The Church of God in Christ originated in 1897 in Lexington, Mississippi, among African-American Baptists who had been influenced by the Holiness movement. Over the years, these origins in Lexington and in the Holiness movement have become obscured. Today, the Church of God in Christ is at a crossroads. Will the church founded by Bishop Charles Harrison Mason retain and build upon its heritage of holiness, or will it evolve and become something different?
These questions about the history and future of the Church of God in Christ will be considered at the Holiness Evolution Summit, a first-of-its-kind event to be held at Mason Temple in Memphis on September 8, 2016 (the 152nd anniversary of Mason’s birth).
Mother Mary P. Patterson, organizer of the Holiness Evolution Summit, has spent the past 10 years raising awareness of Lexington’s role in Church of God in Christ history. Through her company, the Pentecostal Heritage Connection, she has organized tour groups of Lexington, and she has built relationships with community leaders, church leaders, and academics. Her efforts culminated on October 16, 2015, with the unveiling of an official State Historical Marker on the grounds of the Holmes County Courthouse in Lexington, honoring the founding of the Church of God in Christ.
The fact that Mason had been imprisoned 97 years earlier in a jail cell in the Holmes County Courthouse basement underscores the significant societal shifts that have occurred. Mason had been persecuted on account of his race and religion, but he is now honored. Indeed, African-Americans have made much progress in American society over the past 100 years. But much work remains to be done.
Now Patterson is bringing this conversation about Church of God in Christ history to Memphis. According to Patterson, the Holiness Evolution Summit aims to uncover forgotten aspects of Church of God in Christ origins, and to also provoke discussion about the implications of this heritage. For instance: What does holiness look like in the 21st century? Would Bishop Mason have anything to say about current challenges in society and church? And what does Lexington teach about religious liberty?
Participants include black and white scholars and church leaders from Church of God in Christ and Assemblies of God backgrounds. The four speakers at the 2015 dedication of the State Historical Marker will also be featured at the Holiness Evolution Summit:
- Percy Washington, pastor of Sweet Canaan Church of God in Christ, Lexington, Mississippi
- Byron Klaus, president (1999-2015) of the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, Springfield, Missouri
- Superintendent William Deans, pastor of St. Paul Church of God in Christ, Lexington, Mississippi (the first COGIC congregation)
- Elder Jerry Ramsey, COGIC historian, Gloster, Mississippi
The Holiness Evolution Summit will include formal presentations and ample time for audience participation with questions and answers. Bishop Craig S. Baymon (pastor of Holy Temple Cathedral of Deliverance COGIC, Memphis, Tennessee) will deliver the invocation. Mother Julia Scott Ward (the wife of Bishop Lee Ward, retired pastor of Greater Harvest COGIC, Memphis, Tennessee) will offer the scripture reading. Moderating the event will be Darrin Rodgers, director of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center, Springfield, Missouri.
The public is invited to attend the Holiness Evolution Summit, which will occur on September 8, 2016, 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., in the U.E. Miller Conference Room of Mason Temple Church of God in Christ, 930 Mason Street, Memphis, Tennessee. Seating is limited. Registration is $40 and includes lunch. Registration may be purchased online or at the door. For additional information, contact the Pentecostal Heritage Connection at (901) 398-7716.