After reading this profile of Carolyn Collins, you'll probably imagine that while being interviewed she simultaneously answered e-mail, shuffled office paperwork, filled gaps in her calendar, chose ethnic recipes, planned a wedding, interviewed a job candidate, put a contractor to work measuring her windows for new blinds, and skimmed a new book on female empowerment.
As executive pastor/administrator for the nondenominational Church of the Overcomer in Trainer, Pa. (20 miles south of Philadelphia), Collins, 58, is a first-rate overachiever: full-time social worker, full-time church administrator, girl power proponent … and part-time professional wedding planner.
But more on that later.
Seven hours a day, five days a week, Collins supervises a group of eight social workers for Elwyn Inc., a nonprofit human services organization that specializes in care for foster children and children with disabilities.
Some days, Collins goes straight from Elwyn to the church, where she'll put in another seven hours. Some days, she goes to the church before and after.
“Our philosophy is that if you aren't empowered,” Collins says, “we aren't doing our job. We're trying to work with people who are down and out on church, but not on God.”
She and her husband, Keith, run several youth ministries, including “Girl Talk” for girls ages 8 to 18. “We give them someone to talk to, which keeps them from doing something crazy.”
A related ministry, “Daughters of Destiny,” is a rites-of-passage mentoring program that takes young women through 10 weeks of social, historical, and political rites. “For the political rite, we take the girls to a courtroom where a woman is a judge. The judge talks with them about what it takes to be a judge,” Collins says. “For history, each girl does a family tree to get an appreciation for the history of their family. For the social rite, we teach them how to sit properly in a restaurant and teach them what each fork is for, how to set a table, and what not to do at the table.”
A third group, called “Psalm 150,” is the Church of the Overcomer's dance ministry. “We do mostly liturgical dancing; every now and then they mix in a little hip-hop if it's an upbeat service,” she says. “The fourth Sunday in October, for example, we have an international tea. I write out the names of countries, and different people who want to cook will randomly draw the name of a country. Whatever country they draw, they put together a team to research the country's clothes and foods.
“On the day of the tea, they set up tables with information about the countries, serve food, distribute recipes, and wear ethnic garb. All the proceeds go to our international missions. It introduces the idea to our young people that the world is larger than Trainer, Pennsylvania.”
Meeting Planner, Too
This is, so you already know she does meeting planning for the Church of the Overcomer, in addition to doing all the interviewing of new employees and administrative tasks for her pastor — who is also her husband.
“When he doesn't want to be the bad guy, they see me!” she says with a chuckle.
Collins was planning on-site church meetings and events long before she heard of RCMA. She credits a salesman at the Adam's Mark in Philadelphia with introducing her to the professional association.
“I was planning a big, international event away from the church grounds for the first time,” she recalls. “I started requesting things and the sales rep kept asking me, ‘How did you know to ask for that? Are you part of RCMA?’ But I had never heard of it. I just knew what we needed — and what we needed for the church to make a profit.
“That very day,” she continues, “the salesman had RCMA send me an application; I joined immediately. That was 17 years ago. I've been a member that long.”
Magnet for New Members
RCMA has been good to Carolyn Collins, but she has repaid the kindness many times over, receiving credit for bringing at least 25 new members into the association through the Member-Get-A-Member program. For her effort, she has been rewarded over the years with trips to London and Branson, Mo., a cedar chest, and $300 cash.
And about that wedding-planning business …
“That has been my other life for about 25 years,” Collins says. “I actually did it 25 years ago for my own marriage. And then I did it for my own bishop, my sister, and my mother — there were so many.”
Two years ago, when she did her sister's wedding, she decided to make the work a business and put out a shingle for Center Aisle Weddings — because “all brides want a center aisle.”
Collins was motivated by the approach of inevitable retirement from Elwyn in two years and the desire to do something fun and profitable in the future.
How does she do it all?
“I usually sleep between 1 a.m. and 5:30 a.m.,” she says. “Every now and then I go to bed early, at 11:30 p.m. or midnight. But seven hours of sleep, and I feel like I've been drugged! My husband is a marathon runner, up at four or five o'clock every day. We don't require a lot of sleep.”
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Meet Carolyn Collins
Education: Lincoln University (master's degree in human services); Trinity Bible College (doctorate in divinity with emphasis on church administration); certified professional wedding consultant
Family: Married 25 years to Keith Collins; two sons, four grandchildren
Quote: “My days wouldn't be considered typical. But when you are pastoring and serving in the field I work in, the typical day is not typical. You have to be ready to be used by God and to seek Him for the answers.”