The Rev. William W. Payne, 82, founder of two congregations in the inner city

January 26, 2002|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

The Rev. William W. Payne, founder and first pastor of City Temple of Baltimore Baptist Church, died Sunday of cancer at Joseph Richey Hospice. He was 82 and lived in Northwest Baltimore.

Mr. Payne was a charismatic man with a deep love for the city and its residents. He was pastor of Wayland Baptist Church on Garrison Boulevard for 23 years, expanding its congregation and safely steering it through two moves. He then returned to the inner city, where he could devote himself entirely to an urban ministry.

"The ancient Jews sang about the city--about Jerusalem and Mount Zion--and Jesus wept over the city," he told The Sun in a 1970 article.

That year, he resigned his pastorate at Wayland and established City Temple of Baltimore Baptist Church at Eutaw and Dolphin streets, in the building that had housed Eutaw Place Baptist Church.

"He loved people and there was nothing he wouldn't do for them. He loved the downtrodden, the elderly, the least, the last, and the lost," said Betty Johnson, one of the founders of the church and its former longtime secretary.

"It is Mr. Payne's conviction that the churches must be prime leaders in bringing harmony to city life, the harmony of black and white, rich and poor," said The Sun in an article at the time.

It was his vision to establish and operate what he called a "community house," which would be a place to serve the hungry, the alcoholics, the drug addicts and the mentally disturbed.

"He'd send the hungry across the street to a restaurant to eat and he'd pick up the tab. He distributed clothing, coats, shoes or whatever to the needy," said Mrs. Johnson, a Reservoir Hill resident. "If the gas company was going to turn off the electricity, he'd pay the bill so they wouldn't be cold. He'd give money to a landlord so someone would not be evicted from their home. He was a great man, and what he did was a marvelous thing."

The Rev. Grady A. Yeargin, the current pastor of the church, which has grown from 50 to 750 members, said, "He was no different in the pulpit than the person you meet in the street. He was compassionate, down to earth, and easy to talk to."

Mr. Payne was born and raised in Lynchburg, Va., where he graduated from high school.

"He was a premature baby and only weighed three pounds at birth," said a nephew, Joseph Jennings of Baltimore. "He always felt that because he survived, it was a miracle, and he wanted to give back, to help people."

Mr. Payne first came to Baltimore in 1939, where he scrubbed floors at Johns Hopkins Hospital to make money for his education. He earned his bachelor of divinity degree from Virginia Seminary and College.

In 1946, he took over Wayland Baptist Church after the death of his uncle, the Rev. Elisha Reynolds, and later moved it from Broadway to Monroe Street, and finally to Garrison Boulevard.

Family and friends said Mr. Payne was known for his motto: "Attempt great things for God; expect great things from God."

Mr. Payne also was an accomplished organist and enjoyed the classical repertoire that he often introduced into Sunday worship services. He also maintained a deep interest in his church choir.

One of his pastimes was traveling throughout the East visiting churches and researching their organs.

He retired from City Temple of Baltimore Baptist Church in 1984, then went on to found another church -- the People's Baptist Church of Baltimore, which was based on the mission of his former church.

Services for Mr. Payne will be held at 10 a.m. today at City Temple of Baltimore Baptist Church.

He is survived by a brother, Walter Payne of Baltimore; a sister, Elizabeth Payne of Lynchburg; and other nephews and nieces.

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