Episcopal leaders in Hawaiʻi prepare to assist communities devastated by deadly Maui wildfires

A view of damage cause by wildfires in Lahaina, Maui. Photo/Office of Gov. Josh Green

By Shireen Korkzan

Episcopal News Service

Episcopal leaders in Hawaiʻi are assessing the immediate needs of people who have been impacted by this week’s wildfires on the island of Maui, which have killed at least 93 people and destroyed at least a thousand buildings, including a historic Episcopal church.

The wildfires, which are mostly contained now, prompted the evacuation of more than 11,000 people, including tourists. The worst of the damage was experienced by Maui’s western community of Lahaina, population 12,700, where Holy Innocents Episcopal Church had stood since 1927. Aerial photos of the devastation show whole neighborhoods leveled by five, apparently including the church.

One of the diocese’s immediate priorities is to get in touch with all members of Holy Innocents and make sure everyone is safe and has access to shelter and other immediate needs. Once everyone is accounted for, the diocese will assess the best ways to approach the cleanup process.

“Those I’ve been in contact with are mostly displaced as their homes were demolished by the fire,” the Rev. Bruce DeGooyer, vicar of Holy Innocents, told Episcopal News Service by email. “It is overwhelming here.”

Hawaiians know how to prepare for hurricanes and volcanic eruptions, but “even the kupuna — elders — have never experienced anything like [the wildfires].” Hawaiʻi Bishop Robert Fitzpatrick told ENS in a phone interview. “Everyone’s in shock right now, including me.”

Fitzpatrick met with Maui clergy Aug. 10 via Zoom to discuss what they can do to immediately help the Lahaina community, which initially was blocked off to anyone who wasn’t a first responder.

Fitzpatrick said he will try to fly to Maui to assess the damage at Holy Innocents next week if possible. The diocese is based in Honolulu on the island of Oahu.

“The short-term issues are going to be helping the people who have been displaced. There were lots of people who had their second homes [in Lahaina] or people who retired there who don’t have long-term ties. I don’t know what this will mean for them,” he said. “And then there are the families that are local, and this is home, so how do we keep them cared for?”

“[Holy Innocents] had the most amazing Native Hawaiian Kanaka Madonna above the altar, and all the names on the pews were Native Hawaiians,” Fitzpatrick said. “We know there’s a lot of history that can’t be recovered.”

Holy Innocents was founded in the late 19th century, and the early worship services were conducted using Hawaiian King Kamehameha IV’s translation of the Book of Common Prayer. Kamehameha IV and his wife, Queen Emma, were Anglican. They invited the Church of England to Hawaiʻi to establish the Church of Hawaiʻi, which was the state and national church of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi from 1862 to 1893, when the Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown. The U.S. government annexed Hawaiʻi a few years later, in 1898. It became a state in 1959.

Holy Innocents’ first parish was built in 1872 in Lahaina. In 1927, the church moved into a new and bigger building with a vicarage and parish hall. That remained the parish’s home until it succumbed to this week’s wildfire — the deadliest in Hawaiʻi’s history.

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