September 15, 2019

Remembering Michael Haynes

Thank you, Michael Haynes!

Michael Haynes, left, with his brother Roy.

If Open Source had ever had a chaplain, it would have been Reverend Michael Haynes, who went to glory on Thursday this week at the age of 92. Chris Lydon is forever quoting the preacher who baptized him in mid-life — citing him on matters musical, theological, political and Boston-historical. Open Source regulars will remember Haynes’ compelling testimony on the inspired life of his closest friend from student days, Martin Luther King Jr. Almost three years ago, Rev. Haynes presided over the Open Source Gospel Music Party — “good news for bad times” — between the election and inauguration of President Trump. It’s still good listening. Over almost seven decades Michael Haynes had earned well-nigh incomparable standing in Boston circles as a civic leader with spiritual influence. For which Chris was driven to say: Thank you, Michael Haynes!

First impression: On a sunny Sunday, August, 1964, outside Jim Connolly’s jazz bar on Columbus Avenue in Lower Roxbury: Michael Haynes, 37, is shaking hands with well-wishers. Inside, Roy Haynes and his small band are taking solos on the classic “On Green Dolphin Street.” An aura of hip excitement envelops Roy, always happy to tell you “I was Charlie Parker’s favorite drummer.” An aura of anointment envelops kid-brother Michael on the sidewalk: an air of high purpose, humility, and (dare I say?) holiness. He is about to become senior minister at the historic Twelfth Baptist Church in Boston, but this summer he is running for the state legislature. I’m a cub reporter for the Globe, two years out of Yale, a Bostonian getting to know the town. My picture of Haynes is etched: he’s the quietest man on the sidewalk and the most arresting: self-assured and self-reliant, impeccably summer-suited, a serious man with a serious smile. The words are forgotten but not the Haynes look! His eye is connected to the universe. I’m struck: he is looking for the spirit of the Lord in politics.

Among the last impressions: Summer 2019. Michael Haynes, 92, is telling me that he has bid respectful farewell to the hospice team that Massachusetts General Hospital provided him. “That is not the help I need,” he said. “My help is Michael Haynes. Michael Haynes and the Lord.”

It’s more than 50 years now that I’ve been enrolled in the University of Michael Haynes. For innumerable Christians young and old in and around Boston, it’s the counterpart of jazz world’s University of Art Blakey. We got theory and practice of Boston politics in the ‘60’s, and gospel truth and music ever after at Twelfth Baptist on Warren St in Roxbury. I got my second baptism there, at age 47. As a newborn, I’d been sprinkled sacramentally by Cardinal Cushing at the Sacred Heart Church in Newton Center. It was the second try, by full immersion, that “took.”

What I came to embrace at TBC under Michael Haynes’ leadership was a Christianity that was Jesus-centered and Scriptural but not literal; faith-based but neither fanatical nor fantastical; community-rooted and bathed in black history and black culture but never provincial or tribal; socially activist but not partisan, much less ideological; moral but not moralistic.

I came to see Michael Haynes as part of one of the great Boston “brother acts,” with the jazz legend Roy Haynes, and the late super-citizen, photographer and athlete Vinnie Haynes. I’m sorry I didn’t know brothers Douglas and Roscoe as well. Their saga could make as rare and revealing a portrait of an age as the Kennedy Brothers in the mid-century, or even the James Brothers, William and Henry, in the 19th Century. At the center of their striving was the concerted, brilliant, lifelong push across the color line for full rights, recognition and participation of black people in Boston and all America; and as part of the struggle: the fresh assertion of black genius in the cultural, spiritual and political life of town and nation.

Young Michael Haynes found a critical ally after 1951, in his co-apprentice at TBC, Martin Luther King Jr., the BU theology student from Atlanta, then known as ‘Mike’ King.  It’s still a puzzle to me: where did their pre-civil rights generation get their defining assurance that things could change, that things had to change? There was no movement to enlist in.  No media attention, no celebrities on their side; precious few role models for a principled, sustained resistance to what they’d been dealt.  But they found courage in one another.  They became the movement.

