“This has been one of the greatest convocations I’ve ever experienced in all of my life,” said Church Of God In Christ Presiding Bishop Charles E. Blake Sr., as tens of thousands of COGIC saints sat attentively in the Edward Jones Dome on the eve of the final day of their 104th Holy Convocation.
Of those 104, Blake has attended more than half – a point he made as he welcomed his flock to St. Louis six days before.
While Blake mostly praised the staff that pulled together the convocation, he made it plain that St. Louis had a heavy hand in COGIC’s success.
“I just praise God for the wonderful welcome and the warm hospitality St. Louis has extended to us,” Blake said. “The city of St. Louis has in every way tried to make us comfortable and make everything convenient for us.”
As a token of its appreciation, COGIC announced they would stay another year beyond the three-year contract that they originally signed for 2010-2012.
The 106th Holy Convocation will be held in St. Louis from November 5-13, 2013.
The move will mean more than $170 million in added revenue for the city over the course of the four years, according to License Collector Michael McMillan. This year, COGIC members spent $35 million during the convocation, according to the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission.
“I am so pleased and elated because I have gone to Memphis for decades and I’ve seen the impact it has had on that city,” said St. Louis host Bishop Lawrence M. Wooten, pastor of Williams Temple Church of God in Christ. “This is a great opportunity for us.”
An agenda for praise
“Stand up and leap for joy,” the praise leader of the choir sang on the last evening worship for the 104th Holy Convocation. On this Monday night, in a space designated for football cheers, the Dome exploded with fervent faith.
More than 40,000 COGIC saints passed through St. Louis from as far away as India and Nigeria this past week. They had been in worship mode – morning, noon and night – for seven days, but it didn’t show.
7 a.m. prayer breakfasts, morning word, noonday worship, evening worship and midnight musicals that threatened to bleed into prayer breakfast time had been the schedule. Attendees apparently couldn’t get enough based on the constant praise breaks that prolonged services.
“What makes us a triumphant church is not the fact that we are the largest African-American Pentecostal denomination with over 12,000 churches and nearly 6.5 million people,” said Sister Alicia from Florida. “But we are a church that has the Holy Ghost.”
The 104th Holy Convocation boasted performances and preaching by some of the biggest names in gospel – including Donnie McClurkin, Smokie Norful, Marvin Winans and COGIC’s own VP of music Kim Burrell – but the relentless praise and worship was what left the lasting impression.
“My favorite thing is the word of God,” said Lady Bertha Packnett of Elder Louston Packnett Sr.’s Redemption Church of God in Christ in Kansas City. “And the awesome move of God that has been experienced based on what has been delivered through his word.”
“They are coming from different places but they are helping people here,” said Dwight Stone, on-air personality for Clear Channel’s Gospel 1600 AM.
As he spoke, COGIC’s Christmas in November was underway. The second annual event is equal part tent revival and charitable initiative that donates coats, clothing, household items, groceries and toys to residents.
The same faces that sang along with gospel great Fred Hammond well after 3:30 a.m. were fresh-faced and volunteering on the grounds across from Williams Temple to serve the residents of the neighborhood near Union Avenue and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.
“I got some comforters and pillows,” Metra Robinson said with a giant smile on her face. “I just want to say bless everybody, because they have blessed me.”
“It’s a blessing that we can help one another as Christ would want us to do,” Eula Henderson said.
“Jesus didn’t just say go to our churches, he said go to all of the world,” Wooten said. “Jesus said, ‘When I was hungry, you fed me. When I was naked, you clothed me.’ That’s what this is all about.”
In the two dozen or so services that took place over the course of the convocation, members were constantly reminded of the worldly service that happens through COGIC, with references to aiding orphanages in Africa and victims of the Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina.
At the COGIC Cares Luncheon, which raises funds for charitable efforts (and awarded 54 students with college scholarships), Bishop Blake spoke of the experience he had when traveling to Japan to deliver earthquake relief.
“We have four churches in Japan, but plenty of the Japanese people have never heard of COGIC,” Blake said. “COGIC Charities is how they were exposed to us.”
“Convocation is a mass appropriation of all of the resources of the church in one location, and that’s why it seems so profound,” said Elder CJ Bolden of Jackson Miss.
“But in our home cities, it is what we are doing in our neighborhood, in our churches and in our community. God is real. And through the services and all of the things that have gone on this week – and all of the people that have been helped – I hope that people will walk away knowing that.”