For more than a year, the Rev. Emily Collins has conducted her pastoral residency at the Community Church at Tellico Village in hopes of eventually serving another church.

But her journey to the Community Church started long before August 2019.

The Knoxville native graduated Carson-Newman University before completing a master’s of divinity in 2018 at Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary in Waco, Texas.

She received the spiritual call to serve around 18 years old.

“I was in college when I really knew this was what I was going to do,” Collins said. “There were little signs and kind of moments before then. When I look back I see those moments, but at the time I didn’t think they were.”

Among the signs were her growing up in a ministry family. Her mother serves as music minister at Ball Camp Baptist Church in Knoxville.

“There were some things very early on in life that kind of paved the way for me a little bit and there were other things,” she said. “When I was in high school, I spent every summer working at a summer camp. I spent my time volunteering and working with my youth group to do things in the Knoxville community that were very much ministry things that I wouldn’t have classified that at the time. There were little moments like that when I look back I can see kind of the formation of where I am now.”

When she came to the Community Church, Collins adapted to a congregation that is predominantly senior.

“It’s been a little bit of a challenge because I never worked with adults at this age before — all my of experience had been predominantly with children youth age,” Collins said. “I just didn’t have that experience of working with adults a lot. That was a challenge. But this church has been so incredibly welcoming and so incredibly supportive of me and the things I’ve done, and they’ve shared their lives with me in the time that I’ve been here and I’m so incredibly grateful for it.

“... The way that we have Sunday morning services here is very different from how I grew up and what I was used to, so that was a learning curve for me,” she added. “Just learning — we wear robes on Sunday mornings and that wasn’t something I had ever done before. We take communion every week and that’s not something I had done before. There were things like that that I wasn’t used to that were learning curves, so that was something. The social aspect of it I don’t feel like I struggled in that aspect.”

Over the course of her residency, Collins has worked with the children’s ministry, been involved in worship and planning, led Bible groups and helped plan church activities.

Like others at the church, she’s had to work around COVID-19.

“It has definitely made me aware of some things that were more important than what I had ever thought,” Collins said. “They don’t teach you in seminary how to deal with a global pandemic. That was not a class I had. We had classes of how you deal with crises in the church, but it was never a global pandemic of where you have to move to an online-only streaming platform. You have to do all of these things that I had never been taught and no one had ever been taught. It was very much a learning curve. I feel like as a church we have done well in making sure our members are connected still and how important those relationships are between pastors and the congregation. I’ve always thought those were important but that has just been reinforced through all of this.”

The Rev. Stephen Prevatte, senior pastor, has been impressed by Collins.

“She is our first ever resident of hopefully many more to come for years in ahead, but she’s our first,” Prevatte said. “She’s kind of a ground-breaker in that regard and she’s been a perfect fit for our church staff. She’s a lot of fun to work alongside of and extremely competent and can do a lot of really good things and has done a lot of really good things for us in church. She’s kind of like a Swiss army knife — she can do about anything.”

While Collins doesn’t know exactly when her residency will end, Prevatte said she will be missed.

“She has made this a home for her and our people have fallen in love with her and just so enjoy her youthfulness and vitality,” Prevatte said. “She has a great spirit about her and she’s just a lot of fun to serve with. ... Ideally with the residency program, our resident will be here from 18 to 24 months. She’s done a great job for us. We’re going to miss her when she’s not here. The cool thing about the residency is that a church like ours is able to foster an environment within hopefully young pastors for future congregational ministries. We feel like it’s kind of a calling of our congregation to help peer pastors. It’s a good fit for both folks.”

Collins doesn’t know what’s in store after she leaves the Community Church, but she said she’s excited for whatever comes her way.

“I’m absolutely going to miss it,” she said. “I have enjoyed being a pastor to this congregation and they have taught me quite a bit about what it means to be a pastor. I am absolutely going to miss this church and these folks. I am excited for the future and what the future brings. I’m excited for the church in what that brings, but I’m absolutely going to miss it.”