On November 13, we gathered to celebrate Pastor Brandon’s ministry with Central Union Church. Many came to share their aloha with Pastor Brandon, his wife Janelle, and their children (“the Es”) as they conclude their time among us.
Church members offered gifts of art, song, hula, poetry, that were part of the program. Attendees had the opportunity to write messages to Pastor Brandon that were placed in a special box made from the wood of a kiawe tree that once stood on the church campus.
A poem was composed and recited For Pastor Brandon by Marion Lyman-Mersereau. She introduced the poem by explaining an incident where Pastor Mary drank from an empty cup during communion, and also shared The Story of a Simple Cup of Tea about a Japanese Zen master.
Photos were compiled for a slideshow showcasing just a few highlights of Pastor Brandon’s ministry over the past seven years.
Among the sharing were remarks by church member Martha Balkin who served on the search committee that found Pastor Brandon and served as Chair of the Church Council when Pastor Brandon became Acting Senior Minister:
In early 2015, Central Union Church set out to find a minister for Spiritual Formation. A search committee was formed which, along with Pastor David, consisted of Dick Hubbard, Carl Schlack, Izumi Kinney, and me. This was before we were zoom-savvy. But we did have a way of conducting video interviews. We set up along a rectangular table, with a camera on one short end and the person doing the designated interview question on the other. We had interviewed a number of people who were all fine, but no one knocked our socks off. They didn’t have the “Wow factor”. That is until we came to Pastor Brandon. I remember sitting across from Dick and Carl as a question was posed to Pastor Brandon. We looked across the table at one another and mouthed, “Wow!” Later, in receiving word from Pastor David that Pastor Brandon had accepted our offer and would be joining the Central Union ‘Ohana as Minister of Spiritual Formation, Dick simply replied in all caps, “PRAYERS ANSWERED!”
We could not have foreseen at the time, that God was not answering only our prayers limited to that time and space, but was bringing us someone that would lead us during the very difficult days that would be before us. During the interview, Pastor Brandon likened the spiritual development of a congregation to a banyan tree. As limbs branch out from the tree, they send down prop roots. These roots grow and deepen, bringing further nourishment from the source, which in turn allows the tree to branch out indefinitely.
I certainly cannot summarize and will not be able to do justice to all Pastor Brandon has done while at Central Union Church, but I want to provide just a few snapshots of how our tree has grown during his time with us.
Let’s start with Spiritual Formation – what brought Pastor Brandon to us
In early 2019 he sent an email to our Kealaula group which quoted Henri Nouwen.
“Spiritual formation is not about steps or stages on the way to perfection. It’s about the movements from the mind to the heart through prayer in its many forms that reunite us with God, each other, and our truest selves.” – Henri Nouwen
Kealaula groups, bible study small groups (in person and on zoom), daily online devotionals, video series, like The Chosen, with small group discussions, giving as a spiritual practice with devotional guides all encouraged us to be reflective, to grow deep and to seek God.
Another aspect of Brandon’s ministry has been Connecting our congregation with the Community
Pastor Brandon has had a close working relationship with the chaplains at IHS. A Longest Night service on December 21, has commemorated the lives of homeless individuals who had passed away in the previous year. And many beyond the
homeless community, who had lost loved ones found comfort in this service.
2020 and 2021 saw our community rocked by Covid-19. On All Saints Day, in both years, chairs were set in the great lawn, one empty seat in remembrance of each person in our state whose life was lost to COVID. The carillon rang out representing each individual and was a powerful reflection of our community’s grief.
Also during the pandemic, it was Pastor Brandon’s brainchild to recognize and show gratitude to our neighbors, the medical staff at Kapiolani Hospital that were working tirelessly to combat the pandemic. How to thank them? Mahalo to our Health Care Heroes read a giant banner, hung right outside this building that was clearly visible from the Kapi‘olani cafeteria.
Pastor Brandon truly has a Servant’s heart.
He worked with Greg Kim in the early stages of the pandemic to provide food to those who could not get groceries by partnering with Help is on the Way. This led to the formation of Serving Aloha, a food distribution program that would help combat food insecurity on our island. Now in progress for over 2 years, Serving Aloha reaches approximately 600 households each week, with 50-60 volunteers participating each Wednesday. Many of this group of volunteers come from the community to take part in this act of service.
Pastor Brandon has also been very involved with our preschool. In addition to chapel, Pastor Brandon has taught our keiki to “put your praying hands together, read them stories, and I have it on good authority, teaches them his songs”.
Pastor Brandon is a Champion for Justice
He has worked with Faith Action on various initiatives, and Joined with clergy across our island in Advocating for Clean Water.
He and Pastor Mary introduced a Resolution Against Gun Violence at the last ‘Aha Pae‘āina which was adopted and will be forwarded to the United Church of Christ’s General Synod.
Pastor Brandon has led us in worship, through prayer, invitations to the Communion table, sermons that were elucidating and thought provoking, celebrating weddings and baptisms, comforting us in times of grief. He is eloquent and each word captured what was in my heart, or nudged me to what should be.
I couldn’t help but notice in writing these remarks, how many of these efforts have been collaborative. But make no mistake, they have sprung from Pastor Brandon’s vision. He has led with humility. You could say his pronouns are not I and Me, but We.
As I said at the beginning, when God answered our prayers by sending Pastor Brandon, he brought us someone uniquely gifted to lead us through a time of great fear and uncertainty. Even now, the struggles of “being church” during such unprecedented times have begun to dim. But let’s not forget, each decision, on when and how to conduct service, connect, have communion, care for our congregation was uncharted territory. Pastor Brandon led us each step of the way with unfailing care for the physical, emotional and spiritual well-being of each of our members. Likewise, he led our staff. With Pastor David’s leaving and financial strains requiring us to pare back our staff, Pastor Brandon took on multiple roles within the organization. He worked extremely long hours, and I would say tirelessly, although I can’t count how many times I found him stifling a yawn. The man seldom slept. What he did was pour himself into Central Union Church. He did so with the love and support of his family and we thank Janelle, Elijah and Emma for being that wonderful support.
I read somewhere recently, that when we experience the physical loss of a loved one, their presence in our consciousness grows immensely. I think it is safe to say, that although Pastor Brandon will no longer be a physical part of Central Union church, his impact on all of us, on our congregation, will continue to resonate many years into the future. He has left an indelible mark. And like the banyan tree, our roots have grown deep and our reach has grown wide.
Over the last 7 years, I have never stopped saying, “Wow!”
Thank you, Pastor Brandon.
As Pastor Brandon moves on to his next call at a sister church in California, we give thanks for the past seven years of his ministry in Hawai‘i and we pray for the ways he will continue to bless others.