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When the Saints Come Marching In

G.E. Patterson' s death may bring change to Memphis.

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The March 20th death of Church of God in Christ (COGIC) presiding bishop Gilbert Earl Patterson closed the book on the Memphis-based denomination's first century.

Patterson delivered old-time religion from the pulpit while possessing the mass-media savvy to spread the word far beyond his local congregation. Broadcasts of Patterson's sermons, produced in-house and distributed to three cable networks, reached millions of viewers worldwide. Today, COGIC is recognized as the world's largest African-American Pentecostal denomination.

Bishop Patterson will lie in state Wednesday, March 28th, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Mason Temple, located near downtown at 930 Mason Street. The temple is the resting place of COGIC founder Charles Harrison Mason and the site of Martin Luther King Jr.'s final public address, the "I have been to the mountaintop" speech, delivered April 3, 1968.

COGIC announced three more days of memorial events to be held at the Temple of Deliverance at 369 G.E. Patterson Avenue downtown. The local church memorial service is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, March 29th, with the jurisdictional memorial service the following day at 7 p.m.

Patterson's funeral begins Saturday at 10 a.m. All services are open to the public.

Bishop Charles Blake of the 22,000-member West Angeles COGIC in Los Angeles has been named interim presiding bishop, and he will officiate at the funeral.

COGIC expects thousands to attend, with saints -- as COGIC members are known -- flocking to Memphis from around the world. COGIC leaders are focused on this week's activities but will soon announce a plan to install Patterson's successor.

Patterson's death and the subsequent leadership change could send ripples throughout Memphis. The denomination elects its presiding bishop every four years, with the next election scheduled for 2008. In a February interview, COGIC COO and second-in-command, Bishop Jerry Maynard said, "It is not in our minds to choose a person other than [Patterson] in 2008. In '08, if there's a Bishop Patterson, he will stay in the position."

COGIC is an incorporated entity, and whoever is elected presiding bishop also carries the CEO title and makes the organization's business decisions.

Thanks to Patterson's presence in Memphis, COGIC has made a significant local economic impact. The national convocation held here each November attracts up to 60,000 saints and generates an estimated $30 million in business revenue and sales taxes. In addition, the organization hires and trains local minorities in skilled positions while also attracting talent from outside the region.

Though COGIC has rate agreements in place with some Memphis hotels through 2012, the election of a presiding bishop in another city could shift the denomination's power center and move the convocation. In recent years, Patterson and other church officials have suggested that the event has outgrown Memphis.

See the current issue of our sister publication Memphis Business Quarterly for an article on COGIC during Patterson's lifetime. Check www.memphisflyer.com for updates on this week's memorial activities and the Patterson funeral.

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