Bishop Brandon B. Porter of Memphis says his election to the Church of God in Christ General Board was a matter of obedience – not ambition – and that he sees himself in the role of bridging a "disconnect" between the city and COGIC.
Porter, pastor of Memphis' Greater Community Temple COGIC, was elected Tuesday (Nov. 13) during COGIC's annual Convocation, which was held in St. Louis for the third consecutive year after 100-plus years in Memphis.
"Memphis is our Jerusalem, our Mecca. For the Church of God in Christ, this city is our legacy. There is a sense of belonging, a sense of history. This is our foundation....Ultimately, we want to see our church come back home," Porter said in an interview with The New Tri-State Defender.
"Servanthood" was Porter's motivation for seeking a place on the 12-member General Board, the governing body of the international Church of God in Christ.
"This is a great victory for those of us who want to see the convocation come back to Memphis," said Bishop Porter. "When the prospect of moving to some other city was being discussed, I was not called to the table. I wasn't a part of that discussion. Had I been there, the convocation would have never been moved. But now, I have a seat at the table. Things will be different now. We have a voice on the General Board."
The convocation celebrated its centennial in 2007. Prior to the November confab that same year, Presiding Bishop Gilbert Earl Patterson passed in March. Bishop Charles E. Blake served as acting head of COGIC until he was elected to the post in 2008. A rumored move of the convocation to Los Angeles proved false, but General Board members decided in 2009 that the convocation would move from its traditional headquarters in Memphis.
In 2010, Blake addressed the annual gathering in St. Louis.
"There was a desire of St. Louis and openness, a sense of warmth, that caused us to feel well received," said Bishop Blake, speaking at the time to a St. Louis newspaper.
Among the 40,000 delegates that convened for the convocation, there was a general feeling that Memphis was taking them for granted. "The love was gone," said one delegate.
"Let's talk about the real problem," said Bishop Porter. "In the peak season, you raise your prices. That's just business. So prices went sky high with hotel accommodations and other services being used by the 'saints'. The problem is that we were the peak season.
"Higher prices were being charged, and fewer concessions made," said Porter. "Somehow, we've got to reconcile our city and our church. I see my role on the General Board as the advocate."
Porter envisions a "true meeting of the minds" that will position Memphis to once more host the church's annual convocation.
"To maintain any relationship, both parties have to keep getting better. For Memphis, it's about business. The church brought millions of dollars into the city. For the church, it's about ministry. Now, there will be no new facility built to accommodate 40,000 delegates in the city of Memphis. That's just not going to happen. So what we have to do is come up with creative ideas. Where can we meet? There is a creative solution for both parties somewhere in the middle," said Porter.
"I'm going to begin the process by pushing for bigger meetings to be held in Memphis," said Porter.
"Many would remember that my father (Bishop W. L. Porter) was instrumental in overseeing details of the convocation, but also facilitating district and regional meetings hosted in Memphis. Bringing larger meetings to Memphis is an important first step. I'm going to see that this happens, now that I am part of the whole process."
Mayor A C Wharton Jr. issued a statement soon after Porter's election.
"The Porter name has been synonymous with the Church of God in Christ since its earliest years. I am delighted to have my friend, Bishop Porter continuing his family's tradition of service to this denomination at the highest level," said Wharton.
"I don't think that we have had a local COGIC leader on the General Board since the death of the late Presiding Bishop of the denomination, G. E. Patterson. Having Bishop Porter serving on this body is positive for Memphis as we continue to work to deepen our relationship with an organization that is a part of our very fiber as a city."
The General Board directs and executes church policy for the international membership. The governing body consists of 12 bishops, including the presiding bishop. Each is elected to serve a four-year term. The General Board convenes three times a year: April, November, and at "a time the presiding bishop deems necessary," according to the COGIC website.
In other COGIC election news, Presiding Bishop Blake won his bid for re-election to the church's highest office. He oversees an estimated 6.5 million members and 12,000 congregations located in 60 countries.
COGIC was founded by Bishop Charles Harrison Mason, a disenfranchised Baptist minister from Mississippi. Mason was ousted from the Baptist church over his doctrine of "baptism in the Holy Ghost" evidenced by speaking in other tongues. The first convocation was held in Memphis in 1907.