Obituary for Laura Jane “Lolly” Coker Thigpen

Laura Jane “Lolly” Coker Thigpen
November 24, 1926 – December 28, 2020

Laura Jane “Lolly” Coker Thigpen, 94, of Macon, Georgia, went to be with her Lord and Savior on December 28, 2020, after a meaningful and long life filled with God, family and friends which gave her joy, purpose and passion.

She was born to the late C. E. and Laura Coker on November 24, 1926, in Turbeville, South Carolina.  She grew up on Puddin Swamp, until leaving at the age of 16 to go to Bob Jones College where she received a B.A. Degree in Speech and Drama.  On June 20, 1947, she married Charles Allen Thigpen, with whom she ministered for the next 73 years.  She lived in Nashville, Tennessee, for 60 years, where she served as professor of speech and drama for 40 years at Welch College (formerly Free Will Baptist Bible College.)  In 2006, she moved to Byron, Georgia, to be near family, where she faithfully continued to serve the Lord in her community and as a member of White Oaks Free Will Baptist Church in Macon, Georgia.

Lolly was a dedicated wife, loving mother and grandmother, faithful servant of the Lord, gifted teacher, speaker and story teller, and friend to many.  She will be remembered as a prayer warrior, encourager, and both student and teacher of the Word.  She was a soul winner, compassionately serving others and sharing Christ with her students, neighbors and each person God placed in her path.  Her passion for Jesus was evident, especially in her many dramatic productions and in the way she invested her life in her students.  She raised four children who grew to know, love and serve Jesus and pass His legacy on to the next generation.  Truly, her children and thousands upon thousands of others rise up and call her blessed (Proverbs 31:28).

Lolly is survived by her daughters, Laura Cannon (Steve), Ann Maines (Gary), Ruth Slaten (Brad), and daughter-in-law Yvonne Thigpen (Jonathan, deceased), as well as 14 grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren, and her brother, Dr. C. E. Coker, Jr., and many nieces, nephews, and other relatives.

Lolly was joined in heaven three days later by her dear husband of 73 years, Dr. Charles Allen Thigpen, and was preceded in death by her beloved son, Jonathan Noel Thigpen, her parents, Clarence and Laura Coker, and her brothers Ray Coker, Col. Larry Coker, Dr. Homer Coker and Donald Coker.

In lieu of flowers, the Thigpen family requests that memorial gifts be made to the “Thigpen Fine Arts Center” project at Welch College in Gallatin, Tennessee.  Two years ago, Welch College launched an effort to name a wing of Celorio Hall on the new campus of Welch College the “Thigpen Fine Arts Center.”  The purpose of the project is to perpetually honor the life and ministry of Dr. Charles A. and Laura Thigpen.  The “Thigpen Fine Arts Center” will be the home of the drama and music departments of the college.  Gifts may be sent to: “The Thigpen Fine Arts Center Project” c/o Welch College, 1045 Bison Trail, Gallatin, Tennessee, 37066.

Due to the restraints of COVID, there will be a memorial service and celebration of life at a later date.  Please visit our website to leave memories, stories, and condolences.  https://easlaten.wixsite.com/TheThigpens

“For her worth is far above jewels.
Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she smiles at the future.
She opens her mouth in wisdom,
And the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
Her children rise up and bless her;
A woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.”  Proverbs 31:10, 25-26, 28, 30





Obituary for Dr. Charles Allen Thigpen

Dr. Charles Allen Thigpen
September 26, 1926 – December 31, 2020

Charles Allen Thigpen, 94, of Macon, Georgia, received his heavenly reward on December 31, 2020, after a long and rewarding life of dedication and service to the Lord, family, ministry, and people.

