Pentecostal denomination gathers for 100th annual convocation - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Pentecostal denomination gathers for 100th annual convocation

Associated Press Writer

MEMPHIS , Tenn. (AP) - The Church Of God In Christ began its 100th annual convocation Monday with up to 70,000 members of the predominantly black Pentecostal denomination expected to take part in the weeklong gathering.

The denomination, which reports more than six million members worldwide, held its first convocation in Memphis in 1907, where founder Charles Harrison Mason built a congregation after he was expelled from the Baptist church over doctrinal differences.

"The church has grown because we are authentic and we're Bible based," said Presiding Bishop Charles Edward Blake. "The ideas on which we have based our faith and our doctrine are sound. What we teach and what we believe is in the Bible."

Most events for the convocation, which began with a day of fasting and prayer, were scheduled through Nov. 12 at a downtown convention center.

Religious services were scheduled 24 hours a day at Mason Temple, the denomination's mother church. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous "Mountain Top" address at Mason Temple on April 3, 1968 the night before he was murdered at the nearby Lorraine Motel.

The church, generally referred to simply as COGIC, is headquartered in Memphis , but debate has often come up at its annual gatherings over calls to move the convocations elsewhere.

Blake said he did not expect such talks to become a big part of the 100th annual gathering. "That is not a major matter for us," he said.

"It may be for Memphis but it is not for us." The convocation is expected to have a $35 million impact on the local economy, the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau said, and hotels were running at near capacity.

COGIC members, who call themselves "saints," are spread across the United States and abroad, and the convocation will pay special attention to followers in other countries.

"We are this time bringing in representatives from each of the 58 nations where we have ministered, and on Thursday there will be a parade of nations," Blake said.

A communion service will be carried live by satellite to participating churches around the world. "This is a great opportunity," Blake said, "for saints to come together and celebrate the body of Christ."

Church doctrine sets forth a belief that God is a living, personal presence in a follower's life. Religious services are foot-stomping, hand-clapping celebrations with laying on of hands, talking in tongues and spiritual healing.

Such displays of religious exuberance often were rejected by established churches when founder Mason was building his first COCIC congregation.

"We were originally kind of thought to be out of step and not a part of the general Christian community," Blake said. "(But) worship styles that were thought to be strange and unusual many years ago are now being accepted."

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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