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Candid As Ever, The King Departs

March 31, 2007
By STAN SIMPSON, Courant Staff Writer

The Rev. King Thomas Hayes has this exalted vision of his retirement years. Let's just say it doesn't include a lot of late-night phone calls.

"My plans are to find a nice island and place my toes in the sand and let my body just relax. I need rest now," said Hayes, 78, who retires Sunday from Shiloh Baptist Church in North Hartford after 31 years in the pulpit.

To say he's an icon in the Hartford community might be considered sacrilegious, so we'll call him an institution. Hayes is a mentor for other clergy, a voice of reason for the community and his 300-member congregation, and a spiritual adviser, who reached out to a Democratic president in need - Clinton - and a Republican governor - Rowland - in trouble.

One of the Rev. King T. Hayes' favorite Scriptures is Romans 3:23: "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God."

He applies that Scripture to politicians - and other ministers - caught in compromising situations, as well as to average folks with a pulse and heartbeat. Titles and labels never impressed Hayes, who has shaken hands with John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. and Muhammad Ali. What the Rev is about is community, making it plain in his sermons about human shortcomings and assigning blame to those who seek self-glory, instead of God's. And if a church happens to fall short of its mission, he'll call the clergy on that too.

"Instead of focusing on the community, religious organizations are focusing on money as the prime prerequisite," Hayes said Friday in his Albany Avenue office across the street from his church. They're not building souls, he said, they're just building bricks and mortar.

That lack of focus, said Hayes, can be attributed to parental reluctance in disciplining their children and in many kids having little or no regard for authority. And don't get the pastor started about "timeouts" as a discipline strategy. He's an unabashed believer in the adage that a hard head makes for a soft behind.

"Timeout? My mother gave me timeout - to cry after she beat me to death," Hayes cracked.

A tall, humble, plain-spoken man who still has a hint of the drawl from his Georgia roots, Hayes has a disarming personality, a sharp wit and a gift for leading eclectic groups.

More than a decade ago, he was president of the Ministerial Alliance of Greater Hartford; the Hartford Citywide Clergy and the Capitol Region Council of Churches - all at the same time. He has advocated with others to keep a casino out of Hartford, spoken out about teen pregnancy and violence, and encouraged folks to vote and get involved in their community. Hayes laments what he sees as a lack of courage from some ministers in talking candidly to their congregations. "Shepherds and pastors used to be fearless prophets," he said. "Today, you have not fearless, but fearful leaders of the cloth."

The straight talk has made him a sought-after sage.

"When I came here, he was one that immediately extended a hand to me and embraced me and encouraged me," said the Rev. Shelley Best, executive director of the Capitol Region Conference of Churches. "He cares about the whole community. He wants to see everyone do their best for the greater good." For seven years, Shiloh has operated a weekly soup kitchen. Once a year, the church dedicates a Sunday for the Urban League of Greater Hartford. Every Thanksgiving, there is a feast for all. "He's been like a father figure to many here, a mentor," said Shiloh congregant Beverly Berry. "His main focus is `it starts at home.'"

This King, too, has left the building. He's earned a much-needed rest.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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