Charles was born to the late Jesse Allen and Mabel Thigpen on September 26, 1926, in Olanta, South Carolina, where he spent his childhood and was greatly impacted by his maternal grandparents, John and Stacia Thomas.  Even as a teen, Charles displayed his strong work ethic as an assistant to the local pharmacist.  At the age of 16, he left home to attend Bob Jones College where he received a B.A. degree in Bible and Pastoral Training.  After graduation, on June 20, 1947, he married Laura Jane “Lolly” Coker, with whom he ministered for the next 73 years.  After a short pastorate, he moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where he began his ministry at Welch College (formerly Free Will Baptist Bible College), which spanned the years 1948-1991, except for a 4-year period when he had a fruitful ministry as pastor of Highland Park Free Will Baptist Church in Royal Oak, Michigan (now Central FWB Church).  In his years at Welch College, he served as Professor, Administrator, President (1979-1990) and Chancellor.  Throughout Charles’s many years of ministry, he served as a denominational leader, evangelist, interim pastor, and writer, while he also pursued several educational degrees in order to more fully serve in the academic arena.  He received numerous degrees, culminating in a PhD from Middle Tennessee State University.  After his retirement from Welch College, he began a 15-year ministry as Tennessee State Promotional Director from 1991-2006.  He then moved to Macon, Georgia, to be near family where he continued to serve through preaching engagements, interim pastoral ministry, personal evangelism, and as an active member of White Oaks Free Will Baptist Church in Macon, Georgia.

Charles was a committed husband to his dear Lolly, devoted father to Jonathan, Laura, Ann, and Ruth, and faithful friend to many.  He was the consummate soul winner, encourager, communicator, and shepherd.  He had a true servant’s heart, which compelled him to pray continually, give generously, and reach out unselfishly to others.  He was the ultimate pastor to pastors, personally calling and consistently praying for each of them by name.  He was a gifted teacher, speaker and storyteller, as well as an excellent expositor and preacher of the Word.  He was a disciplined and humble follower of Jesus, steadfast and true to the calling he had been given.  Those who knew him, family and friends alike, will agree that he was “steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work” (I Corinthians 15:58).

Charles is survived by his daughters, Laura Cannon (Steve), Ann Maines (Gary), Ruth Slaten (Brad), and daughter-in-law Yvonne Thigpen (Jonathan, deceased), as well as 14 grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren, and his brother, Edd Thigpen, and many nieces, nephews, and other relatives.

Charles’s wife of 73 years, Laura “Lolly” Coker Thigpen, preceded him to heaven by only three days, and he was also preceded in death by his beloved son, Jonathan Noel Thigpen, his parents, Jesse Allen and Mabel Thigpen, his step-mother, Kathleen Green Thigpen, his brothers Ingram Thigpen and Ernest Thigpen, and his sisters, Annelyn VanRoten and Vida Mabel Melton.

In lieu of flowers, the Thigpen family requests that memorial gifts be made to the “Thigpen Fine Arts Center” project at Welch College in Gallatin, Tennessee.  Two years ago, Welch College launched an effort to name a wing of Celorio Hall on the new campus of Welch College the “Thigpen Fine Arts Center.”  The purpose of the project is to perpetually honor the life and ministry of Dr. Charles A. and Laura Thigpen.  The “Thigpen Fine Arts Center” will be the home of the drama and music departments of the college.  Gifts may be sent to: “The Thigpen Fine Arts Center Project” c/o Welch College, 1045 Bison Trail, Gallatin, Tennessee, 37066.

Due to the restraints of COVID, there will be a memorial service and celebration of life at a later date.  Please visit our website to leave memories, stories, and condolences.  https://easlaten.wixsite.com/TheThigpens

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.”  II Timothy 4:7-8

Dr. Charles A. Thigpen dies at age 94

Welch College President Emeritus Charles A. Thipgen died today in Macon, Georgia. He was 94 years old. His wife, Mrs. Laura Coker Thigpen, died earlier this week, Monday, December 28. They both had been hospitalized for COVID-19 at the time of their deaths.

The Thigpens leave behind a long legacy with Welch College. They joined the faculty in 1948. Except for a four-year stint as pastor of a Free Will Baptist church in Michigan, Dr. Thigpen served on the faculty of the college until 1991. He held the position of academic dean for over twenty years (1957-79). From 1979 to 1990, he served as Welch’s president, followed by a year as the college’s first chancellor.

