Independence is a hallmark of Hale’s leadership. While many other megachurches have shed denominational ties, The Ray is content to remain in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The lay leaders appreciate that their denomination allows them to interpret Scripture for themselves. It allows a church like The Ray to embrace a style of its own, says Hale.

Yet there’s nothing unorthodox about The Ray’s mission, which is “to bring people into a personal relationship with Christ and then send them back into the world.” The church offers literally hundreds of classes and ministries, and worship might best be described as high-energy.

Members embrace Hale’s challenge to worship, learn, and serve. And they are fiercely proud that their spiritual leader is also a trailblazer.

Photo by Johnnetta R. Fielder-Pitts
Cynthia Hale D’79 leads two morning worship services each Sunday at Ray of Hope Christian Church. As founder and senior pastor, she has attracted a membership of 5,100.

When Hale shared that she had been invited to pray from the podium at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, the congregation erupted in applause. Hale stumped for Barack Obama and was part of a weekly conference call in which pastors prayed for him.The opportunity to lead a prayer at the historic convention, she says, was the highlight of her career.

On Sundays, the upbeat vibes are unmistakable as Hale shares hugs and conversation with folks between services outside the auditorium-style sanctuary.

Will Finch first met Hale 13 years ago at a church in Euclid, Ohio. She was there to speak. He was the guy who was supposed to turn on the microphone, supposed being the operative phrase: “She has a look that she gives people like, ‘You better get it together.’”

Having seen the no-nonsense side of Hale, today he drives 50 minutes from his home in Loganville, Ga., because he is drawn to her more pastoral side. He has gone from 325 to 265 pounds after Hale preached on the importance of exercising and eating well. A patient-sitter at nearby DeKalb Medical, he started double-tithing after Hale’s sermons convinced him that giving is the only real path to prosperity.

Arlie Holliday, who is divorced, draws comfort from the fact that Hale, who has never married, “understands the struggles.”

Hale encourages single women to find intimacy through their relationship with God and their family. And she reminds them that this is just a season — though, laughing, she adds that for her it is becoming “an eternal season.”

She lives in nearby Conyers, Ga., alone since her beloved cat died. She’s close to her parents, Harrison and Janice, and spends time with a half-dozen African-American women who also are in ministry. The best friends call themselves “The Six-Pack.”

She loves to read, work out, and go to museums and concerts. Watching Law & Order reruns on cable TV is a guilty pleasure. She and her girlfriends often call each other up and ask, “Have we seen this one?”

Holliday makes another point about Hale that is irrefutable, given the fact that the pastor is a gifted orator who stands 6 feet 3 inches in heels. “When she walks in a room,” Holliday says, “you know it.”

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