Bishop Charles Harrison Mason, the founder of the Church of God In Christ, was born September 8, 1866 near Memphis, Tennessee. His parents Jerry and Eliza Mason were ex-slaves. When Charles was twelve years old his family moved to Plumerville, Arkansas due to a Yellow-Fever epidemic that struck the Memphis area. While in Arkansas, the Masons lived and worked as tenant farmers on the John Watson Plantation. Jerry, incapacitated with Yellow-Fever, passed in 1879. The following year Charles, at the age of fourteen, was diagnosed with tuberculosis. He recovered from the disease some months later.
In November of 1878 Charles Mason was baptized; however, he did not begin to minister until after his illness. Charles relocated to Little Rock Arkansas to attend Arkansas Baptist College, a historically black college. Later he left the institution to begin preaching. Mason was ordained, receiving his license to preach in Preston, Arkansas in 1893.
Studying sanctification, Mason crossed paths with another minister (Charles Price Jones) while in Jackson Mississippi who believed in and preached holiness. Because Jones was already a pastor, he became a mentor to Charles. The two, along with a few others, traveled together running religious revivals. Mason was sent to Asis Baptist Church in Lexington, Mississippi to settle a conflict between Jones’ doctrine and the views of Baptist church officials. Upon his arrival, however, he discovered that because he had been taught by Jones, he was forbidden from preaching in any of the local Baptist churches. Mason began preaching instead on the streets of Lexington, Mississippi and surrounding towns. He held revival services in an abandoned cotton-gin house. When many were healed, saved and sanctified during his revivals, his reputation spread quickly throughout the south.
Receiving word of a great Pentecostal Revival on Azusa Street in Los Angeles, California, Mason visited Rev. William J. Seymour’s church. Hearing Seymour’s powerful sermons, he had a life-changing experience and traveled back to the South to share his knowledge of this new church and its leaders. Baptist leaders, however, rejected his teachings and he was completely banished from the Baptist Church at its national convention in 1907. Later in the same year, he and Charles Price Jones parted ways as well due to Mason’s embracement of the beliefs he heard in Los Angeles.
While walking down the street in Little Rock Arkansas in 1907, Mason had a revelation from God instructing him to name his church organization the Church of God In Christ. According to Bishop Mason, this name was given to him by God as a way to distinguish the true believer from those who had left the true doctrine of the church received by the Apostles on the Day of Pentecost (book of Acts). Rev. Mason relocated his new church to Memphis Tennessee in 1940. By that point, Elder Mason was elected general overseer, meaning the Bishop, of the Church of God in Christ.
Bishop Charles Mason passed away on November 17, 1961 at the age of ninety-five in Detroit, Michigan. Today the Church of God in Christ, which he founded, is one of the largest African American religious denominations in the United States. It has over eight million members in over 1,500 churches in the United States and various locations in Africa, South America, Asia, and Europe.