Beside the annual, signature convocation of the Church of God in Christ (COGIC), the Founder’s Day Celebration is the denomination’s largest gathering of members each year.
Thousands of “saints,” as members are called, converge on Memphis to remember their founder, Bishop Charles Harrison Mason, who founded a movement in 1895 that evolved into the present-day COGIC organization.
The 2018 Founder’s Day Celebration begins with a 10 a.m. Thursday Presiding Bishop’s VIP Tour. Bishop Mason’s historic homes on 4th Street will be toured by an elite delegation of church leaders, hosted by Presiding Bishop Charles Blake Sr.
A noon Founder’s Day Luncheon and Symposium is slated for Mason Temple, featuring an address by Presiding Bishop Blake. The 6 p.m. Season of Prayer and Intercession will be led by Memphis’ own Evangelist Frances Kelly, also at Mason Temple, COGIC’s international headquarters.
A solemn Wreath-Laying Ceremony is set for 7:30 p.m., at the tomb of Bishop Mason, there at Mason Temple. An 8 p.m. Founder’s Day Worship service will follow, featuring Bishop Daniel T. Littleton as the evening’s speaker.
The Friday culmination commences at 10 a.m. with meetings and sessions at COGIC’s World Missions Training Center.
Few pioneer church leaders are revered as highly as Bishop Mason is among the church’s 6.5 million members. COGIC is the largest African-American Pentecostal church in the country.
Mason was born in 1864 as the American Civil War was ending. He was free-born, the son of former slaves. Like many black families in the rural south, sharecropping became a way of life. Although he had no formal education as a youngster, he was heavily influenced very early by his parents, Jerry and Eliza Mason, who were devout Christians.
As a teen, Mason joined the African-American Missionary Baptist Church and later received a license to preach. At age 19 he enrolled at Arkansas Baptist College and graduated from the school’s Minister’s Institute two years later.
In 1895, Mason met Charles Price Jones, a popular Baptist preacher from Mississippi. Mason and Jones soon began preaching the doctrine of “holiness and sanctification” in local Baptist churches, which led to their expulsion from the Baptist Convention.
Holiness, pentecostal doctrine was foreign to the Missionary Baptist Church because of the purported supernatural healings and miracles preached, and which reportedly, occurred during the church services of Mason and Jones.
The two decided to form a new fellowship of churches. Mason suggested the name “Church of God in Christ,” after what he described as a vision in Little Rock. Some disagreement in the new Pentecostal teachings facilitated a parting of the ways in 1907. Mason won the legal rights to the Church of God in Christ name and charter, and established his work in Memphis.
He organized additional departments and auxiliaries, created dioceses, and appointed overseers throughout the country. In 1945, Mason dedicated Mason Temple in Memphis as the church’s national meeting site and the international headquarters.
At the time of Mason’s death on Nov. 17, 1961, COGIC had a membership of more than 400,000, and more than 4,000 churches in the United States as well as congregations in Europe, South America, Africa and Asia.
Today, the church can be found in every state in the United States, and in more than 87 countries around the world. COGIC, although Pentecostal – “distinguished by the belief in speaking with other tongues as a sign of the Holy Ghost” – is also considered to be a denomination of the great Protestant body, though it did not directly evolve from the European or English Reformation. It’s origin was within the General Association to the Baptist Church.