The epitome of inclusion, connection and humbleness: Pastor John Hoover retires after 25 years of service to Puako and beyond

  • Pastor Hoover speaks from the pulpit at Hokuloa United Church of Christ in Puako during a “Service of Recognition” in his honor last week. GEORGE WINCHELL/Special to West Hawaii Today
    Pastor Hoover speaks from the pulpit at Hokuloa United Church of Christ in Puako during a “Service of Recognition” in his honor last week. GEORGE WINCHELL/Special to West Hawaii Today
  • Hokuloa United Church of Christ was built in 1858 through the efforts of Lorenzo Lyons — an early missionary to the Kingdom of Hawaii. GEORGE WINCHELL/Special to West Hawaii Today
    Hokuloa United Church of Christ was built in 1858 through the efforts of Lorenzo Lyons — an early missionary to the Kingdom of Hawaii. GEORGE WINCHELL/Special to West Hawaii Today

PUAKO — Last Sunday, the Hokuloa United Church of Christ held a “Service of Recognition” for Reverend John Hoover, best known as Pastor John, for 26 years he has devoted to the church as well as his tireless efforts within the Puako community and South Kohala.

Pastor John’s Hawaii sojourn began in the 1970s. After leaving in 1979, he returned 10 years later to take over the pastorate of the newly organized and renovated church.

“It took several months to get the building ready. We put electricity into it, did some renovations and opened the church for regular worship on Easter Sunday in 1990,” said Hoover.

The original church building, which has long historic roots, was built in 1858 through the efforts of Lorenzo Lyons — an early missionary to the Kingdom of Hawaii — who arrived in Waimea in 1832.

Over the years, the church’s fate was tied to the changing community and eventually fell into disrepair.

“The sugar mill went out of business in 1920 and they literally packed it up — every screw and bolt — and shipped it off to the Philippines. When the sugar mill went out of business, the regular services stopped,” Hoover said.

Over the last 26 years, he has seen the makeup of the community change.

“There has been a major transformation. The first two years, the population was so transient that the congregation changed entirely both years. That was back in the days when there were fishing shacks that have now been replaced by multi-million dollar residences. There were 150 school-age children living on Puako Beach Drive in 1990 and there’s probably a dozen today,” Hoover said.

Regardless of all the changes, Pastor John and the church have been a steady anchor for the Puako community and an advocate for the environment.

“He made the church available to the community. Besides our annual meeting, we have various speakers come in to talk about reef issues. We have research groups come and hold meetings, and The Nature Conservancy comes for study groups there. John made the church a really valuable part of the community,” said Puako Community Association Vice President George Fry.

A former Peace Corp volunteer in Ethiopia, Pastor John brought a wealth of multi-cultural experience as a consensus building advocate, which has been an invaluable contribution to the community. Along with his pastoral duties, he served on the board of the Puako Community Association for 10 years, where his generosity of spirit added much to the efforts being made to preserve and enhance the Puako community.

“He was very instrumental for Puako. John’s a stand-up guy and a half. He’s truly going to be missed,” said Puako Community Association President Peter Hackstedde.

Pastor John used his consensus building skills while serving a term on the South Kohala Community Development Plan.

“He was a representative for our area and it was helpful to us because it presented a lot of things we wanted to see in the master plan that related to our community. We miss his voice,” said Fry.

Most recently, Pastor John had been working on a project to reunite adjacent land remnants with the church’s property.

“For some reason the land was not recorded as belonging to the church. It was surrounded by remnants that were designated state land, and one of those remnants had the old school house. They combined them with the existing church land and that has taken about 15 years,” said Hoover.

Fry added, “John really spearheaded that effort. There were quite a few entities and coastal commissions. It was quite a feat to get that done.”

The project has just gotten underway with the clearing of the brush and overgrown trees to remove fire hazards and allow shoreline access.

“The church has agreed to set a community example by taking care of that property. Those parcels of land aren’t going to be used for high-rise development because they’re going to be used for landscaping purposes only,” said Hoover.

As part of the project, he also worked to include the property in the Ala Kahakai trail, which will go through the parcel.

“That makes sense. An historic trail next to an historic church,” said Hoover.

The Puako Historical Society, an archive of photos and documents, was another of Pastor John’s endeavors. During his time as president of the society, he worked with Mary Morrison and Audrey Woodall to create a book, “Puako: An Affectionate History,” which tells some of Puako’s special story.

At the heart of everything Pastor John does is the aloha spirit of inclusion, connection and humbleness.

“It’s where I learned the meaning of ohana. Technically I knew what the word meant, but going beyond that it’s where people can feel it and that can be attributed to what Pastor John has done there. He encourages everybody to accept everybody,” said longtime church member, George Winchell.

It’s an ohana that is spread far and wide.

“There were people who met (at the church) and came to visit every year. Friendships were developed with people all over the world. That place is very rich in those kinds of relationships,” said Hoover. “One Christmas Eve we asked people to sing one verse of “Silent Night” in their native language and we counted 17 languages.”

Much of those warm connections are due to Pastor John’s special abilities.

“He knows how to read people and can treat people differently based on what they need. He knew how to reach out. The church gets letters asking for his contact information, notes that say how much a particular sermon meant to them and they want to touch base again,” said Winchell.

Pastor John is moving back to the mainland in March and will be missed, but as he said, “I’m of age, and it’s time to retire.”

“It was an awesome experience to be able to be in Puako, in that little church that has so much history and a part of that continuing history. I’m really honored to have had the opportunity,” Hoover concluded.

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