“Winning souls for Christ–Serving God with excellence by lifting JESUS.”
January 5, 2020, 1030 AM
From the website, I learned that this is the largest African American pentecostal church. Charles Harrison Mason started the denomination in the late 1800’s and upon his death in 1961, membership in the COGIC was at 400,000. Today it has an estimated 6.5 million members and can be found in 87 countries.
I walked into the front door at 1025 and saw a restroom sign pointing downstairs. So I went to the basement level but all the lights were out. When I came back upstairs, a man and two women were waiting. I said I was looking for the restrooms, but I think they thought I had a nefarious agenda. After the using the restroom, a woman named Lisa welcomed me and ushered me into the sanctuary–what they call “The Gathering Place.” The pastor was speaking from a lectern so I thought I might be late to worship. Turns out he was wrapping up a Sunday school lesson.
In closing the teaching time, the pastor read from the study guide about a woman who entered a church alone, unknown to the congregation and looking like the harlot she was. BUT, because that church welcomed her, she accepted Christ as her savior and went on to become a missionary. I squirmed a little.
Soon everyone started moving around while a woman loudly prayed using a microphone. Although I’m not sure she needed it. One of the four women ushers, dressed in what looked like old style nurses’ uniforms handed me a visitor’s card, asking me to fill it out so I could be greeted during the service. Another woman introduced herself and asked me if I’d like to move closer to the front, nearer to others. I declined saying I was fine sitting in my middle back pew. Besides, I noticed another visitor, an Asian woman, had also arrived and was sitting several rows behind me.
The worship time began in earnest, probably closer to 11 am. I guess I have to get used to the fact that some just churches roll into worship whenever they want. However, my military side of me wants to scream.
A pianist, guitarist and drummer started rocking the house as the congregation sang, raised hands, clapped and swayed to the praise music. The pastor’s wife, called Evangelist, led the singing with her beautiful voice. During this time I moved up several pews to be closer to the action. I noticed the other visitor stayed in her seat way in the back. Then, we stood to sing the opening hymn, which departed suddenly from the contemporary vibe. The pianist moved to the organ and we sang a traditional hymn. We read a specific statement of faith as printed in the bulletin. We listened to scripture, sang the Lord’s Prayer, read a responsive reading and sang the Gloria Patri. The choir then sang a rendition of “It is Well,” which started out slowly and quietly. But their version continued to build as it went along, until even I stood up and started singing and clapping along. There’s something about those words: it is well, with my soul, it is well, it is well, with my soul. This was also the moment a frail, gray-haired woman began stomping up and down with her cane in hand in the front row. Well, that kind of excited everyone.
We settled back down and the Evangelist recognized the visitors from the pulpit, welcoming us to worship. Another traditional hymn followed and then came the offering time. All of the speakers so far had been women, but the pastor came forward to lead a responsive reading before “the ministry of giving.” He didn’t shy away from asking for gifts and tithes. In fact, the preacher said something like, “God loves a cheerful giver. But if you give mad, we’ll still take it.” He also mentioned the ways to give electronically. A couple women manned a table up front for those who wanted to donate using Venmo, Paypal, credit card, etc. Then, the most astonishing thing happened. The ushers came down the pews, motioning for us to go forward with our offerings. In other words the plates did not come to us–we had to go to the plates! I have never seen this kind of collection done before, but it certainly puts an emphasis on the offering. And to my shock, there must have been ten or so people lined up at the electronic station. Obviously, this church takes their worship through gifts more seriously than most.
Finally, at noon, the pastor began to preach. He spoke for close to an hour although his engaging sermon made it feel shorter. He preached in a sing-song way, with an occasional “ah” emphasis on the ends of sentences, which I understand is common in the black culture. He spoke about asking God for more–more anointing, more faith, more grace, more love, more of everything that we need to minister for Him in 2020. His speech was peppered with humorous sayings like, “Now that I know more, I want more,” “God has made your appointment with 1-800-got junk,” and “The Kingdom of God will be glorified and the realm of darkness will be horrified.” All during his sermon, and this could be why it seemed to go quickly, the congregation shouted “amen”, “yes, lord,” “hallelujah,” and other affirming comments. Several folks used tambourines as a way of acknowledging their support as well.
The service wrapped up a little after 1 pm. The pastor greeted me for the second time on my way out. Another woman ran after me to give me a hug before I could escape. The ushers, the women who greeted me earlier and the raucous congregational singing all added to an atmosphere of welcome and acceptance. This church PASSED the WELCOME TEST.