Dr. and Mrs. Thigpen were preceded in death by their son Jonathan, a Welch alumnus who had served as a faculty member at Welch and also president of the Evangelical Training Association. Please pray for their daughters, Laura Cannon, Ann Maines, Ruth Slaten, and daughter-in-law Yvonne Thigpen, all of whom are Welch alumni, and their extended families. There will be a private service with a public memorial at a later date.

Mrs. Laura Thigpen with the Lord

Hi Mrs. Laura Thigpen, wife of Welch College President Emeritus Charles A. Thigpen, died last evening in Macon, Georgia. Mrs. Thigpen had been hospitalized earlier with COVID-19. She was 94 years of age. Please continue to pray for Dr. Thigpen who is still in the hospital and their daughters Laura Cannon, Ann Maines, Ruth Slaten, and daughter-in-law Yvonne Thigpen and their extended family.

Welch Nursing Incentive Scholarship Increases

In an attempt to attract more students into the nursing profession, Welch College has announced a new incentive scholarship of $2,000 per year to any nursing applicant who applies for admission by March 15, 2021, according to Dr. Charles Lea, Special Assistant to the President at Welch.

“There is growing critical shortage of bachelor’s degree-prepared nurses in the mid-state,” Lea said. “To meet the demand and to provide students an opportunity to fast-track to a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (B.S.N.) degree and remain in Sumner County, Welch President Matt Pinson has approved an incentive scholarship for any new student.”

“Our goal is to attract some of the best prepared students to enroll at Welch, take advantage of the incentive scholarship, as well as the Tennessee Promise, federal Pell grants, and other Welch scholarships,” Pinson said. “After completing their associate’s degree at Welch and meeting standard academic requirements for admission, students are guaranteed admission to the bachelor’s degree track at Union University Hendersonville.” The Welch Nursing Education Collaborative is the only and fastest traditional path to a B.S.N. degree in Sumner County.

Welch Nursing Education Collaborative graduates are already providing valuable healthcare services throughout the mid-state. Dr. Ian Hawkins, head of the nursing program at Welch, said, “Creative partnerships are providing financially affordable opportunities for obtaining an outstanding nursing education and be in a position to obtain an advanced practice degree in the near future.”

To obtain more information, contact Dr. Hawkins at ihawkins@welch.edu or call Welch at 615.675.5303. Prospective students and parents are encouraged to visit the Welch Nursing website at welch.edu/nursing. The incentive scholarship will be limited to the first 50 applicants who apply and are admitted to Welch for the fall 2021 semester. Similar incentives may apply to transfer applicants as well and those who desire to enroll prior to the fall 2021 term.


Rejoice! Ministry Team Announced

The 2020-2021 Rejoice! Ministry Team has been selected, according to Daniel Webster, director of the group. “After extensive tryouts and interviews, I’m pleased to announce that we have finalized selections for this year’s team. We had a great number of quality musicians to choose from, but we finally selected these students to be our representatives for this year.

Female members of the group are Meredith Baer, Erin Goucher, Krista Lindsay, Sarah Lovett, Abby Myers, Raygan Sellers, and Elizabeth Yerby. Male members are Ben Barcroft, Sam Lane, Mason McClure, and Samuel Rodriguez. Jesse Viers will be the sound technician.

The group will likely not be able to travel as extensively in the spring semester as groups have in the past due to COVID-19, but it is hopeful that some limited travel will be possible, and that the group will be able to enjoy a full summer tour. Plans are being made for the group to use a video recording that will be made available to churches. According to Mr. Webster, “We see this as a way to have a presence in our churches even in the midst of the pandemic. A video produced by Rejoice! in the spring broke the record for number of views by any Welch College video. We think the songs we produce will be received equally well.”

Congratulations to this group of young people. Please pray for them as they rehearse and prepare to serve.

