Patterson, Gilbert Earl 1939–
Gilbert Earl Patterson 1939–
Preacher and denominational leader
Historian of religion Vinson Synan called Church of God in Christ (COGIC) minister and presiding bishop Gilbert Patterson “one of the best preachers in the world.” Over a 40-year preaching career, Patterson became known for sermons, delivered to thousands of worshipers every Sunday, that rose from a slow murmur to a dazzling pitch of intensity. His election as COGIC presiding bishop in 2001 marked a new era in the structure of that denomination, the fifth-largest in the United States.
Gilbert Earl Patterson was born in Humboldt, Tennessee, on September 22, 1939, and grew up in Memphis. He came from a family of religious leaders who exerted strong influence over the growth of the Church of God in Christ as it expanded from the seeds planted by the founding of modern Pentecostal worship in Los Angeles in 1907: his father, W.A. Patterson Sr., was a bishop, and four of his siblings became preachers or church officials. At age 11, during a revival meeting at his father’s Holy Temple Church of God in Christ in Memphis, Patterson accepted Christ as his personal savior. The following year the family moved to Detroit, taking up residence in the city’s elegant Boston-Edison neighborhood as his father assumed leadership of a church nearby.
At age 16 in 1956, Patterson began speaking in tongues—a phenomenon often regarded in Pentecostal churches as a sign that an individual has received the Holy Spirit. Soon after that, Patterson felt the call of the ministry. He preached his first sermon in 1957, and the experience felt natural. “I wasn’t nervous about preaching; I was afraid no one would come,” he told the Chicago Sun-Times. In Detroit, Patterson attended the Detroit Bible Institute and distinguished himself as a choir member and soloist with several gospel music ensembles; his ministry would later lend its support to a gospel record label of its own. His preaching skills were noticed early on, and he delivered sermons at national church meetings—twice in the presence of COGIC founder Charles H. Mason himself. He was ordained as a church elder in 1958, before reaching his 20th birthday.
Patterson returned to Memphis over the 1961–62 holiday season and was installed as co-pastor of the Holy Temple church. He also attended LeMoyne Owen College. Holy Temple at the time was a small church with under 100 members, but a new indication of Patterson’s talents came in 1964 as he set out to broaden the institution’s reach. Exhorting the congregation to three days of absolute fasting and prayer, Patterson then launched a 30-day tent revival meeting in the intense heat of a Memphis July. The revival generated 55 new members, and Patterson’s congregation began a long growth curve that would continue upwards for the rest of his career. In the mid-1960s, Patterson married his wife, Louise.
In the early 1970s disputes flared at the upper level of the Church of God in Christ, some of them involving members of Patterson’s own family. Patterson, along with some other members of the church in Memphis, supported Patterson’s father for the post of Bishop of
At a Glance…
Born on September 22, 1939, in Humboldt, TN; son of Bishop W.A. Patterson St, and Mary Louise Patterson; married Louise. Education: Attended Detroit Bible College and LeMoyne Owen College, Religion: Church of God in Christ.
Career: Church of Cod in Christ, minister, 1958–61, co-pastor of Holy Temple in Memphis, TN, 1961–75, jurisdictional bishop, 1988–92, general board member, 1992–2000, presiding bishop, 2000-; Temple of Deliverance, the Cathedral of Bountiful Blessings, founder and pastor, 1975–88.
Addresses: Church office— Bountiful Blessings Ministries, 369 G.E. Patterson Ave., Memphis, TN 38126.
West Tennessee, but Patterson’s uncle, church Presiding Bishop J.O. Patterson, reserved the post for himself, reasoning that the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church served as the Bishop of Rome in addition to his duties as spiritual leader of Catholics everywhere. Gilbert Patterson temporarily left the Church of God in Christ in 1975, founding a new independent church of his own called Temple of Deliverance, the Cathedral of Bountiful Blessings.
