Although Rev. Mueller hoped to retire after her 30th year, she realized that perhaps it was time for someone new to step in and reinvigorate St. John’s.
Rev. Mueller said, “My real hope is that in some way my ministry illustrated to the community and the world that God is not looking for an orientation of flesh, male or female, but for the willingness of the heart and spirit to follow in the footsteps of Christ Jesus.”
Rev. Mueller recalls how only days after she first felt a clear call to the ministry, a friend invited her to visit the Church Divinity School of the Pacific (CDSP) in Berkeley, Calif., to hear a debate about the ordination of women.
Rev. Mueller bids a fond aloha after serving as pastor of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Kula for 29 years.
Photo: Paul Schumacher
“I was also keenly aware of the issues around the rights of women and girls,” Rev. Mueller said. “The person arguing for ordination of women spoke directly to my heart and soul.”
She took the admissions test for graduate school and enrolled at CDSP at a time when the National Convention of the Episcopal Church had twice turned down the ordination of women. After a 125-year struggle, the resolution allowing the ordination of women into the priesthood of the Episcopal Church passed in 1976.
That same year, Rev. Mueller came to Hawai‘i, where she met the Rt. Rev. Edmond Lee Browning, bishop of Hawai‘i and the future presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church. He supported the ordination of women and encouraged Rev. Mueller, who completed her internship at All Saints Episcopal Church in Kapa‘a under the supervision of Rev. Richard S.O. Chang. Rev. Chang, the future bishop of Hawai‘i, ordained Rev. Mueller into the diaconate in 1979 after she received her Master of Divinity degree.
However, she was not satisfied being a deacon—she wanted to be a priest.
In 1979, Rev. Mueller was appointed chaplain at Seabury Hall, a post she held until January 1981. In April 1981, she was ordained by Bishop Browning at All Saints Episcopal Church. Her long struggle was successful.
“Women’s rights were a huge issue then, and are still a major issue around the world,” said Rev. Mueller.
At that time, St. John’s Episcopal Church was looking for a rector. They employed a series of rectors in only a few years, and relocating them from the Mainland was taxing the church’s resources.
Janet Makua, who has been St. John’s Parish administrator as long as Rev. Mueller has been the rector, said half-jokingly, “We were happy to find a priest from Hawai‘i. I borrowed my husband’s truck, and with two other church members, we drove to Lahaina, loaded up Rev. Mueller’s belongings and brought them to Kula. Total moving expenses—$5 for gas.”
As rector, Mueller has presided over the installation of the church hall, the renovation of the church, the fabrication of a labyrinth and the installation of a Tracker pipe organ. In 2001, the church acquired 4.4 acres of adjacent land, creating a magnificent campus and ensuring the church’s future growth and development. Currently, the church cemetery is being reorganized and new pavers have been installed.
Besides fulfilling her priesthood, she was a founder of Maui Christian Ministers Association in 1985, and since 1992, she has been a member of the National Network of Episcopal Clergy Association and the Hawai‘i Episcopal Clergy Association. She was a founding member of the Kula Community Association and a member of the Rotary Club of Maui since 1993. She was club president this past year.
“I am very proud of the work Heather has been able to accomplish at St. John’s,” said Hawai‘i Bishop Rt. Rev. Robert Fitzpatrick. “The congregation has grown numerically and in ministry under her tenure. I appreciate all that she has done for the church and the diocese.”
What has kept Rev. Mueller at St. John’s for all these years?
“It is the love of the ministry and the fact that the congregation is a living, growing and changing experience,” said Rev. Mueller. “Seeing our parishioners and the community donate the use of their many different gifts, skills and talents to St. John’s has been a blessing.”
The entire Maui community is invited to the annual St. John’s Kula Festival on Saturday, Sept. 25, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the grounds of the church (see “St. John’s Kula Fest” on the front page).
Rev. Mueller will take a new post on Jan. 1, 2011, in Jerusalem as the warden of St. George’s College and Cathedral.