Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 14
Wednesday, April 4, 2007
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All in a Day’s Work

Photo by Linda Arntzenius
Edison W. Payne

Edison W. Payne

Linda Arntzenius

Spend any time with Edison W. Payne, driver for residents at Princeton Windrows, and you'll find a few surprises behind his unassuming demeanor. Besides shuttling members of the residential community that is located on the edge of Princeton and is home to many former Borough and Township residents, Mr. Payne is a pastor with a God-given talent — for singing. A resident of Franklin Township, Mr. Payne is originally from Tennessee and is deeply rooted in the music and religion of his early years. With four fellow ministers from churches in Piscataway, he's shared billing with "The Ice Man" Jerry Butler, Jr. — the Mississippi-born soul singer famed for his cool handling of emotional lyrics — and recently traveled to Fort Lauderdale to record for Black Entertainment Television's popular Bobby Jones Gospel show, the network's first nationally syndicated black gospel television show. Here, Mr. Payne speaks about his work in his own words.

I've been driving for Princeton Windrows off and on for about two years now, full-time and part-time, dropping residents all over Princeton and the local vicinity, at the Princeton Public Library, Quakerbridge Mall, lectures and talks at the University, and area doctors' offices. I started out part time and then was laid off for six months and then called back. Now I work five hours a day five days a week. As well as local stops, we go up to Philadelphia or New York. Then the bus is full. I have a CDL for the bus, which holds 25 passengers including the driver. I drive a bus and a car.

Before that I worked for the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) for 21-and-a-half years. From 1973 to 1994, I worked for all of the deans except for the first dean. Driving for Windrows, you get to know the people here and they are friendly people. It's very different from driving for the dean of UMDNJ though, traveling to meetings in Washington, Philadelphia, Camden, all over, and then waiting. Here it's more constant with about a 30-minute turn around. I need to be alert. Driving relaxes me, it really does. I've been doing this all my life, and it doesn't bother me.

When I'm not driving, I minister to a small congregation in Piscataway, the Traveling Fellowship Baptist Church. I was called to it, I guess you could say. I used to hear the old Baptist ministers say "God called me," and I think I had a calling in my life at a very early age but I was waiting to hear a voice calling my name. I guess it's funny but it didn't come that way. It came through revelation after getting older and understanding more about the Bible. After that I was licensed to minister and about four years later a church in Piscataway called me to pastor. That was in 1988. I have an assistant pastor and a youth pastor. After 20 years there I will retire next year in May. Then I'll take it easy.

I came to New Jersey from Tennessee in August 1970 because my sister and brother-in-law were living in Somerset County near New Brunswick. Coming from the country, that was too much city for me. At first I thought about going back — I'd drive home 1100 miles twice a year to see my mother and my family — but it grew on me. I came to find a good job and I landed at UMDNJ.

Before I came to New Jersey, I never knew there was anyone named Edison. Looking for jobs I found out. People would say 'oh your're the guy from Edison.' I never knew there was an Edison Township. I don't know why my mother called me that. I was born and raised in Arlington, Tennessee, and grew up there on the farm. There was a big family, 11 of us and Dad was a farmer. He grew cotton, soy beans, vegetables, and there was a fruit orchard. When I was younger I didn't like being on the farm then because the work was hard. Farmers believe in working from sun up to sun down. I have an appreciation for it now, because everything we ate came from the ground; it was fresh not processed. At home I grow pole beans, butter beans, collard greens, okra, and corn. My wife and I used to put enough fruit and vegetables in the freezer to last through to the next season's crop. I have two children; my son is Steven Wendell and my daughter Veronica Lynn. I have one grandchild. My daughter's son, Jalon Emmanuel Mack, is almost six years old.

Gospel Singing

I've been singing with the Singing Pastors of Piscataway gospel group since 1994. We call ourselves the Singing Pastors of Piscataway because we all minister there. Kenneth L. Saunders is senior pastor of the North Stelton AME Church; Linwood D. Rouse is pastor of the Macedonia OFW Baptist Church; Charter member Otis T. Bowden preaches at Zion Hill; Barron Wilson is pastor of Mt. Calvary Baptist Church; Calvin Williams is deacon of the First Baptist Church; and myself.

I sing in three ranges: baritone, a little bass, first and second tenor and I can do an almost falsetto if the song requires it. We sang at the Kimmel Center, the very place where I've driven people from Windrows. Our next performance is in Norfolk, Virginia. We get a lot of invitations but as pastors we try to be back for our congregations on Sundays.

I'm the oldest of the group at 68 and I see this as ministry. We have a CD out: Down Through the Years. My favorite songs to sing are "Down at the Cross," and "What a Friend we have in Jesus." We preach and teach and proclaim the power of God through song. Music molds the mind and lifts the spirits. Our motto is "Ordained to preach, but compelled to sing."

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