PHOENIX - The pastor of the Valley's Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church, Bishop Alexis Thomas, has died.
According to the Pilgrim Rest website, 50-year-old Bishop Thomas was named Senior Pastor of the church in 1985 at the age of 16.
They say under his leadership the church grew from a few hundred to thousands of members.
Pilgrim Rest church is located near 16th and Jefferson streets.
Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton released the following statement:
"Bishop Thomas was one of the greatest men I ever knew, and in so many ways he was the soul of our city. I am devastated by the news of his passing.
Through his faith and passion for helping others, Bishop Thomas built Pilgrim Rest into one of the largest congregations in the city - yet he had a gift to see each person and reach each person as an individual. His sermons were incredible, like a work of art - funny, meaningful and relevant to the experiences we all endure. And his ability to see the good in each person helped create an oasis of love and compassion in the heart of our community. It is no wonder that his impact was felt far beyond the walls of the church.
This loss will be felt deeply by so many, including me. Bishop Thomas treated me as a member of the family, and provided me spiritual advice - especially when I needed it most.
My heart and prayers are with his wife, Michele, his five boys and the entire Pilgrim Rest community."
Phoenix city councilman Michael Nowakowski also released a statement:
"I was deeply saddened by the news of Bishop Thomas' passing. For more than 33 years, as the pastor of Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church, Bishop Thomas was a powerful force for good in the community. My family and the entire city of Phoenix are praying for his wife Michelle, their children, and all the thousands of members of the church.
Along with his clergy colleagues and other church leaders, Bishop Thomas created the Faith Opportunity Zone aka FOZ in the city's Historic Eastlake Park Neighborhood. He also was a founder of the city's African-American clergy coalition. Many people have jobs, many families have housing, many seniors have companions, and many youth have mentors today because Bishop Thomas worked tirelessly and often behind the scenes to make sure that those who went without had some kind of support from the wider church.
Bishop Thomas was also a builder. Under his leadership, Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church became the largest predominantly African-American church in Arizona. He spearheaded the construction of a wellness center, a spa, a charter school, an education building, and even a health-focused restaurant - all on the campus of the church. His work to fully develop the church resulted in an anchor property that lifted up the entire community. Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church now occupies an entire city block and the intersection of 14th and Jefferson Streets is known as a crossroad of faith and service.
Bishop Thomas was a friend of the city and a friend of mine. He was an extremely gifted preacher and an equally skilled community leader. He was a native Phoenician who grew up, as he always said, around the corner of the mini-park in the Park South Neighborhood off of 20th Street and Broadway Road / MLK Boulevard in South Phoenix. His life and achievements are an example to all the youth of South Phoenix and his legacy will live on in the many lives he touched and communities he served as a pastor."