News

Klaus Speaks at COGIC Historical Marker Dedication

by Sarah Cushing - University Communications | Dec 07, 2016
Dr. Klaus
In 1918, an African-American preacher, Bishop C.H. Mason (1864–1961) of the Church of God in Christ (COGIC), was escorted up the steps of the Holmes County Courthouse in Lexington, Mississippi, and held in a jail cell for allegedly preaching against the United States’ involvement in World War I. Ninety-eight years later, on Oct. 16, 2016, an audience of more than 200 spectators gathered outside of the same courthouse at the dedication of a state historical marker, approved by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, honoring Mason and his influence on Christian life in America. University of Valley Forge (UVF) Interim President Byron Klaus, D.Min., spoke at the dedication ceremony as the only Assemblies of God (AG) member in attendance.

The dedication was the culmination of Mother Mary Patterson’s work. Mother Patterson is the widow of former Presiding Bishop J.O. Patterson Sr., who was Mason’s successor. She leads the Pentecostal Heritage Connection and is passionate about her denomination, knowing its history as well as Mason’s history. Mother Patterson initiated efforts for the marker and organized the event.

Despite opposition, Mason undeniably influenced Christian life in the U.S. After being cast out from the African-American Baptist community for preaching the Pentecostal Holiness message, Mason founded COGIC in 1897 and also the first St. Paul Church of God in Christ in Lexington. Today, COGIC is the largest Pentecostal denomination in the country with a rich history that, at times, has connected with the AG denomination. The AG began in 1914 in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and some of the future AG ministers were credentialed by COGIC. Mason was present at the founding of the AG and gave his blessing to the group. As a result of this connection, Mother Patterson invited Klaus to speak at the dedication. Commenting on his speech from that day Klaus said, “I was there to say thank you for the support Bishop Mason actually was to my group, the Assemblies of God.”

He continued, “It’s important for us to remember key figures. Not to idolize them but to be inspired by them. To realize that our successes today, our effectiveness today, is connected to the hard work of folks in the past.” As a history buff, Klaus was honored to share Mason’s history with the younger generation in attendance. Leaders from the two denominations are inspired by the leaders of the past and are now taking strategic steps to rebuild relations between COGIC and the AG ‚Äčthat had eroded over the years.  

Klaus said he recognized the weight of the event on multiple levels. First, it is a testament to how the country has progressed that the state of Mississippi would recognize an African-American preacher. Second, it was important to remember and honor the past. While today’s society emphasizes the present and almost forgets about the past, Christianity is a historical religion that builds its views on historical events, most importantly the cross and resurrection. Third, it was important to remember those who came before and honor their hard work and the price they paid for their beliefs. “I was just happy to be part of that,” Klaus said. “To remind people about their heritage and their past and why Bishop Mason was so critical to them.”