In 1922 Reverend Jake Howard, Reverend R. Thomas, and Reverend M. Boyd organized Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church in Somerton, Arizona, a little place called "No Man's Land". Shortly thereafter, Reverend Boyd sought to initiate an association of churches. Reverend Boyd's vision became a reality when he and Reverend Jake Howard of Galilee Baptist Church established the first Zion Rest District Association. Following eight years in “No Man’s Land”, Moderator Boyd relocated Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church to Phoenix 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.
Reverend Boyd, first pastor of Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church resigned and a second pastor, Reverend J.W. Williams began his Pastoral Leadership in 1936. In 1937, Reverend J.W. Williams resigned. During an unstable leadership period, which lasted until 1950, the Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church had three other pastors: Reverend Moses Howard, Reverend Whatley and Reverend Carr.
The year 1950 marked the beginning of a new era for the Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist church under the guidance of Reverend H. Y. Stevenson, who became the church’s sixth pastor. Reverend Stevenson brought new life to Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church, resulting in a dramatic church membership increase, creating the need to erect a new edifice.
By 1968, a new and greater sanctuary was built at its present day location of 1401 East Madison Street. Reverend Stevenson envisioned this beautiful structure soon would be paid for. Through sincere prayer and faith, the church was paid off within a three year period. The completion of the above task was another demonstration of Reverend Stevenson’s leadership abilities, style, and his strong desire to integrate the church into the community.
The Lord truly blessed Pilgrim Rest with Pastor H.Y. Stevenson until the Lord called him home on October 27, 1973. Although many hearts were saddened by Reverend Stevenson’s home going, we know that, “... Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord, for they rest from their labor and their works do follow them.”
On November 14, 1973, Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church had a call meeting and called Reverend Wesley Jones, whom the late Reverend Stevenson had ordained March 18, 1971 as Pastor.
During the next ten years, Reverend Jones developed many new ministries at Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church. Under his leadership, the Bus Ministry was implemented in April of 1974. The year 1979 marked the debut of the “Old Fashion Gospel Hour”.
By the grace of God, Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church continued to grow. Many blessings were bestowed upon the church, and through these blessings, thirteen ministers were added, nine of which acknowledged their calling. Five Deacons were ordained, and numerous members were added to the fold. Many other additions were also made to the church including another parking lot, furnishings and new equipment.
In 1981, a great challenge highlighted the ministry of Reverend Jones; as the one hundred first session of the National Baptist Convention of America convened in the state of Arizona for the very first time. Reverend Jones and the Pilgrim Rest family humbly took on the task as headquarters of the convention and were instrumental in helping to make this great convention a success. After ten years of dedicated service, Reverend Jones was lead to labor in another vineyard and preached his final sermon July 28, 1984.
History was made when Reverend Alexis A. Thomas was called on November 16, 1984 to pastor the Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church. Reverend Thomas was the youngest minister to ever pastor a church in the State of Arizona.
As the eighth Pastor of the Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church, Reverend A. Thomas 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 have been an inspiration to Pastor Thomas, and under his leadership the church continues to prosper.
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 have united with the church and ten deacons have been added, and the Lord is still adding to the fold.
With his God given insight, Pastor Alexis Thomas realized a need to go a step beyond the right hand of fellowship by encouraging Christian growth through education with the implementation of the New Members Orientation and the Life Applications/ Christian Education classes.
On May 20, 1997, Pastor Alexis Thomas unveiled “Vision 2000”, a vision for a new church campus. History was made on April1 16, 2000, when the Pilgrim people of God marched into a new, 2500-seat, state-of-the-art sanctuary. In the continuation of focusing on that 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. The Word Center is an awe-inspiring educational facility, which in addition to classrooms includes a Family Services Resource Center and science and computer labs to develop members of our community.
In less than 10 years, 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 foot Wellness Center, which features the Fitness Center and Café Eden, on April 30, 2007. With a commitment to keep our physical bodies and souls “in shape”, the Fitness Center is designed with an excellent cardiovascular and fitness facility to challenge individuals of all fitness levels. Truly, God is doing something extraordinary with and for Pilgrim Rest.
With sustaining growth, the Lord expanded our 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. Pilgrim Rest also began live stream 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 first television broadcast debut. With over 20,000 viewers of this weekly broadcast on AZTV, Pilgrim Rest continues to grow exponentially.
Bishop Thomas passed away unexpectedly on January 18, 2018, but the church fervently believes that God is not finished with Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church yet. As we reflect upon all that God did through Bishop Thomas, let us look ahead to what’s next and anticipate further growth and important work for the kingdom of God.
As we celebrate each anniversary of Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church, let us remember our vision to “be like a city that sits on a hill; a beacon of hope for all believers” as we fulfill the great commandment of Jesus found in St. Matthew 28:18-20…”to teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”