Bishop Charles Harrison Mason was the founder and first senior bishop of the Church of God in Christ (COGIC), the largest Pentecostal church in the United States.
Born to former slaves Jerry and Eliza Mason in Shelby County, Tenn., on Sept. 8, 1866, Mason worked with his family as a sharecropper and did not receive a formal education as a child. But at an early age, he was influenced by his parents’ religion.
Mason joined the African-American Missionary Baptist Church when he was 12 and later received his license to preach from the Mount Gale Missionary Baptist Church in Preston, Ark. In November 1893, Mason enrolled at the Arkansas Baptist College, but withdrew after three months because of his dissatisfaction with its curriculum and methodology.
In 1895, Mason met Charles Price Jones, a popular Baptist preacher from Mississippi. Mason and Jones soon began preaching the doctrine of holiness and sanctification in the local Baptist churches, which led to their expulsion from the local Baptist association in 1897.
Mason and Jones decided to form a new fellowship of churches. Mason suggested the name Church of God in Christ, after what he described as a vision in Little Rock, Ark., to distinguish the church from a number of “Church of God” groups forming at that time.
Due to disagreements in the new Pentecostal teachings, the two men split their group. Mason won the legal rights to the Church of God in Christ name and charter, and established his work in Memphis.
After moving the COGIC headquarters to Memphis, Mason established additional departments and auxiliaries, created dioceses, and appointed overseers throughout the country.
In 1945, Mason dedicated Mason Temple in Memphis as the church’s national meeting site. By 1951, Mason had selected Bishop A.B. McEwen, Bishop J.S. Bailey and Bishop O.M. Kelly as his assistants to help with the administration and oversight of the church. In 1952, he added Bishop J.O. Patterson Sr. to this commission.
At the time of Mason’s death on Nov. 17, 1961, COGIC had a membership of more than 400,000 and more than 4,000 churches. Today, the church can be found in every state in the United States and in more than 60 countries around the world. Its international membership is estimated to be between 6 million and 8 million members.