The Rev. Jeffery R. Thomas, a Paine College religion professor and pastor who extensively traveled to advocate for the United Methodist Church and higher education, died Wednesday at his home in Augusta from a reported heart attack. He was 49.
Thomas, who graduated summa cum laude from Paine College in 2001 with a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy and religion, was a persistent voice for equal rights, education and services for the poor.
He pressed for more economic aid for the homeless in California and played a leading role in attracting a youthful presence to the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church across central Georgia.
The funeral will be at 1 p.m. Saturday at Trinity CME Church at 2930 Glenn Hills Drive, where Thomas had served as pastor since 2010.
“Rev. Thomas truly answered the call in his life to be a minister,” said the Rev. Jetson Maness, the presiding elder of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church’s Augusta-Sparta district.
Maness, a close friend and fellow minister of Thomas for 15 years, gave Thomas his first pastoral appointment in 2006 to lead the Raise Bridge CME Church in Waynesboro, Ga.
Maness said Thomas’ leadership, friendship and overall fun-loving charisma will be greatly missed
in the community and the church.
“He was a lovable people person, an outgoing minister that had a type of magnetism about himself that just made followers in Christ want to be near him,” Maness said. “I cannot fully explain his many contributions to the church.”
Thomas was licensed to preach the gospel in 1995, ordained in 2002 and became an elder in 2006 in the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church. He served in churches including Westwood United Methodist Church and Holman United Methodist Church, both in Los Angeles.
At the height of his ministry, Thomas served as the senior pastor of Central City Community Church in the Skid Row district of downtown Los Angeles, the epicenter of America’s largest homeless population. His effort to bring relief to the impoverished community in the church and at courthouses was featured on the nationally syndicated television show The American Bible Society Presents.
After receiving a doctorate in theology and personality, with an emphasis in pastoral counseling and psychotherapy, in 2009 in California, Thomas returned to Augusta as pastor of Trinity CME and an assistant religion professor at Paine College.
“He brought new life into the church and caused it to grow substantially,” said Lucretia Brown, a member of Trinity CME and a volunteer on the parish’s bulletin committee. “He never met any strangers.”
At Paine, Thomas was selected to serve as a national ambassador for the Black College Fund in the Lina McCord Internship program.