Welch College in Gallatin, TN Chapel Lyrics Quiz

Welch Music Department Chairman Making Music During Pandemic

Welch College Music Department Chairman James Stevens has stayed busy composing during the pandemic with over 1,000 publications released in the past year with various outlets, according to Provost Matthew McAffee. The publishing outlets include Sheet Music Plus, Shawnee Press/Hal Leonard, Spotify, Pandora Radio, Apple Music, Amazon Music, and others that include music for choral, piano, organ, and various instrumental solo/piano combinations.

Looking for more info on music degrees at Welch College?

Several of Stevens’s choral anthems over the past year have been released by Shawnee Press of Hal Leonard. These include “Song of Grace and Hope” with Gaye C. Bruce and “Jesus Is the Way” with Karen Crane. These and Stevens’s other recent choral music with Hal Leonard consist of practical compositions and arrangements for the local church choir.

“One publication, ‘Italian Preludes, Nos. 1-8,’ is a piano album and book released in the heart of the pandemic at a time when Italy was suffering great losses with the songs representing various moods of the time,” McAffee said. In July, the “Italian Preludes” was listed as number 10 of The Top 100 Radio Airplay Chart at Music Zone Reporter (http://www.zonemusicreporter.com/charts/top100.asp).

In July of 2020, Stevens was named as a Whisperings Piano Solo Artist at SoloPiano.com, which consists of many of the world’s leading pianists/composers and founded by famed pianist David Nevue. This site carries Stevens’s music from his albums, “Minimal Piano,” “Italian Preludes, Nos. 1-8,” “Quiet Christmas Piano,” and his most recent album and book, “Autumn Moods,” released October 9, 2020.

Since the beginning of 2020, Stevens has also released four new collections of original organ music, much of which has been recorded by Harvard University Organist and Composer in Residence, Carson Cooman, including all the compositions from Stevens’s October 2020 book, “Swan Serenades for Organ, Nos. 1-5.”

Dr. James Michael Stevens has served as Chairman of Welch College’s Department of Music since 2004. For more information on the music department at Welch College and the various programs of study offered by the department, email Mark Lancaster at mlancaster@welch.edu.

Carlisle Hanna Inducted TICUA Hall of Fame

Veteran Free Will Baptist missionary to India and humanitarian Carlisle Hanna (Welch College Class of 1952) was recently inducted into the “TICUA Hall of Fame,” according to President Matt Pinson.

“TICUA stands for the ‘Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association’ and represents the private accredited colleges and universities in the state,” Pinson said. “We’re so honored that they have selected Welch alumnus Carlisle Hanna for their Hall of Fame.”

TICUA Executive Director Claude Presnell said, “Tennessee’s Independent Colleges and Universities are home to some of our state’s most distinguished and impressive residents—from Nobel laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners to faith leaders, entrepreneurs, and elected officials.”

“The Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association (TICUA) created the TICUA Hall of Fame to honor the distinguished alumni of its 35 member institutions while highlighting their contributions to our state, nation, and world. The honorees exemplify the value of the liberal arts education and how it can be used in a variety of career fields.”

The 2020 inductees can be viewed here.

Welch Enrollment Decreases as a Result of COVID-19

After a 36-year high enrollment last fall, Welch College enrollment statistics for the Fall semester 2020 showed an expected decline, according to Provost Matthew McAffee. Total enrollment statistics indicate 356 students from 23 states, one territory, and four foreign countries, an 18 percent decrease over last fall’s headcount.

“The good news is that in one key area, the number of full-time students, we’re down by only 6%,” McAffee said. “Last fall the full-time student enrollment was 233 compared to this year’s 219. Full-time students is a key indicator that colleges monitor closely. We’re thankful for these wonderful students the Lord has brought us this year. Owing to COVID-19, like many colleges, we were braced for a much lower enrollment than we have. So we’re grateful that enrollment is as high as it is. The Lord continues to bless our efforts in equipping leaders for Christ’s kingdom work.”

At press time the college reported 157 dormitory students, 59 commuter students, 23 graduate students, 20 Adult Studies students, 41 Online students, and 56 dual enrollment students. The fall’s full-time equivalency (FTE) is 254 students.

