If there was a contest for busiest religious figure in Tampa Bay, Temple Hayes would be a contender. She has served as the head spiritual leader at First Unity Spiritual Campus of St. Petersburg for 14 years with its 1900 members and thousands of additional social media followers. She hosts a weekly radio show/podcast “The Intentional Spirit,” hosts an online television show with the same title, has written three books, and travels as a motivational speaker. And she started two non-profit groups dedicated — respectively — to individual rights and global animal rescue.
Hayes’ level of productivity is matched by the diverse activities at First Unity. Situated since 1924 on St. Pete's busy 4th Street, First Unity is part of the worldwide Unity Movement. The Unity Movement was established in 1889 and historically focused on spiritual healing, though without the opposition to medical treatment found among the somewhat similar Christian Scientists. First Unity maintains that focus on spiritual healing with a Wednesday healing service that draws many, but the current vision of First Unity is wider as it now sees itself as an expansive “spiritual campus” that promotes spirituality as a way of life and being.
First Unity’s vision as a spiritual campus revolves around expanding its spiritual, social and educational ministries to meet the needs of the community. The campus particularly seeks to reach the four types of people that Hayes sees as an essential part of the congregation: healers, seekers, activists and artists. This year, First Unity is working on increasing its artistic outreach with its hiring of local actor/singer Becca McCoy and sponsoring concerts like the February 18 appearance of singer/songwriter Jill Collucci. Two new service programs are being launched to improve the lives of the homeless: New Beginnings helps transition homeless people by teaching life skills; on certain Sundays First Unity feeds the homeless in Campbell Park.
The classes (25 to 45 a month) and activities of First Unity include some concepts that lie outside the religious mainstream, such as sound and crystal healing, Reiki, shamanism and past-life regression, but Hayes has experienced nothing but acceptance from area residents and notes that traditional churches are becoming broader in their beliefs and tolerant of different ways of life.
She sees her community as a bridge for people who are, “longing for spirituality but don’t want to be told that they are inadequate.” They build a relationship with God not because they have to but because they choose to.