St. Augustine Church hires security and locks its doors

| February 18, 2010

A Waikiki church has hired off-duty police officers to provide security during Sunday services after three incidents of disruptive behavior by different people.

The doors are now locked except during services at St. Augustine Church at 130 Ohua Ave., breaking a long-standing open-door tradition.

"People need to feel safe in church," said the Rev. Lane Akiona, pastor of the Catholic church. The highly visible church amid hotels on Kalakaua Avenue has always attracted visitors, non-Catholics as well as Catholics, he said.

Akiona described the incidents on successive January Sundays.

"One individual, a Middle Eastern man who was a Catholic, came up on the altar during Mass. He wanted to talk to the congregation about the threat of HIV-AIDS," said Akiona. He was persuaded to step down peaceably.

"Another time, someone with a beef came up on the altar during Mass. The priest happened to be a visiting police chaplain from Oakland and he knew how to handle the situation," Akiona said. The priest walked the man away from the altar and talked to him later.

In the third event, Mass had ended and Akiona was visiting with congregation members.

"Several people had given me lei because it was my anniversary," said the priest, who is Hawaiian. "One guy came up to me and said derogatory things about Hawaiians. I refused to speak to him and he went berserk, screaming and shouting."

That's when police were called. The priest and his associates decided to hire special-duty officers in uniform to show a presence during February services. There hasn't been any disruption since then.

More than 1,500 people attended Mass last weekend, he said.

The pastor said he could not definitely identify the unruly visitors as homeless people.

But the open doors and cool interior have made the sanctuary an appealing daytime stopping place for many people, he said. "We decided we couldn't risk having someone start destroying things although we don't like to lock the church."

Dozens of homeless and other needy people are drawn to the St. Augustine soup kitchen each week. A free hot meal is served at noontime Mondays through Fridays from a small building behind the church.

Akiona said some parishioners have suggested the meal service should be suspended, but he doesn't think there is a link between it and the recent troubles.

"I tell them this is the only real ministry we have to provide for the homeless. If we stop this, we won't be doing anything."

He said the soup kitchen manager has "a good handle on things," adding, "Her faithful regulars keep her abreast of what is happening."

He said people who have been regular diners also exert "peer pressure" on newcomers lest their behavior should threaten to end the meal service, which has been provided by the church for several years.

 

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