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Thousands of saints of the Church of God in Christ gathered Sunday morning under a dome not far from the Mississippi River to glorify their God and sanctify their lives with prayer and praise, just as they have every November since 1907.

But this year’s 103rd annual Holy Convocation was unlike any of the previous 102. For the first time since a Shelby County holiness preacher named C.H. Mason founded the nation’s first Pentecostal denomination, its leaders and members were not worshipping in Memphis.

The saints were in Saint Louis.

“It’s been a wonderful convocation,” said 83-year-old Ida Madie Porter, daughter of the late Elder George T. Flagg, wife of the late Bishop W.L. Porter, mother of new Bishop Brandon B. Porter. “But I wish we were home.”

Home would be Memphis, about 300 miles and several generations downriver.

“I looked out my office window the other day and noticed that the COGIC crowds that are usually all around the convention center this time of year just weren’t there,” Memphis Mayor A C Wharton said about the absence of the city’s largest annual convention. “I knew they weren’t there, but it was so strange.

“It was as if I’d looked out the window and noticed that the Mississippi had stopped rolling.”