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LEGACY: Pastor J.L. Payne – ‘another mighty oak’ – dies at 87

Greater Mt. Moriah Baptist Church and a circle of associates made wider by the Rev. John Lee Payne, the church’s longtime pastor, are mourning his death at 87.

Rev. Payne died Monday after going into the hospital on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

“He was sick with pneumonia,” said, Cynthia Johnson, the church’s secretary. “Pastor Payne had pneumonia twice before, and he recovered from it. So, Monday morning when news spread that he died, it was devastating. He hadn’t been sick before that.”

Funeral services at Greater Mt. Moriah Baptist Church, 1098 S. Wellington St., will include the viewing on Saturday (Dec. 26) from noon to 3:55 p.m., with a musical tribute set for 4 p.m. On Sunday (Dec. 27), there will be a viewing from 11 a.m. to 11:55 a.m., with the homegoing celebration at noon.

Mr. Payne was born on May 21, 1933 in Lula, Mississippi, where he attended Lula Public Schools. At 14, he accepted Christ at Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church and was baptized in Moon Lake in Coahoma County, Mississippi.

Four years later, Payne perceived that he had been called to the ministry and began preaching. At 24, he pastored his first church, Westlake Missionary Baptist Church in Lula.

Mr. Payne pastored five more churches before anchoring at Greater Mt. Moriah in January, 1970. He served alongside his wife of 68 years, Dorothy Payne.

The Rev. Dr. J.L. Payne, longtime pastor of Greater Mt. Moriah Baptist Church and former head of the Memphis Baptist Ministerial Association, died Monday at an area hospital. He is pictured here with his wife, Dorothy Payne. (Photo: Tyrone P. Easley)

Tributes flooded social media this week.

“Lord Have Mercy,” Pastor Earle Fisher posted on Facebook. “Another mighty oak has fallen. The elders are leaving the planet and becoming our ancestors. Rest in Power, Pastor Payne.”

The church also posted a message on Facebook, requesting prayer:

“Pray for Greater Mt. Moriah as we navigate through this tough time as we experience the loss of our great leader Rev. J.L. Payne. Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal.”

A number of messages were left on the Facebook page of the Memphis Baptist Ministerial Association (MBMA), where Payne served as president from 1998-2000. He was well-respected and often referred to as a “preacher’s preacher” and a “pastor’s pastor.

Under his administration, the MBMA purchased its headquarters at 591 E. McLemore Ave. The mortgage was also paid off during his term in office.”

“I will always remember the conversations we shared at the Baptist Ministerial Association,” wrote Drexel Milton. “This man of God will be missed very much.”

Payne was remembered for running his longest “revival” at Shady Grove Missionary Baptist Church in association with his close friend and confidante, the late Pastor Waddell Johnson. That ongoing revival lasted for 30 years.

“I was born and raised in Greater Mt. Moriah,” Church Secretary Cynthia Johnson said. “I have served as church secretary whenever needed, and so my heart is very heavy. All of our hearts are very heavy, but we know Pastor would want us to go on.”

Superior Funeral Home has charge of services. Masking and social distancing will be strictly enforced.

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