category: Faculty Emeriti - In Honor Of

Joseph ‘Joe’ Collins

Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies

Joe Collins

Dr. Joseph Collins was born the youngest child of Parks and Aldia Collins in 1956. Parks Collins joined the U.S. Army at the start of World War II, worked in the civilian world after the war, and later rejoined the Army until his retirement. His career shuffled the family around the United States and overseas. The Collins family was stationed in Berlin, Germany, during the Cuban missile crisis, the Russian face off at Checkpoint Charlie, and the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961. When Parks retired, the Collins family returned to their hometown of Troutman, N.C.

Aldia graduated high school when the 11th was the last grade. Parks left school after completing fourth grade and later acquired his GED in the Army. “My dad was a big believer in education.” Collins said. “He saw the opportunities other people had that he didn’t have, because he didn’t have that education.” When Collins got his first job, his father required him to set aside 80 percent of his earnings for college to pave the way for his future. Collins attributes his opportunity to attend college to the value his parents placed on education.

In high school, Collins was a three-time wrestling state champion. He was recruited to the wresting team at East Carolina University (ECU) in Greenville, N.C. While in college, academics began to capture Collins’ attention more than athletics, so he stopped wrestling. At the beginning of his junior year, Collins switched his major from biology to English after taking a couple of literature classes. He realized his passion lay in studying abstract theories not the laws of nature.

After graduating in 1978, Collins stayed at ECU for graduate school. He taught freshman composition as a graduate assistant for the English department and attended classes in the evenings. He married his sweetheart, Pam, and completed his Master of Arts in English in 1982. Collins assumed he would enter the academic world, but he and Pam felt the Lord calling him to full-time ministry.

The couple moved to Wake Forest, N.C., where he attended Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. After graduating in 1986 with a Master of Divinity in Religious Education, he was hired at Elizabeth Baptist Church in Shelby, N.C., as the Minister of Education. During this time, Collins led his church in Christian Education and found time to write for church magazines of the Southern Baptist Sunday School Board. A few of these articles included: “Leading Teachers to Get Organized” (November 1993), “Getting Started: The Teacher” (November 1994), and “Cultivation: Key to Witnessing” (November 1995).

In addition to writing, Collins led and organized countless leadership and training workshops for the Greater Cleveland County Baptist Association (GCCBA) in Shelby and the N.C. Baptist State Convention (1988-2006). He also served as a Conflict Resolution Network Facilitator for the N.C. Baptist State Convention (1997-2004) and the Eastern Vice President for the Southern Baptist Religious Education Association (1998-2000).

In 1999, he became Church Development Director for GCCBA but also wanted to further his education. He enrolled at N.C. State University, where he could attend a flexible Doctor of Education program. His dissertation focused on how lay teachers of the church encounter the phenomenon of a calling. He graduated with his doctorate in 2004.

Soon after, a position in Gardner-Webb University’s Department of Religious Studies and Philosophy became available. Collins interviewed and remembers strolling around GWU’s campus itching to jump back into teaching. “I just walked around the campus one day and told my wife, ‘this is where I want to be,’” he reflected. His desire was granted, and Collins was hired as an adjunct professor in 2004. He became an assistant professor at GWU in 2005. He was named associate professor in 2013 and published a book with Crossbooks entitled, “What Does God Want Me to Do: Understanding and Responding to Calling.” He was promoted to a full professor in 2016.

Collins retired during the midst of the coronavirus pandemic in the spring of 2020. It was difficult to be physically apart from the students when GWU transitioned to online learning, but he took the challenge in stride and with a smile. He recalled why he transitioned to teaching after working within the church setting for many years. “I had always considered myself a teacher,” he emphasized. “I had always been drawn to university campuses. I just loved the atmosphere. I loved the exchange with students.”

He also loved the exchange with his coworkers. Collins experienced a unique community within the religion department at Gardner-Webb. He expressed the comradery and laughs the faculty shared even though they disagreed on theological and political matters.

During retirement, Collins dedicates his time to his favorite hobby—playing the mountain dulcimer. An author of numerous books on the subject, he performs and gives lessons. In 2007, he took home the national championship for playing the mountain dulcimer. He has also produced several collections of music, independently and in collaboration with other artists.

Collins and his wife have two children, Sean who lives in Huntersville, N.C., and Erin who lives with her husband in Shelby, N.C. In their free time, Dr. Collins and Pam travel and visit their family.

Source: Personal Interview—Claire Coile

Written by GWU 2020 alumna Claire Coile

Revised by Noel T. Manning II, May 2022

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