For over fifty years, Michael Haynes served as pastor of the historic Twelfth Baptist Church in the Roxbury district of downtown Boston. Twelfth Baptist Church is a direct descendant of the First African Baptist Meeting House on Beacon Hill, founded in 1805. In 1840, a band of dissenters from the church felt led of the Holy Spirit to become involved in the Underground Railroad, an organized means of smuggling slaves from bondage in the South to freedom in the North. They became known as the Twelfth Baptist Church of Boston.
When I first met Michael, I asked him what he did. He said he was a pastor of a church. “Just a little church in Roxbury. That’s my ministry. Just three or four city blocks.” One of the first persons on those blocks that he had a chance to serve was a young man named Martin. Michael gave this young man his first ministry opportunity in a local church. A young man named Martin—as in Martin Luther King Jr.
Michael kept serving those few city blocks, always with a vision for changing them. And they needed change; it was a world of drug dealers, pimps, and gangs, poverty, homelessness, and racism. He knew from the beginning that any real change would rest on leadership. Not just his leadership, but a generation of leaders. Leaders like Martin. But even more to the point, though he never made such a claim, leaders like himself who would take up residence on their own few blocks in areas around the country and around the world where nobody naturally wanted to reside. Blocks that needed truth to set up residence so that it could spread into lives and situations, changing things from the inside out.
So Michael began talking about training leaders, praying about training leaders, casting vision about training leaders, until finally he witnessed its reality. First with a few classes at Twelfth Baptist, then as an extension center of a seminary, and finally as a full-fledged urban campus.
Today you can travel to Roxbury, Massachusetts, and visit the Center for Urban Ministerial Education (CUME) campus. Today, CUME has become one of the leading urban training centers in the United States, teaching each week in six languages, developing hundreds of leaders for urban ministry. Fittingly, it meets in the Michael E. Haynes Academic Building, one block down from Twelfth Baptist, one of Michael’s “just three or four city blocks.”
Three or four blocks of the good.
James Emery White, Rise of the Nones, the: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2014).