Saturday, April 30, 2011

PIlgrim Rest Baptist Church

Church in present day, 2000-2010 (Source:
May 5th, 2010 SB1070 Protest March at Pilgrim Rest (Source:

1401 E. Jefferson St., Phoenix, AZ 85034

Pilgrim Rest is in its 89th year, yet it looks nothing today like it did when it was founded. In 1922, three reverends - J. Howard, R. Thomas, and M. Boyd - sited the original church in Somerton, AZ outside of Yuma, but by 1930, it had relocated to 1417 East Madison Street in central Phoenix. Tumultuous leadership defined the following few decades, but under better direction, the church was again relocated in 1968, this time to its current address. The church fared better in the decades that followed Reverend Stevenson’s appointment, and included acting as host for the 101st National Baptist Convention of America in 1981. One of the historic moments for Pilgrim Rest, though, and the moment marking its modern era, was on November 16. 1984, when Reverend Alexis Thomas became senior pastor of  the church at age sixteen. The church grew rapidly under Reverend Thomas’ tenure, from “250 to over 3,0000” members, which called for a larger campus under his ‘Vision 2000’ program, and turned the church into the state-of-the-art, 2,500 seat auditorium that it is today ( Into the present, the church has expanded from solely a place of worship to include the Word Center for religious education services, and the Wellness center, which includes a spa, and also Café Eden, providing healthy dining options.

Pilgrim Rest is one of the largest black churches in Phoenix, rivaling First Institutional Baptist Church just down the road. This status alone makes it representative of race and space, with the segregated practice of religion forming a particular practice of Christianity which is understood through a racial lens - there is no corresponding ‘white church’. In addressing community concerns, Pastor Thomas sponsored the U.S. Marshals Safe Surrender program in November of 2006, and among his many ministries is a prison ministry. Both of these show examples of an understanding of the systemic racism which plagues the black community in how criminality is assessed, and it also shows a willingness to extend a helping hand to ease the burden of dealing with the state.

In recent news, though, Pilgrim Rest was host to the Reverend Al Sharpton on May 5th of 2010, when he led a several-thousand peopled march from the church to the capitol building in protest of SB1070. As noted in publications like The Grio, and indeed, by Sharpton himself in a speech from the pulpit that night, the African American and Latino communities are often at odds with one another. Thus the decision to stage a march with a significantly racially-mixed crowd of supporters, on an issue of Latino rights, from a decidedly black church and black leader was an historic move on the part of Pilgrim Rest, and the supporting African-American community in Phoenix.

- Lucas Marks

Alexis Thomas Ministries. 2010. 25 April 2011 <>

Hutchinson, Earl Ofari. “Black leaders out of step with followers on immigration.” The Grio. May 2010. 25 April 2011 < with-followers-on-immigration.php>

Pilgrim Rest. 25 April 2011 <>

United States Marshals Service. 25 April 2011 <>

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