Two years remain before the arrival of their eightieth anniversary, but already black Pentecostals concentrated in the three-million-member Church of God in Christ (COGIC) are celebrating gains. More than 40,000 gathered in November at the Cook Convention Center in Memphis, Tennessee, for the sixty-eighth annual Holy Convocation, calling attention to the fact that this is possibly the largest black religious gathering in the United States, as well as the largest Pentecostal denomination.

The educational and economic gains of blacks generally, coupled with dramatic changes ushered in under the administration of the Most Reverend J. O. Patterson, presiding bishop for the past seven years (he succeeded the founder, Charles H. Mason), have produced the “best of times” for COGIC.

“God has brought us to a position of prominence. We rightfully take our places,” Patterson told the convention. “We boast of our numerical strength as the largest Pentecostal group in the world. God has blessed us to ride in the best automobiles, live in the best homes, wear the finest minks and exclusive clothing, and to have large bank accounts. Our churches are no longer confined to storefronts, but we are building cathedrals.”

To COGIC members, such progress speaks of divine approval. But it has not come easily. The church has traditionally been snubbed by white Pentecostals (there are only white organizations in the Pentecostal Fellowship of North America), or looked upon as a sort of “weaker brother” by them (although some early white Pentecostal leaders received their first ministerial credentials from Mason and his all-black COGIC).

It also endured six years of litigation in the courts, after Mason’s ...

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