MEMPHIS - A former President and a pair of civil rights movement leaders joined thousands of mourners on Saturday to pay final respects to G.E. Patterson, presiding bishop of the Church of God in Christ.
Patterson, who helped grow the predominantly black Protestant denomination to its current size of about 6 million members worldwide, died of heart failure March 20 at a Memphis hospital. He was 67.
"The nation can be grateful for a good and faithful servant who wished his faith would be known by works," President Bill Clinton said during Patterson's funeral at the Temple of Deliverance Church of God in Christ. "All the way through, he also believed in reading the whole Bible. The Book of James says that faith without works is dead."
The ceremony filled the 5,000-seat Temple of Deliverance, forcing hundreds of Patterson's grieving flock to view a simulcast of the funeral in one of COGIC's two other nearby churches.
Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Chairman Julian Bond and musician Isaac Hayes looked on while COGIC elders covered Patterson's coffin in a shroud. The crowd clapped and sang along with the hymn "Come Unto Me" before falling silent as the lid of Patterson's casket was closed.
Alphonso Jackson, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, called Patterson, who served as a minister for almost 50 years, a "gift from God to this Earth." He read a letter from President Bush that lauded Patterson's half-century of spiritual work.
Clinton compared Patterson's life to that of Martin Luther King Jr., who delivered his famous "mountain top" sermon at COGIC's Mason Temple in Memphis in 1968, a day before he was killed.
"(King) said he had been to the mountaintop. So now we celebrate the life of another giant who is at the mountaintop," Clinton said.
Patterson was born in Humboldt, Tenn., and was ordained as an elder in COGIC in 1957 in Detroit. He attended Lemoyne-Owen College in Memphis, Detroit Bible Institute and held an honorary doctorate from Oral Roberts University.
Patterson is survived by his wife, Louise Patterson. The couple had no children.
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 near Memphis in 1866. Mason and several other gospel preachers, now considered the church's elders, began holding revivals across the Mississippi Delta and organized officially as the Church of God in Christ in 1897.
James Leggett, general superintendent of the International Pentecostal Holiness Church, said Patterson's work helped spread the Pentecostal faith around the world. "(Patterson's) TV ministry endeared him to saints and sinners across the world," he said. AP-CS-03-31-07 1653EDT