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New priest settles in at Bayard
May 07, 2015 Jerry Purvis   

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Photo by Jerry Purvis/Gering Citizen - Fr. Daniel Payne has been called to serve as parish priest at Assumption Greek Orthodox Church in Bayard.

Assumption Greek Orthodox Church in Bayard, founded in the early 20th Century, has been described in a liturgical news source as a “jewel” of a small church in western Nebraska. Earlier this year, the church family welcomed a new priest in Fr. Daniel Payne.

Born in Arkansas, Daniel grew up in Tulsa, Okla. After attending college in Kansas, he has had the opportunity to live in places across the country and has traveled to many more.

“I’ve felt the Lord’s presence all my life,” he said. “My mother gave me my first Bible when I was 6, and as her firstborn, she dedicated me to God.”

By the age of 9, he had read the entire Bible. Confirmed in the Lutheran Church, Daniel was mentored by his pastor. With an interest in joining the clergy, he started preaching and leading worship at 15.

“I didn’t know I was going to be a priest at that time,” he said. “I majored in sociology and religion and philosophy in college, then on to Luther Seminary. It was there that I discovered Orthodoxy.”
One day, Daniel’s church history professor called him into the office and said he had a spirituality that was uncommon among Lutherans, but was more common among the Eastern Orthodox Churches. He recommended finding a spiritual father among the Orthodox to help him in his spiritual journey.

“The first Orthodox service I attended was at a Serbian church in Minnesota,” he said. “We were the only people there under 65 and the service was in Slavonic and Serbian.”

After taking a leave of absence from seminary, Daniel’s family moved to Colorado and eventually became Greek Orthodox in 1995. The next year, the bishop sent him to an Orthodox seminary in Boston. Ordained as a Deacon in 2004, he was ordained to the priesthood in 2010.
He started as an interim priest for Assumption in December of 2014 and became the parish’s full time priest in March, just prior to Great Lent.

Daniel is also an academic. He received his PhD in 2006 from Baylor University. “The program focused on church and state issues, religion and nationalism, human rights and religious freedom.”

He has spoken in Russia, Japan, Eastern Europe, America, Canada and other areas on those issues. He’s also written two books and numerous articles on religion and the state.

Recently, Daniel was invited to participate in an international research program with other scholars on the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the influence of the Church in shaping Russian policy.

“I’m also involved in social ethics and social justice issues,” he said. “I’m very committed to equality of all people. I’ll be leading a community discussion forum on May 11 on the death penalty. It’s a critical issue right now in Nebraska and national politics. I’ll be speaking from a moral and religious perspective, primarily.”

Daniel added he’s come to appreciate the area and the slow pace of life, although it took some getting used to. “I moved from Houston, a city of six million and a cathedral of 4,000 members to a town of 1,200 and a parish of about 40 members.

“I live next door to the church, so my commute is about 10 feet,” he said. “I’m enjoying it here. The people are very hospitable and friendly. But what strikes me is their independent spirit. They don’t require a lot of hand-holding or attention, which is nice. I think that’s all part of the Nebraska hard work ethic.”

The Orthodox Church today, numbering more than 250 million worldwide, is a communion of self-governing Churches, each administratively independent of the other, but united by a common faith and spirituality. Their underlying unity is based on identity of doctrines, sacramental life and worship, which distinguishes Orthodox Christianity.
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