“An unusually high number of out-of-town families changed their plans this year,” Daniel Webster, Director of Enrollment Services, said. “It was either because of the ‘fear factor’ surrounding the Coronavirus—just wanting to keep their children close to home—or because of the economic impact of the virus on their families. This was the year we were expecting to have a 38-year record-high in enrollment. But then COVID-19 hit. Not only did it cause families to change their plans, but it also hampered our ability to recruit last spring and summer.”

“We were surprised, though, that our traditional student enrollment (dorm and commuter students) was down only around 10 percent,” Webster continued. “Just as some other colleges and universities expected, local student enrollment held steady, while dorm student enrollment dropped by about 14 percent. Our adult enrollment—in graduate, evening, and online programs—was hit hard, as well as the number of high school students enrolled in dual enrollment courses. The total headcount in those programs decreased by 28 percent.”

This fall 63 new students enrolled in traditional on-campus programs at Welch—25 percent fewer than last fall. A total of 85 new students joined the entire student body for the new school year, including graduate, online, and adult studies enrollments—27 percent fewer than last fall.

“We’re so thankful for the students God has blessed us with this year,” President Matt Pinson said. “They’re eager to learn and are doing such a wonderful job coping with the strange conditions necessitated by the Coronavirus. But they’re doing a great job abiding by our guidelines, and the number of positive cases and quarantined students has been extremely low when compared to other colleges and universities. While I’m pleasantly surprised that our enrollment is as high as it is, given COVID-19, I still appeal to our alumni and supporters to give to the COVID-19 Relief Fund. We’re having to award very large amounts of scholarships this year to make it possible for many of these students to attend, and we’re projecting the largest year-to-year downturn in tuition and gift income in the college’s history. So we need our people to come to our aid now more than ever.”

“Still,” Pinson continued, “this vibrant student body is a reminder that God is bringing students to Welch whose lives will be changed. We will equip them to fulfill the divine purpose to which God has called them, so they can help bring life change to others through the power of the gospel and its impact on individual lives and on our culture. This is the reason we’re here, and we keenly sense God’s blessing, especially in these difficult times.”

For more information about Welch College, email recruit@welch.edu or visit the college’s website at www.welch.edu.

Leaders Announced for Newly Established Welch Divinity School

Welch President Matt Pinson announced Monday that the newly established Welch Divinity School would be led by Welch Provost Dr. Matthew McAffee and Dr. Barry Raper, coordinator of Ministry Programs at Welch. McAffee will serve as Dean of the Divinity School, while continuing his role as Provost of the College. Raper will serve as Program Coordinator for the M.Div. degree program, while continuing to administer Welch’s other ministry programs.

Pinson said, “I’m excited about the leadership of Welch Divinity School. Matthew McAffee and Barry Raper are just the sort of young scholar-pastors we need as the face of this new initiative.”

Pinson went on to say, “We believe this new divinity school, under the leadership of McAffee and Raper, will help us get more evangelistically minded pastor-scholars out into the churches, who understand how to stand for truth in an era of increasing secularization when the truths of Christianity are no longer assumed. We also think this presents an opportunity to carve out a bigger footprint in the evangelical community for our unique Reformed Arminian approach to theology.”

“Welch has so much to offer to our denomination, and to those outside our denomination who have gotten excited about the Reformed Arminian approach to theology centered in the Free Will Baptist Church. The singular blend of the best of evangelical theological scholarship from this perspective with a practical, evangelistic mindset that is sensitive to the missional uniqueness of our increasingly secularizing society in the West—that’s a winning combination. And, in addition to our Free Will Baptist ministers, we’re hearing from more and more conservative Arminians who are interested in what we have to offer. Drs. McAffee and Raper make a great combination to attract students to this program with its focus on vibrant ministry and solid scholarship.”

Pinson explained: “We need the sort of competence Dr. McAffee has brought to the Office of the Provost. But we also need a face for the new divinity school that signals to our denomination and to the entire evangelical community the sort of scholarship we will feature at the Divinity School. The grant from the Kern Family Foundation provides funds for a new full-time faculty member, a new full-time program coordinator/recruiter, and a new half-time assistant. This support will allow Dr. McAffee to bring his unique gifts to the new Divinity School while maintaining his important role as Chief Academic Officer of Welch College. It will also allow Dr. Raper to give leadership to the M.Div. in addition to Welch’s other baccalaureate and master’s programs in ministry.”

