G.E. Patterson, the presiding bishop of the Church of God in Christ and a minister for almost 50 years, died of heart failure Tuesday, the church announced. He was 67.
The predominantly black Protestant denomination, headquartered in Memphis, claims 6 million members worldwide and traces its origins to the to the late 1800s.
Patterson was hospitalized in January for an undisclosed illness and told his followers in 2005 that he had prostate cancer.
At the church’s annual Holy Convocation in November, he said he had considered stepping down but changed his mind after an outpouring of support.
“If my body being afflicted can get us back to where God wants us to be, then I’m willing to suffer,” said Patterson, who then received a standing ovation.
“It was a direct result of his work, such as his TV ministries, that allowed people to see COGIC as it should have been projected,” said jurisdictional Bishop Jerry Maynard, the chief operating officer of the national church, who had worked with Patterson since 1992.
“Under his leadership we’ve seen tremendous strides toward true spirituality,” said San Diego jurisdictional Bishop George D. McKinney, a member of the church’s General Board.
‘America lost an angel today’
“America lost an angel today,” former U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr. of Memphis said in a statement. “He was favored by the Almighty, and he used his favor to instruct us all on how to be better servants.”
The church will begin selecting a successor after memorial services, Maynard said.
In January, he won the traditional male vocalist of the year honor for his “Singing the Old Time Way Volume 2” at the 22nd annual Stellar Gospel Music Awards.
He was born in Humboldt, Tenn., and was ordained as a church elder in 1957 in Detroit.
Patterson attended Lemoyne-Owen College in Memphis, Detroit Bible Institute and held an honorary doctorate from Oral Roberts University. He was the editor and publisher of the Bountiful Blessings Magazine, with a distribution list of more than 100,000 individuals.
In 2005, he told the church’s annual convention in Memphis that believers should overcome differences of race and culture to spread their faith.
“I don’t know why we ever got stuck on that thing that we’re only supposed to witness to black folks,” Patterson said. “Once you’ve received the word, spread it. God’s not going to do something to bless your work until you do something to bless his work.”
The church is considered a Pentecostal or Holiness denomination, with beliefs in divine healing, speaking in tongues and lively services.
It was founded by Charles Harrison Mason, a son of former slaves born in 1866 near Memphis. Mason and several other gospel preachers began holding revivals across the Mississippi Delta and organized officially as the Church of God in Christ in 1897.