Not many people have the titles of actress, author, spiritual leader, keynote speaker, radio host, Army reservist and animal rights activist all listed on their resume, but Rev. Dr. Temple Hayes isn’t like most people. In fact, Hayes says she felt different from an early age.
“I was weird, and people didn’t know what to do with weird back then!” she says of her upbringing in smalltown South Carolina in the 1960s. Hayes says the fact that she had crushes on boys and girls created a huge upset in her conservative, Southern Baptist home, where she also witnessed violence, dysfunction and neglect.
When she was 13, Hayes’s grandmother told her she would not see her in heaven since Hayes was a homosexual. She considers this conversation a defining moment in her life. As a teen, she turned to alcohol in an attempt to cope with all of her inner and outer conflicts.
“I had such a big heart and love of life, yet there was this disconnect because people couldn’t get me,” she says. “My dichotomy was feeling connected with God but so disconnected about what humans taught me.”
In her search for a faith community that aligned with her beliefs, Hayes discovered the Unity Church, which professes that all humans are children of God and share divine potential. After she finally began to believe that she was not inherently broken, and also having conquered her alcohol addiction, Hayes decided to spend the rest of her life teaching people they are loved and accepted.
That’s exactly what she has done for the past several decades through co-authoring several books, leading a weekly radio show and actively fighting for causes dear to her heart. She speaks the same message in the suicide prevention film “I Am Never Alone” with Deepak Chopra.
Hayes has spoken at corporate events for companies like Procter & Gamble and State Farm, and at Carnegie Hall. Those plenary talks are an extension of what she shares on a regular basis through her role as spiritual director of First Unity Spiritual Campus in St. Petersburg, Fla. She wants people to feel empowered to pursue their passion, in addition to realizing they are loved and accepted.
“People get excited about their skills, but there is no platform for that in church. I want a community where people can get [their ideas] started.”
In addition to its Celebration Experiences on Sundays, the campus exists as a hub for community members to teach courses on topics ranging from parenting to yoga. When the pandemic forced meetings at First Unity Spiritual Campus to be virtual, Hayes launched the Institute for Leadership and Lifelong Learning International (ILLLI), a new online forum for classes.
Besides speaking about love to people, Hayes’s heart is tender toward animals. She founded the SOFI Project, a nonprofit organization that has facilitated the adoption of 350 pets. She also founded the nonprofit organizations Global Peace Workers and Life Rights.
And she says all of her work is far from finished.
“I am a trailblazer and voice for the voiceless. I have a ton of energy, and at the end of my life, I want to be used up!”