Charles Harrison Mason
|Bishop Charles Harrison Mason, Sr.|
September 8, 1866|
Shelby County, Tennessee, U.S.
|Died||November 17, 1961
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
|Occupation||Senior Bishop, Church of God in Christ, Pastor and Evangelist|
|Successor||O. T. Jones Sr.|
|Spouse(s)||Alice Saxton 1890-1892 (divorce) Lelia Washington 1905-1936 (her death) Elsie Washington 1943-1961 (his death)|
Bishop Charles Harrison "C.H." Mason (September 8, 1866-November 17, 1961) was an American Pentecostal–Holiness and denominational leader. He was the founder, Chief Apostle and first Senior Bishop of the Church of God in Christ, Inc. The Church of God in Christ is the largest Pentecostal Church in the United States.
Childhood and early life
Bishop Mason was born the son of former slaves Jerry and Eliza Mason in Shelby County, Tennessee. He lived with his family in an unincorporated area near Bartlett. Mason worked with his family sharecropping and he did not receive an early formal education. As a child, Mason was greatly influenced by the religion of his parents. In 1879, when he was twelve, Mason joined the African-American Missionary Baptist Church; he was later baptized by his older brother, Rev. I. S. Nelson. In 1890, he met and married Alice Saxton. Two years later they divorced. He decided not to remarry, believing in only one living wife. In 1893, he began his ministerial career by accepting a local license from the Mount Gale Missionary Baptist Church in Preston, AR. On November 1, 1893 Mason entered the Arkansas Baptist College, but withdrew after three months because of his dissatisfaction with their curriculum and methodology.
Conversion to Holiness
At this period he became enamored with the autobiography of Amanda Berry Smith, an African-American Methodist evangelist. Smith had become a convert of the new wave of Holiness that was spreading during the latter part of the nineteenth century. Those who had accepted the Holiness message testified of being "sanctified" and cleansed from sin. Mason claimed sanctification and began preaching the doctrine of Holiness and Sanctification in the local baptist churches. In 1895, Mason also became acquainted with Charles Price Jones, a popular Baptist preacher from Mississippi who shared his enthusiasm for holiness teachings, as well as J. E. Jeter from Little Rock, AR, and W. S. Pleasant from Hazelhurst, MS. These men spread the doctrine of Holiness and Sanctification throughout the African-American Baptist churches in Mississippi, Arkansas, and western Tennessee. In June 1896, these men conducted a revival, preaching the message of Sanctification and Holiness that eventually led to the expulsion for the local baptist association. In 1897, Mason and Jones, being expelled from the local Baptist Association for preaching Holiness, formed a new fellowship of churches named simply "Church of God." Mason suggested the name "the Church of God in Christ" (COGIC), a name he said came to him during a vision in Little Rock, Arkansas, to distinguish the church from a number of "Church of God" groups that were forming at the time. In March 1907, Mason was sent by the church to Los Angeles to investigate the revival being led by Elder William J. Seymour, experienced the baptism of the Holy Ghost and spoke in tongues.
Baptism with the Holy Ghost
The following are excerpts from Elder Mason's personal testimony regarding his receiving the Holy Ghost.
"The first day in the meeting I sat to myself, away from those that went with me. I began to thank God in my heart for all things, for when I heard some speak in tongues, I knew it was right though I did not understand it. Nevertheless, it was sweet to me.
I also thank God for Elder Seymour who came and preached a wonderful sermon. His words were sweet and powerful and it seems that I hear them now while writing. When he closed his sermon, he said 'All of those that want to be sanctified or baptized with the Holy Ghost, go to the upper room; and all those that want to be justified, come to the altar.'
I said that is the place for me, for it may be that I am not converted and if not, God knows it and can convert me..."
"The second night of prayer I saw a vision. I saw myself standing alone and had a dry roll of paper in my mouth trying to swallow it. Looking up towards the heavens, there appeared a man at my side. I turned my eyes at once, then I awoke and the interpretation came.
God had me swallowing the whole book and if I did not turn my eyes to anyone but God and Him only, He would baptize me. I said yes to Him, and at once in the morning when I arose, I could hear a voice in me saying, " I see..."
"I got a place at the altar and began to thank God. After that, I said Lord if I could only baptize myself, I would do so; for I wanted the baptism so bad I did not know what to do. I said, Lord, You will have to do the work for me; so I turned it over into His hands."
"Then, I began to ask for the baptism of the Holy Ghost according to Acts 2:41, which readeth thus: 'Then they that gladly received His word were baptized,' Then I saw that I had a right to be glad and not sad."
"The enemy said to me, there may be something wrong with you. Then a voice spoke to me saying, if there is anything wrong with you, Christ will find it and take it away and marry you...Someone said, 'Let us sing.' I arose and the first song that came to me was 'He brought me out of the Miry Clay.' O Glory Hallelujah! Praise His most wonderful name!
The Spirit came upon the saints and upon me...Then I gave up for the Lord to have His way within me. So there came a wave of Glory into me and all of my being was filled with the Glory of the Lord.
So when He had gotten me straight on my feet, there came a light which enveloped my entire being above the brightness of the sun. When I opened my mouth to say Glory, a flame touched my tongue which ran down me. My language changed and no word could I speak in my own tongue. Oh! I was filled with the Glory of the Lord. My soul was then satisfied.
