Our History

St. Elizabeth's begins to grow.The early years. In 1902, with the blessing of The Rt. Rev. Henry Bond Restarick, the first American Bishop of the Missionary District of Honolulu, Deaconess Emma Britt Drant began a new ministry among the growing Chinese population of Honolulu’s Palama district. William A. Procter, of Cincinnati, Ohio, generously supported Deaconess Drant in her ministry. Mr. Procter later donated $5,000 to purchase the property at 720 N. King Street to establish St. Elizabeth’s House. St. Elizabeth’s House first served as a settlement house and school.  Deaconess Drant, assisted by volunteers from St. Peter’s Church, set up English language and vocational training classes for young men and women, Bible classes and a youth choir were developed. Many were baptized by Deaconess Drant.

On September 16, 1904 groundbreaking cermeonies were held for St. Elizabeth’s Church. It was a wooden-frame church named in honor of St. Elizabeth, the mother of St. John the Baptist and for Charlotte Elizabeth Procter, Mr. Procter’s late wife.

The original St. Elizabeth's building.

The original St. Elizabeth’s building.

St. Elizabeth’s begins to grow.

The Rev. William E. Potwine (d. 1917) was appointed as St. Elizabeth’s first vicar. The majority of the membership was Chinese, however, St. Elizabeth’s Mission continued to reach out to the Japanese, Hawaiians, and Koreans. St. Luke’s (Korean) Church on Judd Street had its early beginning at St. Elizabeth’s. The Rev. Woo Yee Bew and Rev. Keib also served St. Elizabeth’s growing congregation.

In 1945, under the energetic and inspiring leadership of the Rev. Canon Wai On Shim, St. Elizabeth’s Church became a self-supporting parish in the Missionary Diocese of Honolulu. As the congregation grew rapidly, thanks to its unique Church School program and the high birth rate during the post-World War II era, the need arose for a larger church building. On Palm Sunday 1952 the present church was dedicated by Bishop Harry S. Kennedy. It was the first church building in Hawaii to be equipped with central air conditioning. The original, termite-eaten church was demolished to make room for Shim Hall, a school building which housed St. Elizabeth’s kindergarten and elementary school through grade 4.

In the early 1960s, as members were moving into more affluent neighborhoods of Honolulu, St. Elizabeth’s Church ceased to be a neighborhood church. Consequently, the School was no longer viable. Shim Hall was put to community-directed purposes. The Palama Inter-Church Council and its successor, the Immigrant Center, began operations during the rectorship of The Rev. Edwin Bonsey.  They served the needs of about 20,000 individuals and families every year. The Rev. Dr. Gerald G. Gifford II, the next rector, further developed the urban ministry aspects of St. Elizabeth’s Church. A Chinese language ministry was begun with The Rev. Peter S. M. Fan of Hong Kong, called as Chinese Missioner in 1985.
The Rev. Gerhard Laun succeeded Dr. Gifford as rector. In 2004 Rev. Laun retired and a six-month interim pastorate ensued with the Rt. Rev. Bob Jones, retired Bishop of Wyoming and former Dean of St. George’s College, Jerusalem. The Rev. Jodene S. Hawkins was called to serve as Priest-in-Charge in 2004, and then in September 2006 to serve as Rector. Community and neighborhood connections and ministries with youth and elders have been re-established at St. Elizabeth’s. Sunday mornings see at least six ethnicities worshipping together and at least five native languages spoken. Mother Jodene retired as of September 1, 2009, and the Rev. David J. Gierlach was called to be the next rector of St. Elizabeth’s. Under Fr. David’s leadership, St. Elizabeth’s hosts two Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) programs; is the hub of the diocesan-wide Pacific Island Ministries; boasts a community garden with a free Farmer’s Market every Sunday and has four ethnic choirs that add joy to the Sunday Mass.
St. Elizabeth’s lives out her life of worship and service rooted and grounded in the love of God and God’s call to love one another as God loves us. Our worship follows the American 1979 Book of Common Prayer.
An article called “The First Fity Years of St. Elizabeth’s Church, Honolulu” was written by C. Fletcher Howe in 1952 and can be read by clicking here.
To view the Parish Profile as written in 2006, click here.