By 1920, among the main line of Free Will Baptists in the Southeast, tracing back to the English General Baptist heritage in North Carolina and Paul Palmer in 1727, there was no broad association of churches binding them together. The triennial General Conference (1895-1910) led by Thomas Peden had failed. The Cooperative General Association had seemed appealing for a while, and some from Tennessee and North Carolina had joined it in its early years. But the disagreement about washing feet as an ordinance meant that this did not seem an organization that could unify the denomination.
Consequently, in 1921, Rev. John L. Welch, pastor of Cofer’s Chapel Church in Nashville, Tennessee, after consulting with others in the Southeast, issued an invitation for delegates to assemble and organize. As a result, the General Conference was formed on May 26 of that year. (It was regarded by some of them, at least, as a revival of the General Conference led by Peden.) It was structured to meet annually and did so.
The organization was formed, first, by delegates from North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee. Soon the representatives at the annual meetings included South Carolina, Florida, Mississippi, and some of the Free Will Baptists in Texas. (Even the Ohio River and Kansas-Nebraska Yearly Meetings occasionally sent delegates.) As the list below will show, we have the minutes of all the sessions of this organization.
Not long after this conference was established, some of the leaders began working with some of the leaders of the Cooperative General Association in the interests of bringing the two organizations together into one. As a result, they joined in forming the National Association of Free Will Baptists in 1935. The original plan was for the National to meet every three years, with each of the two bodies continuing to meet annually. But by the second session of the National Association in 1938 it was determined that the two regional bodies would cease to function and the National would meet every year.
If you have additional state or local minutes to contribute to the Free Will Baptist minutes collection, please contact the Historical Commission using the form below.