Senior Bishop and Chief Apostle of the Church of God in Christ (COGIC)
Soon after his experience in Los Angeles, he returned to Mississippi preaching the new Pentecostal teachings on the Baptism of the Holy Ghost, but found that Elder Jones, the general overseer of the group, was opposed to it. After much debate at the general convocation in June 1907, Mason was expelled from the church. Later in November, he established a new pentecosal group in Memphis. He was elected the General Overseer of his group. After years of conflict, he won the legal rights to the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) name and charter in 1915. In the years that followed, Mason ably directed his fledgling, commissioning traveling evangelists to spread COGIC's message, establishing working partnerships with various individuals, and particularly targeting the masses of African Americans headed for work in Northern cities.
After moving to Memphis and establishing it as the headquarters of COGIC, Mason founded and pastored the Temple COGIC. He established the annual "International Holy Convocation" to be held annually each year. As the church continued to grow, he established departments and auxiliaries including the Women's Department, Sunday School, and Young People Willing Workers (YPWW) which is known today as the International Youth Department (IYD). He also appointed overseers and established dioceses of the church throughout the country. Bishop Mason's preaching was very practical and his delivery was spontaneous, often moving from teaching to preaching to singing and praying all in one presentation. However, he is most known for his consistent, disciplined and deliberate prayer life. In fact, COGIC prides itself as a church built on prayer and fasting. Bishop Mason is credited with writing the prayer chant, "Yes Lord" that has become known worldwide and sung not only by COGIC, but countless churches and other reformations.
In 1905, Bishop Mason married Lelia Washington, a year after the death of his first wife, and to this union were born seven children. Mason traveled the length and breadth of the country and many foreign lands preaching and establishing COGIC churches. Bishop Mason was not exclusive in his ministry, he preached in COGIC and non-COGIC churches alike. He also preached to interracial audiences as well. In fact Bishop Mason licensed several white Pentecostal ministers and in 1914 he preached at the founding meeting of the Assemblies of God. In 1917, he was monitored by the government for speaking in opposition to America's entrance and support of WWI. His opposition, however, stemmed from the use of African-American men being called to fight for democracy abroad while having to face racism and discrimination here at home. In 1917, he also purchased 400 acres in Lexington, MS to establish the Saints Industrial and Literary School. The school began classes in 1918 and eventually became Saint's College. The college was the major institution of higher learning for cogic youth until closed in 1976. In 1926, Mason further organized COGIC by authorizing the church's constitution outlining the bylaws, rules, and regulations of the church. In 1933, Bishop Mason set apart five overseers who became the first bishops in the church. In 1943, after the death of his second wife, Bishop Mason married his third and final wife, Elsie Washington, who died in 2006. In 1945, Mason dedicated the now historic Mason Temple in Memphis as the church's national meeting site. At that time, it was the largest auditorium of any African-American religious group in the United States.
In 1951, he set up a "special commission" and 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. Also in 1952, Bishop Mason revised the constitution to determine the leadership and succession of the church after his demise. Bishop Mason died on November 17, 1961 in Detroit, MI at the age of 95. His funeral was held during the International Holy Convocation in Memphis and he was entombed in Mason Temple. He served as Senior Bishop of COGIC for 54 years and is recognized as one of the longest serving founders of a religious organization.
At the time of Bishop Mason's death in 1961 COGIC had spread to every state in the Union and to many foreign countries with a membership of more than 400,000 and more than 4000 churches. The growth of COGIC at the time of Bishop Mason's death gives credence to his untiring efforts to teach and preach the Pentecostal-Holiness message and his exceptional leadership in building a comprehensive organization. After Bishop Mason's death in 1961, the church grew exponentially. Today, it is the largest Pentecostal Church in the United States with an estimated membership of more than 5 million members and 12,000 churches. The church can be found in every state in the United States and more than 60 countries around the world. Its international membership is estimated to be between 1 and 3 million members and more than 3,000 churches.  Its worldwide membership is estimated to be between 6 to 8 million members. This is astounding due to the fact that COGIC began in 1907 with ten congregations in Mississippi, Arkansas, and Tennessee. The current leader and presiding bishop is Bishop Charles Blake of Los Angeles, CA. The C. H. Mason Theological Seminary in Atlanta, GA, was founded in 1970 in his honor and continues to serve as the denomination's premier institution for training ministers and ministry leaders awarding graduate degrees as part of the Interdemoninational Theological Center (ITC). The C.H. Mason System of Bible Colleges can be found through the country in various locations awarding certificates and associate level degrees in theology and ministry. Being an African American and the son of former slaves during a time of heightened racism and legal segregation limited his exposure and coverage. Many historians compare the growth of COGIC at the time of his death with the growth of Methodism at the time of Charles Wesley's death that numbered 100,000 compared to COGIC's 400,000. Nonetheless, millions of Pentecostal believers and those of other reformations claim Mason's influence and teachings. He is now beginning to receive recognition of his invaluable contributions to rise and spread of Pentecostalism and Christendom.
- Church of God in Christ Official Manual 1973, Memphis, TN
- Church of God in Christ Official Manual. 1973, Memphis, TN.
- COGIC Official Manual 1973
- COGIC Official Manual 1973.
- Synan, Vinson. The Twentieth-Century Pentecostal Explosion. Altamonte Springs, FL: Creation House, 1987.
- National Council of Churches (February 2, 2010). "Catholics, Mormons, Assemblies of God growing; Mainline churches report a continuing decline"
- Melton, J. Gordon, Religions of the World Second Edition: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Beliefs and Practices, 2010, p. 681.
- Synan, Vinson. The Twentieth-Century Pentecostal Explosion. Altamonte Springs, FL: Creation House, 1987
- Clemmons, Ithiel. Bishop C. H. Mason and the Roots of the Church of God in Christ (Bakersfield, CA, 1996).