Senior Pastor
Rev. Paul Helphinstine

Paul Helphinstine is originally from Plainfield, Indiana, and though he has lived in East Tennessee for nearly 25 years, and loves it by the way, he still considers himself a Hoosier. The same can’t be said for his wife Emily, originally from Kingsport, and his sons John and Isaac who, despite Paul’s best efforts, are born and bred Volunteers.  Paul grew up as a member of Plainfield Christian Church, part of the Independent Christian Churches, and, upon the advice of his youth sponsor, decided to attend Milligan College in 1995. It was at Milligan that Paul and Emily met, fell in love, and got married.  Paul majored in History and minored in English at Milligan, graduating in 1999 with secondary education certification. Upon graduation, he went to work as an eighth grade teacher at Science Hill High School. After teaching for a year, Paul returned to Milligan College as the Assistant to the President working throughout the Mid-Atlantic, Tennessee, and the Southeast in large-gift fundraising and institutional advancement.  After three years of working at Milligan, Paul began sensing God’s call to ministry. He answered that call and began attending Emmanuel School of Religion (now Emmanuel Christian Seminary at Milligan College) in the spring of 2002. In the fall of that year Paul was hired as the Director of Student Ministries at First Presbyterian Church in Johnson City. Paul and Emily, and eventually John in 2004, loved their time at First Presbyterian, spending nearly seven years there. Isaac was born just one month before leaving First Presbyterian.  It was while at First Presbyterian that Paul completed his Master of Divinity degree at Emmanuel and completed his ordination exams for the PC(USA). In March of 2009, Paul received a call from Harrison Christian Church, part of his home denomination, in Johnson City and served as the pastor there until May of 2013.During his time at Harrison, Paul realized a strong desire to return to the PC(USA), missing the connectional nature of the church. With the help of the Committee on Ministry of the Holston Presbytery, he officially transferred his ordination to the PC(USA) in 2013.In May of 2013, Paul received a call to serve as the pastor for Covenant Presbyterian Church in Johnson City where he has served until accepting the call to be the Lead Pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Johnson City.

Paul currently serves as the moderator of the Holston Presbytery Committee on Ministry. He also serves on the Campus Ministry Committee and the Nominations Committee for the Presbytery. He was the Holston Presbytery’s Teaching Elder Commissioner to the 223rd General Assembly in St. Louis in 2018, and currently serves on the General Assembly’s Per Capita Based System of Funding and Reviewing National Church Financial Sustainability Special Committee.  Emily is the Literacy Coordinator for the Kingsport City Schools, and recently completed a second Master’s degree in school administration at the University of Tennessee as a Fellow in UT’s Leadership Academy. John is at Dobyns-Bennett High School where he is a member of the DB Marching Band and the DB Golf Team. Isaac is at Andrew Johnson Elementary School where he is a member of the Lighthouse Team and a member of the school’s Destination Imagination Team that placed third in the state of Tennessee last year.


Associate Pastor
Rev. Khayla Johnson

I was born and raised in Charleston, South Carolina. I was born into a large family and raised in the Presbyterian tradition. I am the oldest of three children with a younger sister and a younger brother. My family means a lot to me, and they are a daily source of encouragement in my life. For as long as I can remember, my family has been a part of the Presbyterian faith tradition. At one point in my life I was worshiping in the same church as my great grandmother. On any given Sunday you can see four generations of my relatives worshipping together. I am a sixth generation Presbyterian. My family is a unique Christian family that understands the values of the faith tradition and teaches them to their children and grandchildren. I grew up in Saint James Presbyterian Church USA in Charleston, South Carolina. My mother and grandmother introduced me to church and helped nurture my relationship with God. When I was younger, I was always involved in the church, so I was taught a lot about who Christ is and what he did for us. My grandmother made sure that we went to church every Sunday and most days took us to Sunday school as well. As I grew older, I began to understand who Christ is to me and how much I loved him. This led me to Columbia Theological Seminary, where I graduated in May 2019.

Before entering into seminary, I knew I was called to work in youth and young adult ministry. I knew how the much relationships at that point in my life meant to me, and I knew I was wired to do that work well. I am still passionate about the need for the right person to do that work long term, especially in a time when we see a gap in the ages of those who attend church. After spending years being pushed and learning about my leadership skills, I am beginning to see my ministry expand. I am passionate about the work of social justice and advocating for those around me. I am passionate about the importance of teaching in the church and how that will help individuals deepen their relationships with God. God has called me to lead. God has called me to preach, teach, and build up communities. I am called to proclaim the Word of God in a variety of places.

My hobbies and interests include photography, drawing, and sports. Photography gives me a chance to capture authentic moments of people whether it’s good or bad – seeing people in ways they don’t see themselves and giving people these memories to look back on with friends and family. I enjoy spending time behind a camera, rather than being in front of one. I have used photography in seminary to create the We Are Columbia photo exhibit. Drawing takes me back to my child-like imagination of just drawing whatever I want and expressing myself. Sports are more like a stress reliever to run around and play like a kid enjoying the company of other people. I spent my seminary career coaching 6-year olds in soccer each week with the YMCA. In addition, I find these are ways to build relationships with a variety of people. I am interested in the ways we can express ourselves, instead of just sitting in a room talking.

For the last two years I have been a Resident minister at First Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor, Michigan. This pastoral residency has given me the opportunity experience full time ministry, as I gain practical knowledge about how to lead a church. I have also been learning how to be practical and innovative in the midst of a pandemic. In addition, it has challenged my understanding of leadership within a cultural context that is different from my own. I have enjoyed the opportunity to learn among a cohort of peers and believe I am ready for the next adventure.