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Coming full circle

A minister’s journey from servant to served

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As the clock nears the 10 a.m. hour, the last members of an intimate gathering quietly enter the sanctuary, finding themselves a cozy spot on one of several sofas or easy chairs.  Warm rays of morning light shine through stained glass as worshippers greet each other with smiles and welcome salutations. A small dog curls up next to her master on a pew pulled into the circle to make room for a few newcomers to the Sunday service.

This is “Journey Be.” Formerly The Disciples of Christ Church in Polson, Journey Be (still a Disciples of Christ congregation) is a “forward-thinking Christian gathering,” led by Rev. John Payne.

By design, the atmosphere is comfortable, welcoming and all-inclusive.

“We do things a little differently here,” Sharon Payne explained. “But we’re all based on the same faith.” Quoting her husband John, she added, “You don’t have to believe alike to love alike.”

Service to others — helping and looking out for the five “L’s” – the little, the lost, the last, the least and the lonely — is the basis of Journey Be and the foundation upon which John Payne lives his life.

John’s ministries have led him on a journey that has connected him to the community in many ways. He has served as chaplain for St. Joseph Hospital and hospice for the last 12 years. Chaplains, John explained, are a non-denominational spiritual resource whose primary purpose is to be a non-anxious presence to those who are going through life-changing events. 

“We service all, regardless of faith base,” he said.

Service to all has been a hallmark of John’s ministries. In addition to his role as chaplain, John has served as pastor of Journey Be for the last seven years. The message he recorded on the church’s answering machine lets people know, “We welcome all no matter who you are or where you’ve been on your journey.”

John has also played a key role in organizing spiritual renewal movements known as Cursillo and Pathways. Most recently he has helped initiate “Soup’s On” at Journey Be — an offering of free homemade soups served to the community Mondays through Thursdays and made possible through the efforts of 50 different volunteers from all different denominations and backgrounds.

As a spiritual leader, John is described as kind, giving, and humble - a wonderful listener with a clever wit and a good sense of humor.  

Retired Episcopal pastor and friend Edwina Aker describes John as very compassionate and the type of person “in whom people can see Christ.”

“He doesn’t know any kind of boundaries – racial, religious, people’s differences of beliefs and opinions - he loves and ministers to everybody.”

Last December John was diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer — metastatic meaning it has spread to his lymphatic system. He is undergoing a new “protocol” involving a combined hormonal and chemotherapy treatment approach in Seattle, Wash. He makes a trip to Seattle once every three weeks to undergo treatment.

The diagnosis has led to a bit of a role reversal for John that has been, he admits, a little tough. Having lived in service to others for so long, suddenly becoming the recipient of an outpouring of goodwill from his friends and neighbors has been quite the change.

“I’ve been this dance instructor, and now I’m going to be the dancer,” he said with a resigned smile.

Aker agrees that it is hard for “givers” to be on the receiving end.  “He and Sharon both — they just give and give and give,” she said. 

“I don’t believe John knows how much people love him,” she added. “He is very, very blessed by people who love him.”

According to friend Maureen Theiler, “John is special … He’s doing exactly what Christ asked us to do – to minister to each other … He’s been a Godsend to many people and now he’s the one who needs the ministering.” 

John views his illness and his role change as part of a “grander plan.” He adopted a friend’s motto of “what for” instead of “why me.” He’s dedicated to finding  the “what for” – what he’s going to do with this new challenge and how he can grow from it. 

In the meantime, as his community rallies around him, Sharon explains that John is “rejoicing in his life.”

“He isn’t a worrier about the future,” she said. “He’s not fearful. He knows all will be well.”

(Editor’s note: A “winter fest” fundraiser is being held in honor of Reverend Payne on Saturday, Feb. 20 at the Elk’s Lodge in Polson. Beginning at 6 p.m., the event includes a spaghetti dinner and live music by four bands for $8 per person. Children 12 and under are admitted free of charge. A silent auction and 50/50 drawing will also be held. For more information please call 885-5160.)

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