Simon Lee, '78

Truly global leadership

By John Klawiter, M.Div. '12


Simon Lee, Pastor of the Chinese Lutheran Church of Honolulu, took a different route than Tim Mason to arrive in Hawaii. Lee was born and raised in Hong Kong and attended Luther Seminary, where he received a Master of Arts in pastoral counseling in 1978.

He was called to the Chinese Lutheran Church on July 4, 1981, and realized immediately that there was a problem. Lee is fluent in Cantonese, but 95 percent of that congregation was from Taiwan—and only spoke Mandarin.

“It was a brand new experience,” Lee said. “I can speak some (Mandarin). I thought I was quite fluent, but they had a problem listening. I was called, and they gave me the opportunity to learn and grow.”

At first, they didn’t have a church building, so the congregation held two services that worshipped at the English-speaking church in the afternoon and evening.

“By the grace of God, we grew so much that the facility could no longer accommodate us,” Lee said. “So we tried many other places until we purchased land in 1997.”

Land in Hawaii, as you might guess, is not cheap. For $1.4 million, they were able to buy a tiny parking lot—less than half an acre. Then, they had to raise funds for an architect and building contractors to build the new church. By the very end of 2004, the project was finished. The Chinese Lutheran Church of Honolulu was dedicated and opened on Jan. 1, 2005.

Another interesting dynamic in the congregation led to the creation of a third service. Many of the church’s second-generation Chinese members are English speakers, so a service held in English and geared toward youth started in 2002. In 1981, when Lee was first called to the church, attendance was about 80 people. Now, with three services together, there are more than 400 attending.

As with Calvary by the Sea, Lee’s congregation deals with Hawaii’s constant turnover by actively reaching out.

“Every year, we have an average increase of 30-40 new members and many are baptized,” Lee said. “Up through last year, I baptized more than 1,300 in this church and many of those were adults. It is encouraging!”

The Chinese Lutheran Church of Honolulu has strong connections across the globe, including a church plant in Geneva. In addition, former members who have moved back to mainland China have started churches or small groups. In Taipei, Taiwan, English summer camps are hosted and missionaries are sent to help. The congregation has also sent 20 members to seminary and many of them have graduated to serve congregations as pastors all over the world.

What’s next for Lee? “I was called in 1981 and I have been here for more than 34 years. I’m now 68 and hopefully I can retire when I’m 70,” he said. “I’m still looking for the pastor to take my place, but I’ll continue to stay to support the ministry.”

Lee was given the Luther Seminary Faithfulness in Ministry Servant Cross Leader Award in 2008 for his vital role in ministry after serving for more than 25 years.

As Lee’s career as a pastor will soon come to a close, it’s clear that the impact from his ministry will be felt for generations to come.

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