Something beautiful and sacred happens when you merge the exotic tropical beauty of Maui with a traditional Episcopal Church setting. It may be even more beautiful when the church building has no walls or roof.
“Nature’s beauty and bounty allow us a unique opportunity at Trinity to experience the presence of God in creation,” said Rev. Austin B. Murray, pastor at Trinity Episcopal Church by-the-Sea (TBTS) in Kīhei.
A resident of Maui for only a year, Rev. Murray has immersed himself with great reverence into his new position as pastor of TBTS.
This kiawe cross is decorated in simple elegance for Easter Sunday.
“As you approach the sanctuary, you are awakened into an ageless dimension, in which timekeeping doesn’t figure at all,” he said.
Standing in front of the large kiawe cross centered behind the altar, you are brought to an awareness of the simple message of faith, hope and love—gifts that were offered to humanity long before there were Gothic cathedrals, Renaissance paintings or marble statues.
Realizing that his new church is located on a historic site, Rev. Murray was quick to learn of its founder and history.
“TBTS is known as David Malo’s Church,” he said.
Born around 1793, Malo was a leading Native Hawaiian historian and scholar, and the third Native Hawaiian to be ordained in the Christian ministry. While serving Chief Kuakini, brother of Queen Ka‘ahumanu, as oral historian and court genealogist, he helped translate books from the Bible so they could be published in the Hawaiian language. Malo’s own book, Hawaiian Antiquities, is a compilation of Hawaiian religion, cultural history and stories. In 1852, David Malo supervised the building of Kilolani Church, the ruins of which are now on the grounds of TBTS.
“The original building was constructed from hand-hewn coral blocks and river rock,” said Rev. Murray. “It had a wooden-beamed, thatched roof and blown-glass windows.”
Around 1893, during the overthrow of the monarchy, the church was set afire, probably in rebellion against those sympathetic to the U.S. takeover. Soon after, around 1900, a 100-year storm caused flooding that devastated the remaining walls of the church building. The church sat vacant for over a half-century until 1976, when the small Episcopal congregation of TBTS brought the ruins to life and turned it into a sanctuary.
“In appreciation of the life and work of Rev. Malo and out of respect for the largely Hawaiian congregation, the first Sunday service of every month is given primarily in Hawaiian,” said Rev. Murray.
The Hawaiian service begins with the ke kani o ka pū, the sound of the conch shell. The oli wehe, the chant that calls the people to worship, is chosen from Biblical verses appropriate to the liturgical season. The altar is flanked by red and gold kahili, symbols of royalty that remind us of King Kamehameha IV, Alexander Liholiho and Queen Emma. These monarchs welcomed the Anglican Church to Hawai‘i in 1862 and generously supported the church during their reign.
The music often includes such well-loved old Hawaiian hymns as Nū Oli, Glad Tidings, Ke Akua Mana E, How Great Thou Art and Queen Lili‘uokalani’s beautiful Ka Pule ‘O Ali‘i Wahine (The Queen’s Prayer).
“It is the standing cross with no surrounding walls that grabs your attention,” said Rev. Murray.
Under the swaying branches of the palms and kiawe trees, the holy message and its mystery calls for reverence and contemplation. You have stepped over from modern pavement to ancient ground.
“In his parables, Jesus constantly refers to nature,” said Rev. Murray. “He uses birds, animals, seasons and natural events to teach and illustrate his message of God’s abiding love for us. Pages of the Bible come alive for me here at TBTS when the congregation gathers outdoors to worship God the Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth. Under the Maui skies our hearts are opened, our spirits are stirred and our voices rise up in a spontaneous chorus of praise.”
Parishioner Susie Davis of Wailuku has been attending TBTS for many years. “Worshipping in this special place is unique,” she said. “There is a direct line to the heavens with no roof to obstruct God’s beauty.” Davis feels so peaceful and fulfilled on every level at TBTS that she is compelled to volunteer her time and talent. “Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place,” she said.
Everyone is invited to join the multi-cultural, multi-ethnic mix of local residents and visitors at TBTS. These devout members exercise multiple ministries of service within the church and loving outreach to the local community.
“E Komo Mai—all are welcome,” said Rev. Murray. “Join us for an experience that will touch your soul,” he said.