. For now, though, Ali’i Builders LLC was able to fortify the historic church’s roof, allowing Mokuaikaua’s leaders and congregation to continue their spiritual and charitable work for the people of the Hawaiian Islands.