'Mother' Mary Patterson, Church of God in Christ 'tireless crusader,' has died (2024)

Mary Helen Peak Patterson, a "tireless crusader" in the effort to preserve the history of the Memphis-based Church of God in Christ and the widow of J.O. Patterson Sr., the church's longtime leader, died June 24 in Memphis, church officials said.

Known as "Mother," an honorific designating "saintly women who provide leadership and guidance," according to COGIC tenets, Patterson had been under hospice care since being diagnosed with cancer. She was 83.

"Mother Patterson was a tireless crusader for preserving the Church Of God In Christ Heritage and that of Pentecostal-Holiness around the world," stated a post on the COGIC Facebook page, announcing Patterson's June 24 death. "Our History is much richer because of her life's work."

As founder of the Memphis-based Pentecostal Heritage Connection, Patterson worked to "educate and share the history of the Church of God in Christ," in the words of the organization's mission statement. As a 2012 story in The Commercial Appeal stated, Patterson's mission represented an intensive "campaign" to get Memphis and the world "to celebrate and remember the life and legacy" of her late husband, specifically, and to respect his church, in general.

Under Mary Patterson's guidance, historical markers and other memorials to COGIC leaders were erected in various Southern states, including a lifesized bronze statue of church founder Charles H. Mason, erected in 2022 outside Mason Temple, the "world headquarters" sanctuary where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech the night before his assassination on April 4, 1968.

In addition, she donated her husband's papers, records and memorabilia to the Memphis Pink Palace Museum (now the Museum of Science & History) and to the Assemblies of God-operated Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center in Springfield, Missouri, which describes itself as "the largest Pentecostal archives in the world," and "an important hub for Pentecostal history and research, preserving and promoting Pentecostal testimonies and identity."

In 2021, Patterson told the Religious New Service that her focus on heritage enabled her to serve the denomination without being ordained as a minister. “It shows other young women that you don’t have to be behind the pulpit in order to do a work for the Lord," she said. The Church of God in Christ does not permit women to serve as ordained ministers.

One of the world's largest Holiness or Pentecostal denominations, with a predominantly Black membership estimated at close to 6.5 million, the Church of God in Christ was organized in 1897 in Lexington, Mississippi, and chartered as a Pentecostal church in 1907 in Memphis, the city that remains COGIC world headquarters.

For most of its first 60 years, the church was led by Bishop Mason, who died in 1961.

In 1968, J.O. Patterson Sr., who had married Mason's daughter, Deborah Indiana Mason, in 1934, was elected the denomination's first Presiding Bishop, as the rapidly growing church reorganized with more centralized leadership. Patterson was re-elected presiding bishop every year until his death in 1989.

Partly due to Bishop Patterson's influence, the Church of God in Christ throughout most of its history held its annual "Holy Convocation" of "saints" in Memphis, bringing thousands of church members to town for the city's largest annual event. (In 2010, the convocation moved to St. Louis, where it remained until returning to Memphis in 2021. This year's 116th convocation is set for Nov. 5-12 at the Renasant Center.)

Meanwhile, the family's fame increased, as the couple's son, J.O. Patterson Jr., became a well-known politician as well as a member of the clergy, serving for 20 days as Memphis' first Black mayor in 1982 after the resignation of Mayor Wyeth Chandler. (As chair of the City Council, Patterson served as "acting mayor," in Chandler's wake; in 1991, Willie W. Herenton became Memphis' first elected Black mayor.)

The first Mrs. Patterson died in 1985. Bishop Patterson married Mary Patterson in 1989, about eight months before his death at 77.

Against this backdrop of denominational and family influence, Mary Patterson, a Realtor and travel agent, made an impact by preserving and memorializing the church history in which she was immersed. According to the Pentecostal Heritage Connection website, her "passion" was "helping to preserve the history of the Church of God In Christ."

In a 2012 interview in The Commercial Appeal, Patterson said she and her late husband were both basically modest people, despite their church status and spiritual concerns.

"He was a country boy at heart," she said. "He loved to fish and he loved country music." Meanwhile, she cited "fishing" as one of her interests on her Pentecostal Heritage website, and named as her favorite movies "The Passion of the Christ" and "Mrs. Doubtfire."

'Mother' Mary Patterson, Church of God in Christ 'tireless crusader,' has died (2024)


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