|BY MAILE MELROSE||JULY, 1997|
Imiola Church stands
proudly at the crest of Church Row, oldest of all Waimea churches,
and arguably, the most beautiful. Even its name is practically a poem: Imiola, "Seeking Life."
Of course, when one learns that Imiola was home to the Rev. Lorenzo Lyons from 1832 until
his death in 1886, famous as the writer of hundreds of Hawaiian hymns, including "Hawaii Aloha," the name seems perfect. Imiola's cornerstone was laid on August 29, 1855 and the dedication was held on July 22,1857. How wonderful that this July marks the 140th anniversary of that joyful occasion!
"Waimea's first church was a grass edifice, erected by order of the chiefs. It had one window. It was furnished with a wooden pulpit and two four-legged stools.
"Nevertheless holy, it was dedicated, in the year 1830, by the young King Kamehameha Ill. The great Ka'ahumanu, during a canoe tour of Hawaii, had stopped at Kawaihae, and she journeyed to Waimea for the dedication. For some years, this little edifice enjoyed the distinction of being the only formally dedicated church on the island."
These are the opening lines of a brief history of Imiola Church written by Emma Lyons Doyle, granddaughter of the Rev. Lyons. From that simple beginning -- a grass house on the windy plains of Waimea -- one of our town's most historic structures came to be. Historians are fortunate that Doyle's skills as a writer enabled her to complete the story other grandfather's life called "Makua Laiana."
To rekindle an appreciation of Imiola's beauty, one has only to step within the front doors. The beautiful koa interior, restored in the 1970's, still glows after years of being covered with paint. An unusual feature is the entrance behind the altar. Perhaps Father Lyons designed his church's front doors so latecomers would have to face the congregation as they walked to their pews. Or, he may have known that any smart resident would rather stand with her back to Waimea's infamous gusty rains and winds.
The remains of a massive stone foundation wall for a huge church, never completed, still stand on the church grounds. That wall was built during the 1830's when a great religious revival swept through the islands. According to Doyle, "Waimea was exceeded only by Hilo in the scope of this movement and the number of converts. Thousands flocked to meetings, overflowing the capacity of the church." Imagine sand for the mortar in that wall being carried to Waimea in handkerchiefs, in pieces of kapa, and in bags by men, women and children to build a church capable of holding "thousands." When a new (smaller) church was indeed completed, it collapsed in May, 1855. Just three months later, Imiola's new cornerstone was laid and the present church rose again for her Hawaiian congregation.
This July, take time to stand in Imiola's peaceful church yard. Examine the memorial to Father Lyon's life, enjoy the spectacular view of Mauna Kea, and appreciate the years of devotion that have preserved this church for all of us.
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