That is what the 80-year-old Church of God in Christ mother and missionary has done every Sunday for as long as she can remember. But this is a particularly special Sunday.
It’s her birthday.
“I’ll be 81 years old on Sunday, praise the Lord,” said the Memphis mother of seven, grandmother of 14, and great-grandmother of five. “It’s a blessing to see that kind of longevity, to see how the Lord has blessed me. I was saved when I was 8 years old. Do I remember? The Lord put me on the floor. What you talking about? The Holy Spirit knocked me out. Once you meet Jesus, you’ll never be the same no more.”
Sunday is also Official Day, the final day of the 106th annual Holy Convocation of the Church of God in Christ, the world’s largest Pentecostal denomination.
Hundreds of bishops, elders and pastors will process down the aisles and fill the pulpit this morning, praising God and raising the roof of the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.
Men get most of the attention in the Church of God in Christ, but it’s women like Mildred Coleman — mothers, missionaries, evangelists, educators, prayer warriors — who hold the church together.
“As COGIC historian, Dr. Lucille J. Cornelius, wrote: ‘COGIC women have kept the church in harness,’ and without them the COGIC church would not exist,” said Dr. Elton H. Weaver III, a history professor at LeMoyne-Owen College.
COGIC’s annual two-week revival and reunion has been held every November since a holiness preacher named Charles Harrison Mason founded the Pentecostal denomination in Memphis in 1907. Memphis hosted the first 102 holy convocations; this is the fourth consecutive year the saints have met in St. Louis.
This is at least the 70th consecutive year Mildred Coleman has joined them.
“I was 10 or 11 the first time I went to convocation,” she said. “Back then we’d all be shut in Mason Temple praying nonstop for three days and nights. Child, there was no water, no eating. You’d feel the power of the Lord with all those saints on their knees. Oh, yes. Around-the-clock praying. Bishop Mason would sit high in his chair with his legs crossed ministering to the saints. Anointing people. Many souls were saved; many people were healed.”
Coleman grew up in Bishop Mason’s church, Temple Church of God in Christ on South Lauderdale. Mason prayed at her 1956 wedding to Fred Coleman.
“Bishop Mason was an unusual person,” she said. “He had peculiar eyes. He’s was a petite man, not a big man. But when he put the anointing on you, he was very powerful. He would come in to the old temple, stand among the saints, raise his hand — you could just feel the power of the Lord in those hands. He’d hit you in the neck so hard like to knock you over. He’d pour the blessing oil on you; it was running everywhere.”
Coleman met her husband at Holy Convocation in the 1950s. Elder Fred Coleman pastored several churches in the area, including Greater True Holiness Church of God in Christ the last 25 years of his life. He died in 2012.
“When I first met him, I didn’t want him,” she said. “He was short. Ha! But all the saints said he was a nice man. All right, I said. I’ll see him. The Lord blessed us with 55 years. We moved to Arkansas after we got married. That’s where his people are. He was preaching, not pastoring. I was ordained right beside him. In Arkansas they did things differently. We moved back to Memphis.”
Family and friends described Elder Coleman as “a walking Bible.” They call Missionary Coleman “a woman of wisdom.” All seven of their children have grown up to become COGIC pastors, ministers or evangelists in Memphis.
“Mildred is a powerful old-school type,” said Bishop David Allen Hall of Memphis. “Holiness is rooted in women like her.”
Rooted in what the Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Thessalonians: “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
Missionary Coleman has been leading prayer services at Greater True Holiness every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning for 25 years. Last Monday, 20 women and five men thanked, praised and rejoiced in God for two hours without ceasing.
“Women are the foundation. Without the women of the church, there would be no church,” said Elder Wesley Coleman, whose father brought him into the pulpit to preach and whose mother brought him into the world to pray.
“I’m praying the Lord will bring convocation back to Memphis,” she said. “There’s no place like home. But it’s a blessing to be with the saints wherever they are, to meet sisters and brothers from all over the world. There’s nothing like the saints but some more saints.”