The First Statewide Diocese In Mississippi
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As Senior Bishop, Charles H. Mason established a Diocese in Mississippi that encompassed the total land area of the State. The Saint Paul Church of God In Christ (Est. 1897 by Reverend Mason: The Mother Church) located in Lexington, functioned as the administrative center. J. A. Lewis and Stephen Rice were selected as the first two Statewide Overseers, along with Supervisors Jennie Watson and Victoria Jones in succeeding intervals. Overseer Lewis, from the very outset, began to hurriedly pursue the work of the ministry. It was Lewis who steered the Diocese as Mason traveled extensively across the nation attending to a broader work. He fervently undergirded the vision of the “Founding Father” by assisting him closely in ministry and establishing a school. This noble cause came into fruition when the initial classes where taught within the basement of the St. Paul Church by Professor James Courts in 1914. Mother Watson was appointed as his Supervisor of The Women’s Work and both were charged to labor in harmony. Lewis and Watson were, without question, diligent workers and held in high esteem by the Saints. After functioning in this office for seven years, Overseer Lewis relinquished the Bishopric and relocated to Los Angeles, California. In 1916, Mason appointed Elder Stephen Rice (Founder of Greater Collins and Laurel Number One COGIC) as the second Statewide Overseer. It was under his leadership, that the first structure designated for educational purposes was erected on the original forty acres in Lexington. The beloved Saints Junior College later sprang from his efforts. After the demise of Mother Jennie Watson, Mother Victoria Jones was chosen to coordinate the Women’s Work.
Overseer Rice and Mother Jones ardently attempted to nurture the vast work across the state. They both labored diligently for the sake of the Gospel. However, certain governing policies brought discontent among the brethren and their voices were heard in a grievance hearing before Bishop C. H. Mason. With much deliberation, Mason felt it proper to assume direct leadership of the work for a span of two years. In 1929, he concluded that the state should be partitioned into a Northern and Southern Mississippi Diocese. The Northern Ecclesiastical Diocese spanned from the Mississippi/Tennessee state line to city of Canton and the Southern Mississippi Ecclesiastical Diocese began in Jackson and covered the remainder of the state to the Coastal Region. It is for a certainty that the effort and sacrifice of the early pioneers secured fruitful progress in the years to come.
Overseer F. W. Reed
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Years Of Tenure
In 1929, Bishop C. H. Mason selected Overseer F. W. Reed of Mendenhall as the first leader for Southern Mississippi, along with Mother Lizzie Belt of Hattiesburg as Supervisor of the Women’s Work. The city of Hattiesburg lay at the center of the newly formed diocese. According to earliest memory, the first State Convocations were held in Hattiesburg, Laurel, Jackson and Mendenhall. During Overseer Reed’s tenure, he pastored the Mount Mariah (COGIC) Mendenhall, MS; D’Lo (COGIC) D’Lo, MS; St. John (COGIC) Crosby, MS; Laurel Number One (COGIC) Laurel, MS; and Nicholson Temple (COGIC) in Hattiesburg. The initial ecclesiastical structure was formed under of the ground-breaking leadership of Overseer Reed and Mother Belt by originally establishing Four Districts. With the passing of time, he was closely assisted by a young Minister Theodore Davis. While serving as Overseer, F. W. Reed’s official title would eventually be changed to Bishop. Due to the declining health of Mother Belt, Mother Carrie Buchannan was named to fill the post as the second Jurisdictional Supervisor and proceeded to fully develop the Women’s Auxiliaries and Bands.
The 1950 Souvenir Journal of Southern Mississippi, (Published by the Late-Superintendent William Levi) outlines the Jurisdiction’s structure roughly twenty years after its inception. The State Overseer was listed as: F. W. Reed; Assistant Overseer, B. R. Belt; State Mother, Mrs. C. L. Buchanan; State Counselor, Mrs. F. W. Reed; State Statistician, S. E. Powe; and, Elder Theo Davis as State Secretary. The Superintendents and District Missionaries were listed as follows: (District: 1) Elder David R. Curry and Mrs. Rosa Cason; (District: 2) Elder J. E. Eaton and Mrs. Eatis Moore; (District: 3) Elder A. L. Anderson and Mrs. H. Gaines; (District: 4) Elder W. M. Levi and Mrs. Idella Trotter; ending with (District: 5) Elder S. A. Lindsey and Mrs. Lula Bridges. Many fellowships began in “Brush Arbors” which were shelters made up of vines or branches and shaped into an overarching design. The permanent structures of worship that followed were rustic in construct, but were admired as great accomplishments by those who had given from meager means. Bishop F. W. Reed guided the Diocese through Jim Crow, The Great Depression, World War II, the murder of Emit Till and Desegregation. It was through his leadership, Southern Mississippi’s foundational structure was solidified. With his prayerful guidance, the Diocese expanded from four to eight Districts. Bishop F. W. Reed was called into eternity on April 26, 1962.