Michael Haynes was the last of five sons of Gus (for Gustavus) and Edna Haynes who immigrated with high hopes in the 1920s from the sometime British sugar colony of Barbados. The streets of Boston, it turned out, were not paved with gold – not the fabled Haskins St. anyway. But May 9, 1927 was an auspicious start, no matter that the Depression was coming. Michael Haynes was born “on clean newspapers,” as he put it, in the family cottage at 30 Haskins St. between City Hospital and Roxbury Crossing. Growing up in Boston was defined — from Jump Street! — by heterogeneity in the neighborhood, by high organic energy in the family, and by music — or as Michael would say: “music, music, music, music and music.” Gus Haynes played piano and organ. Everybody played something, or sang. Douglas played the trumpet. Roy was merciless on the pots and pans.

Haskins Street had a Lebanese food shop at one end, a Jewish-owned variety store at the other. All the Haynes boys took their turns as “shabbos goy,” lighting the light in the synagogue at the end of the block. St. Francis de Sales Church served the Catholics. Michael’s first playmate Jimmy Callahan had a white-haired Irish grandmother who Michael understood to be his own grandmother, too. Ambition and a strong work ethic charged that household. Gus was a three-job father, and he would shout: “Nobody sleeps when I go out to work.” All the boys learned to cook, sew, clean; they shined shoes, and sold newspapers on the street corner. In his sermons, Reverend Haynes would goad us: “The Lord wants us to be productive!” He got that from his father. Roy remembers that West Indian parents in those days “wanted you to be something big!” From mother Edna they heard, with a Bajan lilt: “Doan’t live beneath your privilége!” The admonition was not elitist or escapist, but to “use your talents, cultivate your gifts, do something!”

Michael Haynes’ pastoral theology drew on faith and experience. His evangelical education stressed that the Bible is the perfect and complete word of God – that God has spoken! His mother’s intense Pentecostalism countered that God is ever the same and very much alive, speaking to believers one-by-one and every day. The black Christian tradition in America was and is one of social-justice activism. In divinity school, a woman from West Virginia coined the phrase that synthesized and smoothed those differences and stuck with Michael Haynes for a lifetime: “Let’s not all get so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good!” His Twelfth Baptist Church was itself born of the tension in those views. The parent African Meeting House on Beacon Hill split before the Civil War around supporting the Underground Railroad – too political for some members who left to found Peoples’ Baptist in the South End in the cause of education. A contrary activist impulse shaped Twelfth forever: in the 1880s pastor George Washington Williams became the key American figure (before Mark Twain) in the fight to disgrace the Belgian King Leopold’s brutal torture of the Congo. When Martin Luther King Jr. came to graduate school at Boston University in 1951, his father knew that Twelfth would be the appropriate home-away-from-home; it was the church where he met a kindred spirit in Michael Haynes.

Haynes’ friends in ministry ranged from Martin Luther King Jr. to Billy Graham, on the board of Gordon Conwell. Haynes had brought Harold Ockenga, Billy Graham’s friend and the pastor of the Park Street Church, to Roxbury to introduce him to city people’s needs, and when Ockenga became president of the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Hamilton, he put Haynes on his board, alongside Billy Graham, to be his change agent. Together they build CUME: the Center for Urban Ministerial Education, to set the Bible in the context of city life.

Haynes’ model church, from the way he talked about it, must have been All Souls Church in central London, led by the late rector John Stott. Evangelical on the conservative side but diversely international, All Souls on a typical Sunday had fifty-plus nationalities in its 2500 seats. Haynes loved everything about it. When I visited once and introduced myself to the rector as a Haynesian from Twelfth Baptist in Boston, Reverend Stott looked just a bit puzzled, as if to say he thought Haynes’s church was African-American. But that was not the way Haynes felt it, as TBC’s Paula Waters noted recently to me. “The church to Michael Haynes was never black. It was the church of Jesus Christ.”

Haynes’ personal Bible verse (Proverbs 3:5, 6) came with his own personal and pragmatic coda. It goes: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” A score of times I’ve heard him add, “And it works!” “Lean not on thine own understanding” sounds like his reminder to himself to check the impulse – a burden on his ministerial staff – to do things his way! But the pragmatic point is critical, too: check the results of your piety. The word of God is alive and can be real, and effective!

“The true preacher,” as Emerson put it, “can be known by this, that he deals out to the people his life, –life passed through the fire of thought.” Thank you, dear irreplaceable Michael Haynes, for demonstrating the truth of God’s word in your stylish, intelligent and faithful life.


-Christopher Lydon


Listen to Michael Haynes:

Michael Haynes remembers Martin Luther King.

Michael Haynes in our conversation on gospel music.

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