Pastor Martin and Kim Hawley took a leap of faith when they moved their family from Atlanta, Ga., to New York, so that Pastor Hawley could take a job at South Bay Bible Church in East Moriches. As folks who had deep roots in Fort Myers, both had no idea what to expect when they arrived in the small seaside town on Long Island.
That was in September 2012, and nearly a decade later, the Hawleys have made the bucolic hamlet their home, raising three sons, making countless friends, and building South Bay into a cornerstone of the community.
So, it was with heavy hearts and great sadness when this husband-and-wife team announced last month that they would be leaving South Bay Bible Church and East Moriches, to return to Florida, as Pastor Hawley had been diagnosed with dementia. The Hawleys shared the news with their congregation at a weekly prayer meeting.
A new journey begins
The Hawleys juggled a lot in the early days. While raising their young children, they both continued to work at the debt collection company, while Pastor Hawley took online classes and traveled to Colorado a few weeks in the summer to serve as a ministry volunteer.
In 2001, the Hawleys moved to Bonita Springs in Florida, where they launched a Nazarene church. What started as a prayer group of six, eventually grew to 70, and today has a congregation of 300-plus members, noted Pastor Hawley.
The road to South Bay Bible Church
Little did the Hawleys know the impact that joining a Southern Baptist Church in Bonita Springs in 2008, would have on their lives, an impact they wouldn’t realize until several years later. First, they would be called to Truth Tabernacle Church in Stone Mountain Georgia.
The opportunity came at a time when the Hawleys had just closed their businesses. “We had three kids; I was unemployed. I needed a job,” Pastor Hawley said, so he submitted his resume, among 210 other applicants.
Pastor Hawley got the job, but the assignment didn’t come without its challenges. Located just outside of the city of Atlanta, the church membership often faced financial and personal hardships.
“We had eight kids killed in our first year there,” said Pastor Hawley. “It was a like a war zone.” But it didn’t deter Pastor Hawley. “I’m a fixer,” he said. “I fix churches.”
But living in the inner-city was taking a toll on the family, said Pastor Hawley, so when he was contacted by a former mentor and friend about a job opportunity at a bible church on Long Island, he and Kim decided he should apply for the job. The position, it turned out, was to be pastor at South Bay Bible Church. One of the church’s founders just so happened to be Bill and Rose Marie Jackey, who were also members of the Baptist church in Bonita Springs, where Pastor Hawley once served.
In summer 2012, the Hawley family traveled to East Moriches, to meet the Jackeys and members of the search team. After several meetings with the team, and the opportunity to be a guest preacher at a Sunday service, Pastor Hawley said he told the committee that he wasn’t sure if he was the right person for the job because of certain theological differences. At the time, South Bay didn’t believe in the sacrament of baptism, Hawley explained. As an ordained Southern Baptist minister, this sacrament was at the core of Pastor Hawley’s teachings.
The Hawleys packed their bags and returned to Georgia, thinking that it wasn’t likely that he would get the job. But shortly thereafter, they received a call informing them that Pastor Hawley had in fact been selected.
The beginning of a new era
The Hawleys arrived in East Moriches, and at South Bay, in September 2012, with their sons Jason, Craig and Stephen, all teenagers at the time.
The South Bay Bible Church of today is not the church it was in 2012. It has evolved and grown over the years, in both programs, services and membership. One of the first things that the Hawleys did upon arriving, was to knock on the doors of the church’s neighbors to introduce themselves. Both were dismayed that people living right next door had no idea that South Bay was a church.
Part of the Hawleys mission was to get the eastern community better acquainted with the church. To that end, they established a variety of outreach programs and events. A fan favorite was the annual easter egg hunt, held on church grounds for several years, Hawley said. It drew as many as 900 people, he noted.
The Hawleys also created special programs geared at educating the public on current affairs and issues, including the opioid pandemic that had been plaguing the area.
“We wanted to be there for the community. We wanted to know what the community needed,” said Hawley.
Internally, the Hawleys also developed new programs for church members, including its Youth Program and Biblical Counseling Services, which is available to members and nonmembers. Kim said she is especially proud of her work as South Bay’s youth leader.
“I love watching the kids grow in their faith. My personal goal has been to equip them with a solid foundation in Christ so that when they leave for college or start life on their own, they have a firm foundation in Christ to stand on.”
Another valued program that was introduced during the Hawleys tenure is biblical counseling, faith-based counseling services that use the bible to answer questions and problems in people’s lives.
“I came to South Bay Bible Church through the biblical counseling ministry, which has been instrumental in helping me grow and serve others,” said church member Stacey Sotomayer. “Both Kim and Pastor Hawley are exceptional biblical counselors helping others change through God’s word. Their passion for God and serving others is so evident when you meet them. South Bay Bible Church is truly a place I can call home and that is truly the efforts and diligent work of the Hawleys.”
Music has always been at the forefront of worship at South Bay, and the program has blossomed since the days when there was only a banjo and two guitar players. Kim has served as the worship and music leader for the last nine years, and many members say that it’s the music that first brought them to the church and keeps them coming back.
Goodbye is not forever
The Hawleys last church service will be on Sunday, Oct. 31. Associate Pastor Matt Horne will assume the position of pastor after the 31st. Pastor Matt first met the Hawleys when he was in college and came home with their son, Stephen, for spring break. He credits Pastor Hawley and Kim for helping him make the transition from student to pastor.
“I’ve taken in so much incredible wisdom [from the Hawleys], such as knowing what to change and how to cause the change. I’ve learned how to let leaders incorporate their own style instead of trying to micromanage. I’ve learned what it means to lead a church with excellence,” Pastor Horne said.
Deaconess Maria Camarro has known Pastor Hawley and Kim for 20 years, and has followed them from Florida to Georgia, and most recently to East Moriches.
“They are my best friends and my brother and sister in Christ. I’ve watched them grow from 27-year-olds to now 48-year-olds. Pastor Hawley has matured into one of most Godly preachers and pastors. Over the last nine years, I’ve seen his vision in this community come to life. So many people have been touched by his mission of reaching our community and so many lives have changed. Equally, Kim’s vision of building a worship team that I have been part of is so strong and powerful,” Camarro noted.
Pastor Hawley and Kim are admittedly sad about leaving South Bay Bible Church and East Moriches, and said they will miss many things about the small town and church.
“This area will always hold a special place in our heart. It’s where all three of our sons graduated; our eldest son found his wife and where are first grandchild was born. Some of our biggest moments in life have been lived out here,” said Kim.
“I’m going to miss the community… running into people you know, the stop-bys at home. Our church family here, by far, is the closest family experience we’ve ever had. We’ve been here longer than any other church,” Hawley added.
But there is good news to be shared—the Hawleys are not saying goodbye forever, as Pastor Hawley will remain as a consultant for the church to help with the transition and plans to be back at South Bay every two to three months.