Once again Patterson’s charisma showed itself in a sharp growth in church membership. From a core of 436 members who joined at the church’s inception, Temple of Deliverance grew to the 2,000-member level in three years and moved first into a larger new sanctuary building (the first new black church structure in Memphis to top the million-dollar cost mark) and later into overflow rooms where worshipers watched Patterson’s sermons on closed-circuit television screens. After 11 years, Patterson was invited back into the COGIC fold by his uncle, and in 1988 he became a jurisdictional bishop. In 1992 Patterson was elected to the church’s General Board.
Until the 1990s Patterson was a renowned figure among African Americans in Memphis but little known nationally. His congregation continued to grow, however; membership topped 14,000 on two campuses. Patterson branched out into radio (becoming president and general manager of a church-owned gospel station in Memphis), television (with a weekly broadcast viewed on the BET and TBN cable networks), education (a small Bible college and preschool were launched), and publishing (a Bountiful Blessings ministry magazine boasted a circulation of 100,000). A street in Memphis was renamed G.E. Patterson Avenue. With a reach like that, Patterson began to attract the attention of politicians and of the journalists who followed in their wake.
Vice President Al Gore followed Patterson to the Temple of Deliverance pulpit during the 1996 U.S. presidential campaign after Patterson’s sermon, noted the Washington Post, “brought everyone, even jaded reporters, to their feet.” That year, Patterson ran for the post of COGIC presiding bishop himself, losing to Atlanta pastor Chandler D. Owens by one vote. In the late 1990s, however, controversy rocked the church once again as Owens, again citing the Catholic Pope as an example, claimed the authority to appoint and remove COGIC church pastors as he saw fit. Patterson emerged as the leader of a bloc that urged greater accountability on the part of the church’s leadership.
In November of 2000 Patterson made another run for the presiding bishop post and was elected with 59 percent of the vote after a marathon seven-hour meeting at the denomination’s annual Holy Convocation in Memphis. The election marked the first time in the church’s history that an incumbent presiding bishop had been voted out. After the election, Patterson was quoted as saying by Christianity Today that he planned to “bring the general board back into its rightful position” of advising the presiding bishop on church business.
Typically, however, Patterson threw most of his energies into new church programs. He launched a new COGIC charity arm, planned the construction of a substance-abuse center on church-owned land in Mississippi, and worked to expand the church’s educational institutions, serving from 1999 onward as president of the Charles H. Mason Bible College. The church-owned Podium record label began to make inroads into the gospel market. Most significant of all, Patterson became one of the movers behind an unprecedented effort to foster a new level of cooperation and interaction between black and white Pentecostal churches.
“When we work together across racial and ethnic lines, lifting up the same Jesus, walking in the power of the same Spirit, we say to the world that although America has had deep divisions along ethnic lines, Pentecostal Spirit-filled brothers do not care about skin tones,” Patterson told the Pentecostal Evangel website. “I think we give a testimony as we work together.” Clearly Patterson’s already nationally significant ministry could only continue to grow in importance.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, August 4, 2001, p. B1.
Chicago Sun-Times, June 22, 1997, p. 23.
Christianity Today, January 8, 2001, p. 22.
Jet, December 18, 2000, p. 22.
Omaha World Herald, February 23, 2001, p. 9.
Washington Post, September 30, 1996, p. A12.
“Bishop Gilbert E. Patterson,” Bishop Gilbert E. Patterson Official Website, www.gepatterson.org (July 11, 2003).
“Bringing People Together Under Christ,” Pentecostal Evangel, www.ag.org/pentecostal-evangel/conversations2003/4637_cogic.cfm (July 11, 2003).
“Church of God Votes Out Presiding Bishop,” Maranatha Christian Journal, www.mcjonline.com/news/00b/20001116e.htm (July 11, 2003).
“Who Is Gilbert Earl Patterson?” Bountiful Blessings Ministry, www.bbless.org/cogic.ge-patterson-history-pb.htm (July 11, 2003).
—James M. Manheim