Principal - FWB Theological Seminary, Ayden, North Carolina, 1898-1910
Rev. Thomas E. Peden was living in Sciotoville, Ohio, when North Carolina Free Will Baptists first heard of him. There he was an active minister in the Ohio River Yearly Meeting of (Northern) Freewill Baptists. Peden observed that the Northern General Conference of Freewill Baptists was taking steps toward a union with another denomination. Aware that there were Free Will Baptists in the South, he envisioned a possible union of both groups in a national organization. In the May 27, 1896 issue of The Free Will Baptist an announcement appeared, signed by Thomas E. Peden, which stated that a General Conference would convene in Nashville, TN on October 7, 1896, with the Cumberland Association as host. The next meeting was held in Ayden, NC on October 5-8, 1898, and subsequent meetings were held at three year intervals until 1910. Peden was a leading advocate of this organization, with the aim of uniting Free Will Baptists North and South, thus hopefully averting any move toward a merger of Northern Freewill Baptists with another denomination. His dream of achieving this goal was not to be realized though he did succeed in drawing Free Will Baptists in the South closer together.
In 1898 the Board of Trustees of the Free Will Baptist Seminary, which had opened in Ayden earlier that year, asked Rev. Peden to become principal of the Seminary and teacher in the theological department. He spent the next twelve years of this life trying to develop the institution so that it could attract students at the lowest possible cost to them and seeking the necessary support to maintain operations. Due to limited resources among constituents of the Seminary and a lack of stewardship training in Free Will Baptist churches, it was an enduring challenge to achieve that goal. There was also resistance to education for ministers in some quarters. In his efforts to strengthen the Seminary and to promote the cause of education among Free Will Baptists, Peden was an enthusiastic spokesman. He used pages of the Baptist at every opportunity and was ready to speak at any conference or union meeting he could attend. In 1909 he suggested that the Seminary be placed under the direct control of the Triennial General Conference in order to give it a larger constituency and enable it to appeal to students and financial support in other states. The next year the stockholders of the Seminary voted to convey the property of the institution to a board of trustees to be elected by the Central, Eastern, Western and Cape Fear conferences, the South Carolina Conference, and the South Georgia and Midway associations in Georgia, a total of fifteen trustees.
In 1910 Peden tendered his resignation at the Seminary because of his age (seventy-seven years) and declining health. He had served long enough to set the tone of the institution and to provide a basic liberal arts education as well as theological training for a number of ministers who would render valuable service to the denomination. His contribution as a minister and educator has assured him of a place in the memory of all friends of Christian education among Free Will Baptists. He died in 1913 and was laid to rest in the Ayden Cemetery. His funeral was conducted by Rev. Robert F. Pittman, a graduate of the Seminary and a member of its faculty.
Pelt, Michael R. A history of Original Free Will Baptists. Mount Olive, NC: University of Mount Olive Press, 1996.