New Divinity School scholarship offers aid to female students interested in ministry

By Jacob McConnico
March 29, 2006

Richard Gene Puckett and Robbie Lynn Puckett of Raleigh have established the Thomas Meredith Divinity Scholarship Fund in the Wake Forest University Divinity School to support women entering the ministry and to honor an early leader among Baptists in North Carolina.

The scholarship honors Thomas Meredith, one of the 14 founders in 1830 of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina and founder and editor in 1833 of the Biblical Recorder, the monthly journal of the Baptist State Convention. It will be awarded to Divinity School students, with preference given to female graduates of Wake Forest and Meredith College.

Meredith, who lived from 1795 to 1850, was instrumental in founding the Wake Forest Institute in 1834, and he offered a resolution in 1838 urging the convention to establish "a female seminary of high order," which later became Meredith College. He was offered the chairmanship of mathematics and moral philosophy during the Wake Forest Institute's first year, and in 1838 he was elected president of the board of trustees of the school, which is now Wake Forest University.

Richard Gene Puckett, 73, said the scholarship is a fitting tribute to Meredith because he was such a staunch advocate for higher education in the development of North Carolina Baptists.

"He was a man ahead of his time, but for his time," said Puckett, who served as the 17th editor of the Biblical Recorder from 1982 to 1998. "Meredith was the best educated person in North Carolina Baptist ministry during his time. He became my hero, because he started with the right concepts."

Puckett, a native of Kentucky, is the only man in Southern Baptist history to serve as an editor of four different state Baptist papers. He served as editor of the Ohio Baptist Messenger and the Maryland Baptist and was associate editor of Kentucky's Western Recorder before coming to North Carolina.

While editor in Maryland, Puckett assisted in creation of The New England Baptist and The Penn/Jersey Baptist by volunteering his services as managing editor of the papers in the two new state conventions. Puckett holds degrees from Campbellsville University, Western Kentucky University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Wake Forest awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1990.

The Rev. Kelly Belcher, who serves with Puckett as a member of Wake Forest Divinity School's Board of Visitors and who is a graduate of Meredith College, said it is a critical obligation of faith communities to prepare women as leaders in ministry.

"Churches of all denominations, and particularly Baptists, are seeing how much they need the leadership of good women in ministry," said Belcher, who serves as moderator of the South Carolina Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and associate pastor of Fernwood Baptist Church in Spartanburg. "People of faith who are going to expect excellent church leadership in the future need to provide this place of sacred preparation now. It is a prophetic task of good stewardship to see how we will depend on women in ministry in coming years and to support and prepare them starting this year."

Puckett and his wife, Robbie, have two daughters, Jeanne Lynn Fishwick and Janet Kay Wade. Fishwick is a graduate of Meredith College. Wade earned a law degree from Wake Forest in 1980.