By Loretta Gillespie
The Cullman Times
He sat under a shade tree and waited for her to come home from a date. When she arrived, he waited until she went inside, then he picked himself up, dusted himself off, and strolled to the door to ask her out.
Edwin Hayes felt a calling to the ministry while still in high school in Oneonta. He graduated in 1961 and entered Howard College, which changed its name to Samford the year he graduated, 1965.
He was in a group of ministerial students who were called “preacher boys” one Sunday in the early ’60s. (Participating churches would allow these students to come and preach to their respective congregations as a part of their preparation for becoming ministers). One of the young men asked Hayes if he would swap assignments with him. Hayes didn’t mind, all he wanted to do was preach. He wound up speaking that day at Duck Springs Baptist Church. It was a most fortuitous day indeed, because sitting in that little congregation there was a beautiful girl with the most irresistible dimples.
It was a year later before he walked up on the porch of that farmhouse where she lived. He had learned that her name was Martha McClain. In an ironic twist of fate, or maybe Divine Intervention, their mothers, both registered nurses, worked together at Blount County Hospital and were very good friends.
After introducing himself to her and her parents, they gave him permission to take her to church with him that night. “I was already a weekend youth minister at a church in Boaz,” said Dr. Hayes.
They dated off and on that spring of 1963. Most of their courtship was done in church. As they got to know each other better they learned that each had a passion for the ministry. She was interested in missions; he was pursuing his degree and already following his calling to the ministry.
“We were both in school, she was a junior in high school and I was a sophomore in college,” he recalled fondly. “We got engaged that Christmas and were married the following summer, 1964.”
At the time, she was a student at Sneed Junior College and Hayes was a pastor at First Baptist Church of Cleveland, Ala.
Four years later, in 1968, they welcomed their first child, a little girl, Julie Carol. The couple was in their senior year at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Martha attained her degree in religious education, while Ed became Dr. Ed Haynes, with a degree in theology, in 1969.
“I was serving two churches by the end of seminary,” he reminisced. “First Baptist of Centre, Alabama, came and talked to me about coming there and by the end of 1969 we were packed up and moving.”
Joseph Edwin “Jody” Hayes Jr. was born October 1970, in Gadsden. Martha was the model minister’s wife, raising two toddlers, teaching private piano lessons in their home while continuing to support her husband in the ministry. “She was instrumental in starting the Baptist Young Women’s Work (BYW) which was an offshoot of the Baptist Women’s Missionary Union (WMU). They wanted to form a group of younger women to begin to take over from the older ladies,” Dr. Hayes explained.
With two little children and one on the way, Martha must have had her hands full, but she continued to provide support and encouragement to her husband. In July 1974, she gave birth to Jonathan Lynn Hayes.
Another move was on the horizon. This time they packed up and drove to New Smyrna Beach, Fla. “You could say that there was a huge culture change,” he laughed. “It was a whole different lifestyle.”
Instead of walking down the streets of small suburban Alabama towns, they combed the Florida beaches to invite people to church. “That church had run down,” explained Dr. Hayes. “When we got there, there were 125 on the attendance rolls, but we worked hard and preached hard, and we stayed there for seven-and-a-half years. “When we left there were 450 in attendance,” said Dr. Hayes.
He liked the beach atmosphere and loved the church there, so his family was understandably shocked when they heard that he was packing up once again and heading to Cullman, Alabama, “They thought I had lost my mind,” he laughed.
“There was nothing wrong there,” he said. “Everything was going great, but I felt that the Lord wanted me to go to Cullman.”
As before, Martha agreed with his decision. “She was absolutely so supportive!” he exclaimed.
He followed Dr. Rick Lance, who took a position as executive director of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions.
So it was that Dr. Ed Hayes, Martha, and three little Hayes wound up in Cullman. All three children went to school through the Cullman School System. They were busy — they worked hard, preached hard, and Martha even began writing for the Baptist Sunday School Board out of Nashville, Tenn.,as well as teaching Sunday School and helping in any capacity where she was needed.
Their lives were full. Two of their children, Julie and Jody, entered the ministry. The third, Jonathan, is the girls’ basketball coach and teaches physical education at Cullman High.
One of the highlights of his ministry was starting the First Baptist Church of Cullman television station in 1984-85. “There is no doubt that we have touched many, many lives with that television outreach,” he said. “For a church this size it is unusual to have that big a following. People are always coming up to me and thanking me for those services.”
There have been other many highlights in a ministry of 29 years. “It’s been tremendously exciting,” said Dr. Hayes. “I was about to retire two years ago when the tornado struck, but due to the massive amount of work we had in rebuilding parts of the building, I decided to wait until the renovation was finished.”
The tornado did $4 million worth of damage. Water was pouring into the beautiful sanctuary when he arrived from home. “I kept thinking, ‘What a mess!’” he said.
He worked and watched others of his congregation and people in the community as they pitched in and helped to move bricks, trees and limbs and everything that could be salvaged from the building.
One of the first things he noticed when he drove up that day was that the steeple was leaning. Even though one of the most savage tornados of all time had swept it askew, it bent with the wind — but it stood fast against the storm.
During his tenure as minister of First Baptist Church of Cullman, Dr. Hayes says that his staff has been tremendous. He has worked with the youth, children, music, education, senior adult, and television ministers, and says that he had wonderful support in them. “I really just facilitate,” he laughed.
“The Lord has really blessed us here,” he smiled. “It’s been amazing to see the people that God has called out of this church into the ministry. Five of them were called to the mission field and others into evangelism.”
Just two days after celebrating the birth of our Lord, the Hayes family learned that Martha had ovarian cancer. She went for surgery Jan. 7, and continues to recuperate quietly at home. “Our thanks go to the church and to the community for their outpouring of love and concern,” said Dr. Hayes humbly. “We appreciate the ladies who have done so much, and everyone who has helped to support us at this time. We continue to ask for your payers as my wife faces chemotherapy in the coming months.”
“Have a happy life,” he says to his congregation, his many friends and his staff. “Cullman is a wonderful place to live and work. This is home now. This is where we will stay.”