Bishop Theodore Davis
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Years Of Tenure
In 1962, after the sorrowful passing of Bishop F. W. Reed, Superintendent Theodore (Theo) Davis, a native of Hazlehurst, Mississippi, was selected by Bishop Mason to serve as the second Bishop of the Southern Mississippi. Bishop Davis had proven to be a trusted assistant to Bishop Reed and well acquainted with the pressing duties of the office. He was appointed as pastor in 1937 to Gloster (COGIC) in Gloster, MS (Later renamed Davis Chapel), Saint Hill (COGIC) in Brandon, MS and Dalton Street in 1941 (COGIC) Jackson, MS (Later renamed Davis Temple), Laurel Number One (COGIC) in Laurel, MS and the founder of Faith Tabernacle (COGIC ) in Magee. With the passing of Supervisor Carrie Buchannan in 1969, he elevated Mother Ruthie Mae Shivers to serve as the Third Supervisor.
The hallmark of his tenure was the building of the State Jurisdictional Headquarters (Davis Temple Church of God In Christ) at 1700 Dalton Street in Jackson, Mississippi. Years earlier, Bishop F. W. Reed initiated a search to secure a more conducive location for State Meetings. Nicholson Temple, was the largest edifice in the Jurisdiction through the decade of the 1960’s, but it could not accommodate the growing volume of State Conventions and was subject to threatening floods from the nearby Leaf River. However, his successor took up his vision and strategically crafted a plan to build a premiere Headquarters. With the spirit of solidarity, the selling of bonds, along with numerous fundraiser rallies caused the vision to finally become a reality. The Jurisdiction, under his leadership, finished this bold undertaking at a cost of an estimated $100,000.00. The edifice was widely noticed for its unique architecture and was ranked among one the largest structures of worship in the state. “The Temple” was dedicated on June 10, 1973. During the span of his leadership, Southern Mississippi grew from eight to eleven Districts.
In 1983, Presiding Bishop J.O. Patterson thought it prudent to expand the work in the state yet again, by partitioning a new diocese from Southern Mississippi and creating a third Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction: (Mississippi Southern Second). From that time, Southern Mississippi Jurisdiction was designated as Mississippi Southern First. After the arduous process of reorganization, Bishop Davis made choice of District Missionary R.V. McAdory as the Fourth Jurisdictional Supervisor. After a life of toil and achievement, Bishop Theodore Davis entered into his rest on December 31, 1991.
Bishop Hollis Musgrove
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Years Of Tenure
In January of 1992, the State Jurisdictional Secretary: Superintendent Hollis Musgrove, was officially installed as the third Jurisdictional Prelate of the Mississippi Southern First Jurisdiction by Presiding Bishop Louis H. Ford. Secretary Musgrove had, without fail, assisted Bishop Davis throughout the years and therefore was familiar with the demanding work of the bishopric. Bishop Musgrove, a native of SoSo, Mississippi, (a hamlet located outside of Laurel) heard in the early 1950’s of services at the Laurel Number One Church of God In Christ and decided to attend. While in attendance at the Holy Convocation, God moved upon him and in a mighty way. From that day forward, he has faithfully followed the Lord for over 50 years. Not long after his appointment, Mother R.V. McAdory heeded the clarion call. The choice was then made of Mother Frankie Davis-Murray (Daughter of The Late Bishop Theo Davis) to serve as the Fifth Jurisdictional Supervisor of Women.
As a young minister, he founded the Vossburg Church Of God In Christ. He went on to pastor the Sweet Beulah (COGIC) in Laurel, MS; Lightsey (COGIC) in Lightsey, MS; Gethsemane Institutional (COGIC) in Pascagoula, MS; Murray Chapel (COGIC) in Decatur, MS; Belt Temple (COGIC) in Hattiesburg, MS; Laurel Number One (COGIC) in Laurel, MS; and lead the Liberal Trinity (COGIC) in Jackson, Mississippi from 1975 to his death. His motto was “Being geared to the Times, but being anchored to the Rock.”
The span of his tenure was marked by his progressive style of leadership which brought about tremendous growth. The Jurisdiction, at his demise consisted of 130 functioning churches and over 150 Ordained Elders and 170 Licensed Missionaries. Thirty-five new edifices of worship were constructed and 28 churches refurbished as he stood at the helm of the Jurisdiction. Upon his installation in 1991, the Jurisdiction was made up of eleven Districts, but that number increased to fourteen under his leadership. In January of 2017, after much consideration, Bishop Musgrove tendered his letter of resignation to Presiding Bishop Charles E. Blake and was bestowed the title of Bishop Emeritus. Before this momentous decision was made, Superintendent Daniel Littleton was promoted by Bishop Musgrove to the office of Executive Administrative Assistant and was later bestowed the designation of Bishop Designate. Bishop Musgrove continued to be a highly respected Elder Statesman in the College of Bishops until his death in January 2018.
During the Jurisdiction’s transitional period, Presiding Bishop Charles E. Blake, Sr. served briefly as Prelate of the Mississippi Southern First Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction of the Church of God In Christ and was assisted by Bishop Designee Daniel Littleton.
Bishop Daniel Littleton
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Years of Tenure
Bishop Daniel Littleton was consecrated Prelate of the Mississippi Southern First Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction of the Church of God in Christ in November 2017.
Compiled By: Professor Tony A. Bounds
Jackson State University