Titus Coan experienced a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which produced what was probably the largest Protestant church in the world at the time. His outstanding ministry in Hawaii is recorded in his autobiographical work entitled ‘Life in Hawaii.’
He was a farmer’s son who was educated at a military school and started his professional life as a soldier, becoming a lieutenant in 1812, and as a school teacher. After his conversion in about 1828 he taught in Auburn State Prison School where he led 2,000 converts to Christ. He attended Auburn Theological Seminary in 1831 for two years and, after his ordination he accepted a call from the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions to do a feasibility study on the possibility for mission work in Patagonia. Subsequently, in 1835, with his bride Fidelia, he set out for the island of Hawaii. He was stationed at Hilo where he spent most of the rest of his life. Here the zealous couple opened boarding schools for boys and girls and quickly leaned the language. It was here that revival came.
Coan was the cousin of the Reformed revivalist, Asahel Nettleton and had attended Charles Finney’s revivals in New York. He was clearly influenced and inspired by these men. When the revival peaked in 1837 people often cried all night. One day in June, 1837 he baptised 1,705 and 2,400 took communion. In 1839 and 1840 about 7,400 were received into the church at Hilo and 12,000 were baptised. His church was the largest Protestant church in the world at the time, larger even than Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle!
Needless to say, the more conservative veteran missionaries disagreed with Coan’s noisy and emotional revival sermons and his willingness to receive unproven and untaught converts into the church so readily. He carried on regardless, training his converts to be self-supporting and self-propagating. Time has demonstrated Coan’s godly ministry as the church he founded, Haili Church of Hilo, still continues today with the passion and vigour of its founder.
Bibliography: Nancy J. Morris, Dictionary of Evangelical Biography 1730-1860, 1995; Earle E. Cairns, An Endless Line of Splendour, 1986.