[December 14, 2023] After nearly four months to the date since the devastating Maui wildfires destroyed Lahaina town, the Diocese of Hawai'i received the official announcement for authorization to access the Zone where Holy Innocents Church once stood.
"Monday [December 11] was the first day the Zone opened," said the Rev. Canon Sandy Graham, who has been flying to the Valley Isle often to meet with Holy Innocents church members since August. "We were there first thing. It gets really hot, there’s no shade, and those suits really heat up - so as early in the morning as possible is key!"
Holy Innocents' members, Jacob Marsh, Leanna Roberts, and Katy and Bob Shroder were also on site with Canon Sandy who blessed the grounds and offered gifts of lei.
With so much toxicity in the area and potential for contamination, Personal Protection Equipment (PPE: masks, goggles, gloves, and Tyvek suit) is required. Instructions and preparations for accessing the burned sites are spelled out on Maui County's Re-entry website that includes a 13-minute video with explicit instructions. Special passes are required to access Lahaina town, and various volunteer organizations are available to help clear debris and sift through ash.
(Pictured at top, amongst the ruins, a plant blooms where the entrance into the church would have been. Below, dressed in PPE, Canon Sandy went around the property to bless and place lei.)
"We were not supervised, but thankful for the help and advice of the dozen or so Hawai'i Baptist Fire Relief volunteers who were on site and spent all morning sweating it out for us," continued Sandy. "We also visited the cemetery site, and though there was a lot of superficial damage (and the roof is gone), the core structure of the columbarium is intact and I'm happy to report that all of the niches seem unharmed. Yesterday I met with both an architect and a structural engineer who volunteer on behalf of the AIA (American Institute of Architects) sent out by the state to assess and shore up structures as needed."
This Saturday, December 16, all four Episcopal Maui churches, A Cup of Cold Water (ACCW) volunteers, and friends and supporters will be gathering at Good Shepherd in Wailuku to meet with Canon Sandy and staff from Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD). The gathering, which includes a free lunch, is a time for folks to "check in, see how we're doing, and then figure out how to most effectively respond to the aftermath of the fires as an Episcopal presence on Maui."
Like all those affected by the fire, members of Holy Innocents have faced innumerable challenges and struggles, but with the support from hundreds of people around the Diocese, the nation, and world, hope abounds. They have found a temporary place to worship in, at Honolua Methodist Church in Napili. They are able to use their Sunday School room each Sunday, and held their first service on December 3, the first Sunday of Advent.The Episcopal News Service just released an article about their return to worship that can be viewed HERE.
The long and arduous journey to recovery has only just begun, but looking to Saturday's gathering, Canon Sandy expressed a heartfelt message of anticipation: "Through prayer, reflection and communion with each other, we will celebrate the Aloha spirit that has already been moving through the Maui community."
(Pictured below, Canon Sandy went through saved records, and a double rainbow appeared that day, offering a welcome respite during a dismal task.)
Visit the Diocese's Maui Disaster Relief webpage HERE.
Reporting: Sybil Nishioka, Editor Mahalo to Canon Sandy Graham for his tireless efforts and sharing from the front lines. (Photos: Canon Sandy Graham, contributed)