Even by the standards of a community where men in the pulpit have historically held great sway, the Rev. Michael Haynes had no peer.
He didn’t run Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury so much as he embodied it, serving as its pastor from 1964 to his retirement in 2004. Not that he ever really went away — up until his death Thursday at the age of 92, he was Roxbury’s spiritual eminence grise. That isn’t a role one retires from.
“This was someone you hoped would live forever,” said political consultant Joyce Ferriabough Bolling. “He was omnipresent.”
Haynes was a member of an illustrious Roxbury family. His older brother, Roy, is a legendary jazz drummer, still performing in his mid-90s. Another brother, C. Vincent Haynes, was a photographer and journalist, and an authority on Boston’s jazz history.
But it was the Rev. Haynes who left the deepest mark on his city — through his ministry, his mentorship of generations of young people, and his activism, which included three terms in the Massachusetts House of Representatives.
Haynes was a true son of Roxbury; he liked to say that his entire life had taken place within one quarter-mile. He and his brothers grew up just outside Dudley Square. He was initially drawn to worship, he told me when he retired, through his love of church music. That led to a call to the ministry at Twelfth beginning in the early 1950s, where he served with Martin Luther King Jr., then a BU graduate student who became Haynes’s dear friend.
From the beginning, he had a passion for working with neighborhood youth. He volunteered at settlement houses — now long gone — that ran afterschool programs. For years, he led college tours to historically black colleges. It was on one of those tours, in 1964, that he heard the students discussing possible candidates for public office. One of those students, Rudolph Pierce, challenged Haynes to run.
Haynes took the challenge, and served three terms. (Pierce would go on to become one of the city’s most prominent lawyers.)
But Haynes’s time in the House always seemed almost incidental to his service as a minister and neighborhood advocate.
Mel King, the former state representative who was the first black candidate to reach a mayoral final in 1983, said Haynes constantly challenged him and other black men around him to serve the community and understand their power.
“He talked about the need to recognize our capacity to make a difference,” King said. “He was a great model for us. He made me understand the role we could play if we came together.”
For years, Haynes was deeply connected to Billy Graham Ministries — though with increasing wariness as the evangelical movement became ever more entwined with right-wing Republican politics.
“I am biblically orthodox,” he said. “And I have to remind them that you can be an African-American Kennedy Democrat and be biblically orthodox.”
In the pulpit, Haynes wasn’t a showman. He was cerebral, with a gift for connecting the sacred to everyday life, said the Rev. Arthur T. Gerald, a onetime mentee who eventually succeeded him at the helm of Twelfth Baptist.
“There are preachers who make a lot of noise,” Gerald said. “He wasn’t one of those. Rev. Haynes was the kind of preacher who made you think, and encouraged you in your thinking.”
I visited with the Rev. Haynes when he retired in 2004 and was stuck by how at peace he seemed with the decision to step down. Churches were changing, he told me then, and he didn’t want to overstay his welcome. Even then, his sense of community outweighed any sense of self.
With a twinkle in his eye, he alluded to Shakespeare.
“Shakespeare says the world is a stage, and we’re all players,” he said. “It’s time for me to leave the stage.”
Boston is a better place for Michael Haynes’s decades on its stage.