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Dawn Koloi shares her journey into ministry

Dawn Koloi, who serves in ministry with her husband, Kelekoloi, at the Samoan Congregational Christian Church Seattle II in Burien, said she is director of Christian education, leads women’s and youth groups, and does all the behind-the-scenes ministry.

PNC team with Elder Logovi’i Polu, the church’s pastor, and the past president of the Kanana Fou theological seminary Tafailematagi Muasau.  Church Development Committee members are Doug Gunwaldsen and Dawn Koloi. Committee on Ministry members are Cameron Sharp and Jerry Chang. Photo courtesy of Dawn Koloi

As part of her role on the PNC-UCC Church Development Committee and Committee on Ministry, Dawn, who is also a member of the  Board of Directors, met with others of those committees worshiping Sept. 25 at the O le Malamalma o Iesu Keriso (The Light of Jesus Christ), which meets at Normandy Park UCC. The Rev. Elder Lognvi’I Polu is pastor there with his wife Kone.

“The church called us because they are interested in becoming a UCC church,” said Dawn.

The speaker that day was Tafailematagi Muasau, the past president of the Kanana Fou theological Seminary in Pago Pago, American Samoa, where Dawn and Kelekolio were students from 2005 to 2011.

“It was a sweet reunion,” said Dawn, sharing how he had opened the door for her to study theology there.

She then shared the story of her pilgrimage into ministry.

Dawn and Kelekolio were both born and grew up in what is now American Samoa. He and his family moved to Hawaii, where they went to high school. They knew each other through their family names.

Dawn grew up in a Pentecostal church, and Kelekolio grew up Catholic. They met at her church while she was studying religion at Northwest University in Kirkland. In the Pentecostal church, she could study theology, but not be a pastor.

He had an associate’s degree from Honolulu Community College and was taking courses to work with the police department.

When they met in 2005, both wanted to learn more of their mother tongue and study theology in that formal, traditional, respectful language of Samoan elders. They spoke the informal or street Samoan.

They married June 26, 2005, and left on Monday to go to Kanana Fou Theological Seminary. Soon after they arrived and Kelekolio passed the entrance exam, Dawn was surprised to learn the school was only for men. So she went to President Muasau and asked why women were not allowed to attend seminary.

When she told him she thought she could come and continue her studies in Samoan, he seemed open, she said.

When the school was founded in the 1830s, it was only for men, but “we are in the 20th century,” she said.

In Samoan culture for a woman to speak to the seminary president was big. For her to speak and ask why women were not allowed was a “no-no,” Dawn said but she felt neither put down nor ignored.

He took her question to the board, telling them the wife of a freshman asked why women were not allowed.

“I was stunned. I did not know that such attitudes existed in my home country,” she said.

The first week, she joined her husband at the orientation.

“I realized it was a space only for men and I couldn’t be there,” Dawn said. “If I had known that would happen, I would have stayed in Seattle.”

Students and faculty told her to stay home, not follow him to classes, but clean house, cook food and stay at home.

During the first week of classes, Dawn went to the seminary library.

“The librarian almost did not let me in. He asked who I was,” she said. “I told him my husband was a student and I only wanted to read a book. He said I could check out a book, but not use the computers. They were only for students.

“I had my own laptop.  I went there three days. I challenged myself, because I did not like what I was seeing, how I felt and that I had left a job in America,” she said, repeating her “fierce desire learn to do ministry in my mother tongue.”

Dawn went again to the president’s home to talk with him again, and he was there.

“He was gracious, and I felt safe. Then for the first time he spoke about the United Church of Christ,” she said.

President Muasau told Dawn that in 2006, members from the United Church of Christ (UCC) and faculty and students from Pacific School of Religion (PSR) were coming for a visitation the next year.

The Congregational Christian Church of American Samoa and the Kanana Fou Seminary were planning to have a partnership.

“That could be a chance for you, because the UCC is big for women in ministry,” he told Dawn. “If we want to be part of the UCC, that’s your chance, but it’s between you and me until 2006.”

That August she met the PSR president, students and teachers. Two weeks after they left, the president talked with her and with the Board of Elders that oversees the seminary.

They summoned her and said if she wanted to pursue studying, to go for it, but she had to pass the next entrance exam in September

“I was so excited. I was the first time my husband knew that I had been working behind the scenes with the president,” she said.

Dawn was one of two women who took the exam.  She was the only one who passed it.

“I was so happy,” she said.

“To this day, I have been devoted to UCC ministry. I helped the church as a whole and the seminary as it gave an opportunity for me, putting me in school with a scholarship.”

That, however, did not mean it was easy for her.

“I was the most hated woman in and around the campus. I was told repeatedly that seminary is for men. She was a woman and had on background. They said I was evil and pitied my husband,” Dawn recalled with tears in her eyes.

The bachelor of divinity study took five years. Her husband completed it a year ahead of her and waited for her to earn her degree.

“Those were the best years of my life even though I got under the skins of prejudiced men classmates,” she said.

After graduating in 2011, she had a scholarship from the Council of World Mission and Ministry to study for a master’s degree at the Korean Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Seoul. Her husband and his fammily moved to California, where he completed master's degree studies at Fuller seminary in California. She then began doctoral studies at University of the West in Rosemead, Calif., and hopes to finish some day.

Neither finished those studies because they were called to come to the church in Seattle in 2013. Kelekolio was ordained. She was not.

“In the Samoan church I’m still considered in ministry. I do what he does, except I only preach Mother’s Day, Children’s Day and for the Women’s Group,” Dawn said.

In the 10 years since she graduated, more Samoan women have gone to Kanana Fou Seminary. Eight have been ordained. Two teach at the seminary for women, and the rest are like her serving in ministry with their husbands.

“We do everything together, but Sunday school children are my priority, teaching teachers to teach them,” she said.

“I love teaching the word,” she added.

Dawn has served nine years with the PNW UCC Conference, beginning with serving on the Church Development Committee.  She has been on the Board of Directors four years and is a member of the anti-racism group.

Dawn also serves as moderator of the Pacific Islander and Asian and American Ministries (PAAM) of the national UCC, which works in the Northwest with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. It involves churches that are Japanese, Chinese, Hawaiian, Filipino, Samoan, Marshallese, Tongan, Chuukese, Micronesian and East Indian.

She is also secretary for the Women's Group of the CCCAS Conference in Seattle, which includes five PNC-UCC Samoan churches.

For information, call 206-981-1346 or email


Copyright © Fall 2022 Pacific Northwest United Church News


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