“You are the light of the world. … Let Your light shine before others.” (Matthew 5:14-16)
By Laurie Merrill
GCU News Bureau
Bishop Alexis Thomas, the nationally renowned senior pastor of Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church and a towering figure in Arizona, died on Jan. 18. He was 50.
He is survived by his wife, Dr. Michele Thomas, a retired major in the United States Air Force, and five sons, Shimond, Remone, Jamell and twins Micah and Micaiah.
Micah, a junior at Grand Canyon University, is studying business administration in the Colangelo College of Business.
Thomas’ passing touches many in the GCU community and beyond who knew him personally, worked alongside him or attended Pilgrim Rest services in Phoenix or Gilbert.
“He was a large presence, a visionary, a man of God who made time for people regardless of their economic status or station in life,” said Ardith Matthews, a GCU University development counselor who knew him personally.
“He didn’t care if you were a president of something or a dignitary. He felt very strongly for people. He believed in causes. He wanted to clean up the city. He built so many services and helped so many people.”
Born in Phoenix on Nov. 9, 1967 to the Reverend and Mrs. Hubert Thomas, Alexis was the third of four sons. At age 7 he received his first license to preach the gospel, and after serving as Associate Minister at the Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church, he was named Senior Pastor at age 16.
Under his leadership, the church grew from 250 to more than 4,000 members and was built into a three-pronged campus with a Worship Center, World Center and Wellness Center. His first book, “A Child Shall Lead Them,” was published in 2005, and he was ordained as the Bishop of the State of Arizona in the Full Gospel Baptist Church of New Orleans in 2003.
He held many positions of prominence, including serving on the Board of Directors of the Greater Phoenix Black Chamber of Commerce, as the General Chairman of the African American Christian Clergy Coalition, which he founded in 2001, and as co-founder of the African American Strategic Alliance Coalition in Phoenix.
In a statement, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton described Thomas as “one of the greatest men I ever knew. … 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.”
Dr. Tim Griffin, GCU’s Pastor and Dean of Students, said Thomas will be mourned by many at GCU.
“He was a well-respected leader in the City of Phoenix and had a tremendous influence on the city itself and had an influential congregation that had a wonderful impact around downtown and the Valley,” Griffin said.
“His leadership is going to be missed. As a University, we will be praying for him and his family.”
- Public Viewing: 4-7 p.m. Sunday, Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church, 1401 E. Jefferson St., Phoenix
- Homegoing Ceremony: 10 a.m. Monday at the Phoenix Convention Center, 100 N. 3rd St., Phoenix
Contact Laurie Merrill at (602) 639-6511 or firstname.lastname@example.org.