The Rev. Charles E. Blake, presiding bishop of Church of God in Christ, the largest African-American Pentecostal denomination in the world, has spent 38 years building his congregation into a societal force, as well as a spiritual one.
He started with 50 members and now has more than 24,000. His church, West Angeles Church of God in Christ in Los Angeles, has built 400 homes, many for low-income congregation members. And the West Angeles congregation is at the heart of Save Africa's Children, an effort to assist African children orphaned because of the AIDS pandemic.
Save Africa's Children operates 440 orphan care programs in 23 countries.
"Something had to be done for the children," said Blake, who is in Buffalo today as keynote speaker for an area church conference. Blake is scheduled to speak at 7 p.m. in Elim Christian Fellowship, 70 Chalmers St., as part of the Trinity District Convocation.
Blake was named presiding bishop in April after the death of the Rev. G.E. Patterson; he continues to serve as pastor of West Angeles Church, the largest congregation in a denomination of 6.5 million members nationwide. As presiding bishop, he plans to encourage greater church involvement in lifting people out of poverty, he said.
Blake's activist streak stems from his time as a graduate student in Atlanta during the height of the Civil Rights movement, he said.
"I'm a product of the '60s," he said. "That whole heritage, that activity and exposure in Selma and in Montgomery, showed me that the church had to be a force for justice."
Blake was invited to Buffalo by the Rev. Matthew L. Brown, pastor of Pentecostal Temple Church of God in Christ. Brown is superintendent of the Trinity District, which consists of nine churches in Buffalo, Lockport and Syracuse.
Brown said churches like West Angeles are "successful urban models that are not just spiritually focused, but which have a transformative effect on the communities in which they're based."