In a celebration of a relationship that goes back centuries, Hope Church UCC in Alexandria, VA hosted a luau on Saturday, in an evening of feasting and fellowship complete with Hawaiian food, music and dance and most important, an esteemed guest of honor.
The celebration of Hawaiian traditions was like going to the islands without the airfare.
"The Luau at Hope UCC represents some of the best that we hope for in our life together," said church pastor, the Rev. Amber Henry Neuroth. The gathering's "an extravagant welcome to all, celebrating both our unity and our cultural diversity."
Hope Church has a long standing relationship with Hawaii and Pacific Islanders, strong ties in the D.C. metro area which go back decades. The UCC’s missionary heritage dates to the early 19th century. In 1819, Christian missionaries from Congregational churches in New England traveled to Hawaii to share the good news of the Gospel. A descendant of those missionaries, Harold Bailey, was a long-time member of Hope Church until his death in 1999. Hope Church continues to celebrate the relationship those first Congregationalists created with the Hawaiian people in several ways, including the annual Luau celebration.
Other ways island culture is incorporated at Hope Church -- The congregation invites members of the Hawaiian community to worship with Hope, including preaching and sharing Hawaiian culture during services. The Hawaiian Cultural School, Halau Ho’omau I Ka Wai Ola O Hawaii uses church space on Saturdays to teach young people about the arts, including Hula and music.
The church and the school partnered to host the luau, which this year honored Hawaii Senator Daniel Akaka, a long-time member of the Hope congregation, for his spirit and service to the state of Hawaii.
Pastor Neuroth said one of the best moments of the event "was listening to Sen. Akaka describe what his Christian faith has meant to him both in his personal life and in his career of public service."
That sentiment was echoed by many. "We are very honored that Uncle Danny (Sen. Akaka) attended so we can have an opportunity to say aloha and mahalo nui for his service to the state of Hawaii and for his kindness, generosity and boundless aloha spirit," said Manu Ikaika, director of the Halau Hawaiian Cultural School.
Neuroth also used the celebration as a teaching tool. "I loved explaining to some of Hope's kids why we were saying a prayer for the pig that was cooking in the ground, grateful for the food and for the animal's gift to us. They were truly experiencing the beauty of different ways of being spiritual."
The entire Hope UCC congregation, along with the Hawaiian cultural school participants and instructors turned out for the event, buying up all 300 tickets. All proceeds of the Luau will be used to support children’s programs at Hope Church.