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The History of PRBC


How It All Began

In 1922, Reverend Jake Howard, Reverend R. Thomas, and Reverend M. Boyd organized Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church in Somerton, Arizona, which was a little place called “No Man’s Land.” Soon after, Reverend Boyd sought to initiate an association of churches. His vision became a reality when he and Reverend Jake Howard of Galilee Baptist Church established the first Zion Rest District Association.

After eight years in “No Man’s Land,” Moderator Boyd relocated Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church to Phoenix where they settled at 1417 East Madison Street. As the church began to grow, it started to adopt its own distinct identity through prayer and the direction of Pastor Boyd, who was also the district’s first moderator.

The History of Our Church - Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church

A Period of Instability

After Reverend Boyd, the first pastor of the church, resigned, Reverend J.W. Williams began his pastoral leadership in 1936. However, he resigned the following year. During an unstable period of leadership that lasted until 1950, Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church had three other pastors: Reverend Moses Howard, Reverend Whatley, and Reverend Carr.

A New Era

1950 marked a new beginning for the Pilgrim Rest when Reverend H. Y. Stevenson became the church’s sixth pastor. He worked passionately to revive the church, which resulted in a dramatic increase in membership and the need to erect a new edifice.

By 1968, the church had a new and greater sanctuary at 1401 East Madison Street. Reverend Stevenson envisioned that the church could pay for the beautiful structure soon, and through sincere prayer and faith, this happened within a three-year period. The completion of this task was another demonstration of Reverend Stevenson’s leadership abilities, his style, and his strong desire to integrate the church into the community.

The Lord truly blessed Pilgrim Rest with Pastor H.Y. Stevenson until his passing on October 27, 1973. While Reverend Stevenson’s homegoing saddened many hearts, we know that, “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord, for they rest from their labor and their works do follow them.”

Then Came Reverend Wesley Jones 

On November 14, 1973, Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church had a meeting and called upon Reverend Wesley Jones, whom the late Reverend Stevenson had ordained on March 18, 1971, to become the next pastor. Over the next decade, he developed many new ministries at the church including the implementation of the Bus Ministry, in April 1974. In 1979, Reverend Jones introduced the debut of the “Old Fashion Gospel Hour” radio broadcast.

By the grace of God, the church continued to grow. Bestowed by scores of blessings, it added thirteen ministers, nine of whom acknowledged their calling. The church ordained five deacons and added numerous members to the fold. Other additions came in the form of a parking lot, furnishings, and new equipment.

In 1981, a significant challenge highlighted the greatness of Reverend Jones’ ministry, as the 101st session of the National Baptist Convention of America convened in the state of Arizona for the first time in its long history. Reverend Jones and the Pilgrim Rest family humbly took on the task as headquarters of the convention and were instrumental in making the great convention a success.

After 10 years of dedicated service, Reverend Jones was destined to labor in another vineyard and he preached his final sermon on July 28, 1984.

Reverend A. Thomas Makes History

When the church called upon Reverend Alexis A. Thomas to become its pastor, he made history by becoming the youngest minister to ever pastor a church in the State of Arizona at the tender age of 16. As the eighth pastor of the church, he quickly began to make his mark by adopting the following scripture: Jesus answered and said, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me”. These holy words had always been an inspiration to Pastor Thomas, and the church continued to prosper under his leadership.

In agreement with God’s Word, the name of Jesus has been lifted up and the body of Christ has increased. Under the Pastoral Leadership of Reverend Thomas, numerous ministers united with the church and it saw the addition of 10 deacons, with the Lord still adding to the fold.

Owing to his God-given insight, Pastor Alexis Thomas realized there was a need to go a step beyond the right hand of fellowship. He encouraged Christian growth through education with the implementation of New Members Orientation and Life Application/Christian Education classes.

Vision 2000

On May 20, 1997, Pastor Alexis Thomas unveiled “Vision 2000,” a vision for a new church campus. The vision became reality on April 16, 2000, when the Pilgrim people of God marched into a new 2,600-seat state-of-the-art sanctuary.

With a firm focus on the vision and “to enhance the lives of all whom it (the church) touches,” Pastor Thomas and the Pilgrim Rest family constructed the “Word Center” in 2003. This center is an awe-inspiring educational facility, which, in addition to classrooms, includes a Resource Center, science lab, and computer lab for the development of community members.

In less than a decade, God saw fit for Bishop Thomas and Pilgrim Rest to fulfill the vision of a campus that meets all of the needs of men, women, and families with the completion of the Wellness Center. The Pilgrim Rest family dedicated the 31,000 square feet Wellness Center, which features the Spa at Pilgrim and Café Eden, on April 30, 2007.

With a commitment to keep our physical bodies and souls “in shape,” the Fitness Center has an excellent cardiovascular and fitness facility to challenge individuals of all fitness levels. This reaffirms our belief that God is doing something extraordinary with and for Pilgrim Rest.

The Growth Continued

With sustained growth, the Lord expanded Pilgrim Rest’s territory throughout the Phoenix metropolitan area and Arizona, as well as internationally. In 2010, the Lord led Pilgrim Rest to establish its very first satellite campus in Gilbert, Arizona. The church also began live-streaming broadcasts, reaching hundreds of thousands of viewers around the world through the internet in countries such as the Bahamas, Brazil, England, Germany, and Iraq. On December 15, 2013, Pilgrim Rest made its television broadcast debut. With over 20,000 viewers of its weekly broadcast on AZTV, Pilgrim Rest continues to grow exponentially.

It’s Not Over Till It’s Over

As the Lord would have it, Bishop Thomas passed away unexpectedly on January 18, 2018. However, the church fervently believes that God is not finished with it yet. As we reflect upon all of God’s work through Bishop Thomas, we look ahead to what’s next, anticipate further growth, and hope to do important work for the kingdom of God under the guidance of Senior Pastor Terry E. Mackey.

As we celebrate each anniversary of Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church, we cannot help but to remember our vision to “be like a city that sits on a hill; a beacon of hope for all” and remain steadfast in fulfilling the great commandment of Jesus found in St. Matthew 28:18-20, which beckons us “to teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”