Bishop Alexis Thomas, an iconic church leader in the Phoenix community and senior pastor of Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church, has died. He was 50.
Thomas was said to have passed away suddenly Thursday night. A cause of death was not immediately available, but sources now say it was a heart attack.
Under Thomas' leadership, the congregation of Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church grew from 200 to more than 4,000 members, according to the church’s website.
Worshipers as well as leaders in the community took to social media Friday morning to share their grief and admiration for a man who directed and strengthened them through his words and actions.
The Rev. Al Sharpton made a tweet stating he was mourning the death of Thomas, who helped him lead a march on the state Capitol to protest Senate Bill 1070 in 2010.
His fervor for spreading the gospel started early. He received his license to preach at the age of 7, and by 16 was appointed as the senior pastor at Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church.
As founder and general chairman of the African-American Christian Clergy Coalition and co-founder of the African American Strategic Alliance Coalition in Phoenix, Thomas' direction and inspiration stretched well beyond the church walls.
“Although I know services will go on, they will never be the same,” said Shree Jude, It always seemed like he was talking directly to me.”
Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton published a statement saying “Bishop Thomas was one of the greatest men I ever knew, and in so many ways he was the soul of our city,” Mayor Stanton added “I am devastated by the news of his passing.”
Officials with Pilgrim Rest said the public viewing will be Sunday January 28th from 4-7pm at Pilgrim Rest Church
. The funeral will be Monday January 29th at 10am at the convention center located at 100 N 3rd St, Phoenix, Arizona 85004.
Thomas leaves behind his wife and five sons.
The church has asked that the privacy of the family be honored, and anyone who would like more information can contact Pilgrim Rest at 602-258-0831.
Statement from Stacy J Ayiers
"As a member of Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church I feel the sadness of Bishop Alexis Thomas passing. His sermons made us feel he was talking directly to every individual. He changed lives without even knowing it. He will be missed."