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Bishop Walter Scott Thomas preaches the word with enthusiasm. (Facebook Photo)

Visionary. Compassionate. Wise. Dedicated. Down to earth.

These are a few of the descriptions of the Rt. Rev. Walter Scott Thomas Sr., portrayals offered in tribute as he celebrates his 40 years in ministry at the helm of Baltimore’s New Psalmist Baptist Church.

“Congratulations on your special day and may the Holy Spirit fill your heart and grant you strength to continue to do God’s will,” said Bishop Heber Brown II, a product of Bishop Thomas’ mentorship and pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church of Baltimore County, in an e-mailed statement to the AFRO. “I am honored to be one your sons in ministry.”

“Praise God for your steadfast loyalty and commitment to the cause of Christ these past 40 years,” said the Rev. Darrell Greene, pastor of Martin Luther King Community Church in Columbia, in sentiments to Bishop Thomas.

Greene is a longtime personal friend of the New Psalmist pastor, in fact, he said, he may have played a hand in his friend’s call to ministry. Thomas had studied and eventually received a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Maryland. But in 1971, Greene recalled inviting his friend to visit his church, New Shiloh Baptist, which was then under the leadership of the Rev. Dr. Harold Carter. And the experience seemed to strike a spark. Two years later, according to his bio on the New Psalmist website, Thomas was called to proclaim the Word of God, and in 1975 he was called to pastor New Psalmist.

Pastor Greene said he could never imagine that inviting a friend to join him in worship could result in a ministry 40 years strong and counting.

“It shows the power of making a witness,” Greene said. “You don’t know how far your witness can go.”

Bishop Walter Scott Thomas. (Facebook Photo)

Under Thomas’ leadership, New Psalmist has grown from 200 to more than 7,000 active members; the congregation is a thriving community, with myriad far-reaching ministries, including a national television broadcast; and a beacon of light in Baltimore and beyond. And at its center is Rev. Thomas, a true example of Christian leadership, many admirers have said.

“John C. Maxwell once said, ‘One of the worst liabilities in leadership is to have charisma, but lack character.’ If one were to conduct an audit on ethics among clergy in this country during the 21st century, it would be very apparent why Bishop Walter Scott Thomas is considered an asset to Christian ministry. Although the New Psalmist Church serves as his ministry base, the entire city of Baltimore has been impacted by his character, charisma, and leadership,” said the Rev. Dr. Jamal Bryant, pastor Empowerment Temple AME Church in Baltimore.

“I am eternally grateful to have Bishop Thomas as an incredible role model, trailblazer and mentor,” Bryant added. “Looking at all these years in ministry, and counting on all my fingers and toes, God’s grace still doesn’t add up. However, the one thing that does is that Bishop Walter Thomas is undeniably No. 1!”

Ministers like Bryant and Brown, who have been indirectly or directly influenced by Thomas, are among the more tangible legacies of his 40-year ministry. Under his tutelage, dozens of ministers have been birthed in New Psalmist and have moved on to pastor congregations across the nation. And, he continues to be a source of wisdom, inspiration and encouragement, acting as a pastors’ pastor to many.

“I learned from Bishop Thomas what it was to be a true shepherd…, how to value your relationship with God but also with people. He taught me to offer people the best service you can because you are God’s representative on Earth,” said Bishop Dwayne Debnam, of Morning Star Baptist Church in Catonsville, Md., who was mentored and licensed to preach by Thomas. He added about Thomas’ mentoring style, “His aim is to bring out the best in you. He disciples you without you knowing you’re being discipled.”

Bishop Thomas has used his gift of teaching and mentoring to reach individuals and groups all over the country, with over 30 years of experience in working with church leaders, pastors, church staffs, and building effective ministry teams through workshops and seminars and one-on-one consultation. He’s also served as president of the Hampton University Minister’s Conference and is a successful author.

In 2005, in recognition of Thomas’ service, 28 sons and daughters of New Psalmist voted to elect him as president of Kingdom Association of Covenant Pastors as well as to the office of bishop. He was installed July 20, 2005, at the First Mariner Arena in downtown Baltimore before a crowd of 10,000.

As Bishop Thomas looks forward to another 40 years in ministry, Rev. Greene offered his advice: “With all that’s going on in church life it’s important that you stayed focused on your call and the one who called you, because there will be ups and downs, distractions and attractions. So you have to stay centered and allow the Lord to direct and provide.”

Debnam said he is not worried, however, that Bishop Thomas will continue to thrive in ministry because, “He’s not doing this for a paycheck. He’s doing this because he loves God and cares for people.”