augusta free press news

Bishop serves with honor at hometown church

Story by Chris Graham

It wasn’t an easy call for Theodore Payne to make. He was taking early retirement from DuPont so he could dive full time into the ministry, and the opportunity was there for him to take over as pastor at the church that he had grown up in.

But as Jesus noted in the Gospels, it can be hard to be a prophet, so to speak, among your own relatives, and in your own house.

“Some people advised me not to take this because they said it would be kind of hard to pastor a church in your hometown, and one that you grew up in,” said Payne, who also felt hemmed in after talking with members at Oak Grove Baptist Church near the community of Hermitage who told him that they would follow him to whatever church he ended up taking on.

“The Lord had favor for me in my life to let me be here,” said Payne, who has been the pastor at Oak Grove since 1987, and on April 24 will be consecrated as a bishop in the Baptist church.

The consecration is a lifetime in the making for Payne, a lifelong Augusta County-area resident whose early memories include segregation-era whites-only and colored water fountains and a funeral service that he conducted as a small boy for a pig from the family farm that had met with an untimely death.

His grandfather fashioned a pulpit for him to preach from not long after, and by the age of 16 he had been ordained as a deacon at Oak Grove. After a stint in the military in Vietnam that came in the midst of a 30-year career at DuPont, Payne returned to his roots in the ministry in 1986. He was ordained as a minister that year, and took on the job at his home church a year later.

His time in the ministry has required continual attention to the changing needs of the flock at Oak Grove. The Oak Grove ministry includes 15 different focused ministries reaching out to individual segments of the church’s population, which has become more and more diverse in its racial and ethnic makeup over the years.

“It’s not just one race. It’s the human race that God is after. It inspires my heart when I see the different ethnicities come together to be one,” Payne said.

The modern times “require a different approach altogether” from the ministry perspective, Payne said.

“From the time I started as a child here, it’s entirely different. It’s nothing like it was,” Payne said.

“I believe that we serve the same God today that we did yesterday, and yet still we can’t do today what we used to do years ago. Young people desire something different, and you’ve got to reach the people, so pastoring means seeking the face of God to find out what it is that I need to do to continue to allow the ministry to grow to do what it needs to do,” Payne said.

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