Members of the locally based Church of God in Christ (COGIC, Inc.) converge on Memphis November 5-12 for their annual holy convocation. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the gathering, and the first for Charles Blake as presiding bishop. Following the death of Memphian G.E. Patterson on March 20th, Blake was named spiritual leader and CEO of the world's largest African-American Pentecostal denomination. He pastors the largest African-American church west of the Mississippi River, West Angeles COGIC in Los Angeles, California, which he founded in 1969. Blake served as Patterson's right-hand man since 2000, and received the Harvard Foundation Humanitarian of the Year medal in 2003 for his Pan African Children's Fund and Save Africa's Children program.
How is Memphis important to COGIC?
Memphis is our Jerusalem, our Mecca. It's the place around which we gather. Memphis is where our church was organized. It's where our founding bishop [Charles Mason] lived, and where our headquarters office and main temple are located.
What distinguishes COGIC from other denominations?
We are, in many ways, the mother organization of Pentecostalism, which is the fastest growing religious movement in the world. Our churches are usually located in the heart of the city. When other churches have moved to the suburbs, we have remained in the heart of the city, administering to the needs of inner-city dwellers.
Tell me about the job of presiding bishop.
I function much like the CEO of any major corporation. It's just a matter of overseeing the resources and officers of the church in such a way that our operation is orderly and effective. Spiritually, the presiding bishop focuses on the moral lives of the members of the church, and the moral lives we would seek for the world to follow. It's also a primary mission to win as many souls as we can.
What did you learn from working with Bishop Patterson?
We have known one another since the 1950s. We conducted revivals together as young ministers. I was very impressed by his leadership. He contributed progressive organizational leadership, and at the same time he had great respect of the traditions and practices of the church. I would hope to walk in that same spirit of leadership.
How do you think you'll leave your mark on COGIC?
Every leader does so. The church is always impacted by its leadership. At the same time, the church has a life and a culture all its own. Leaders must respect that culture, and understand that they might not have a transforming impact. I heard a president say that he was both the most powerful man on earth, and impressed with how powerless he actually was. I'm sure that I'll make some differences, but I'm not convinced that I'm so great that I'll make the church something that it's never been before. Digital ministry is a high priority. It's unthinkable that we wouldn't try to minister to the world and educate our constituents with digital technology.
Why does the world need the Holiness-Pentecostal message?
All the problems in the country today — juvenile delinquency, children having children, divorce — these are all things that the church attempts to eradicate from society. Of course you might say it doesn't seem very successful, and in many ways that may seem to be true. On the other hand, we have to see how much worse things could be. The millions of people who are involved in the church may do what the church is advocating, and if so, some of these problems are less intense were it not for the church.
What are your thoughts on charismatic television ministers?
It's impossible to give a generalization of my impression of them considering how many there are. Those who preach the Word and those who believe in the Bible, and who operate with integrity, I love them and praise God for them.
Are there thoughts of moving the convocation from Memphis?
Not at this time.