McAffee, a native of Jacksontown, New Brunswick, Canada, has taught at Welch College for thirteen years and has served as Provost for the last three years. Thought of as a leading younger scholar of the language, literature, and culture of the Old Testament, he has also been intimately involved in pastoral ministry, having served several years in church ministry as well as seven years as campus pastor at Welch College. A Welch graduate, he holds the M.Div. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago.

Penn State University Press recently published his book, Life and Mortality in Ugaritic: A Lexical and Literary Study. B&H Academic is scheduled to publish an intermediate Hebrew grammar he is writing with Dr. Chip Hardy of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has also jointly authoredSexuality, Gender, and the Church (Welch College Press) and contributed a chapter to The Promise of Arminian Theology: Essays in Honor of F. Leroy Forlines (Randall House Academic). Co-chairman of the Ancient Near Eastern Study Group of the Evangelical Theological Society, McAffee has gained a reputation as a solid scholar through papers delivered at ETS, the Society of Biblical Literature, and other venues, as well as articles published in journals such as the Journal of Biblical Literature, the Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, the Journal of the American Oriental Society, the Bulletin for Biblical Research, Integrity: A Journal of Christian Thought, Ugarit-Forschungen, and the Southeastern Journal of Theology.

Raper, a native of Red Bay, Alabama, and Professor of Ministry at Welch, has established a reputation as the leading ministry educator in the Free Will Baptist denomination as well as one of the leading Free Will Baptist pastors in the mid-South. He has taught at Welch for the past fourteen years. During his first nine years, he administered the Youth and Family Ministry program, which he moved from a conventional youth ministry program to an intergenerational youth-and-family program geared to combining evangelism with the cultivation of biblical truth in the context of a secularizing culture. For the past five years, he has administered all ministry programs at Welch, including the pastoral ministry program, with the assistance of Chris Talbot, Welch’s coordinator of Youth and Family Ministry.

Raper has twenty years of ministry experience, the past eleven as Pastor of Bethel Free Will Baptist Church in Chapmansboro, Tennessee. His academic emphasis has been spiritual formation in ministry, with his dissertation focusing on biblical meditation. A Welch graduate, he holds the M.Div. and D.Min. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is author of several articles, has contributed a chapter to The Promise of Arminian Theology: Essays in Honor of F. Leroy Forlines (Randall House Academic), and is a columnist for ONE Magazine.

In other action, the Board named Dr. Kevin L. Hester Senior Professor of Divinity and Special Advisor to the Dean. Hester will continue as Dean of the School of Theology, thus administering all undergraduate programs in theology as well as the M.A. degree in Theology and Ministry, which will serve as a feeder to the M.Div. Hester will also continue serving on Welch’s Leadership Team as Vice President for Institutional Effectiveness and will offer seasoned counsel to the new Divinity School.

Hester, a native of Russellville, Alabama, has taught at Welch for 17 years, administering theological programs for eight years and serving as vice president for the past three. He has established himself as a leader in the world of higher education accreditation, having been on numerous accrediting visits and having served on the Commission on Accreditation of the Association for Biblical Higher Education (ABHE) for many years, now as chairman of the Commission. An expert on the church fathers, he is author of Eschatology and Pain in St. Gregory the Great: The Christological Synthesis of Gregory’s “Morals on the Book of Job” (Paternoster), is author of several articles as well as a booklet on “Free Will Baptists and the Priesthood of All Believers,” and has contributed a chapter to The Promise of Arminian Theology: Essays in Honor of F. Leroy Forlines (Randall House Academic). He serves on the editorial board of ABHE’s Biblical Higher Education Journal.

“I hope our alumni and supporters will pray for these men as they lead in getting the Divinity School started,” Pinson said. For more information on Welch Divinity School and the M.Div. program, please email Barry Raper at braper@welch.edu.

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