“So, How Long You Been Outta High School?”

I’ve tried to be nice about it.  I’ve tried using it as a teaching moment.  I’ve tried to ignore it.  I’ve tried to ask a different question.  But after meeting someone (usually an older adult) and they learn I am a pastor, I hear all too often,

“So, how long since you’ve been outta high school?!”  or the similar, “You look like you’re 16!”  “Are you sure you’re old enough to be a pastor?”

Setting all snark aside, and with all due respect, I want to say this to people of older generations: Please, please, PLEASE stop asking questions like this to young professional women.  Just stop.  I realize that the person might be trying to be funny or may think it’s a compliment, or to connect with us, but please.  Stop and think about it.  Would you have said the same thing to a young male professional?

Young professional women are tired of feeling like we have to prove ourselves fit for ministry or our work by answering or responding to questions like this.  We are tired of having to verify our age, credentials, or education just so you can feel empowered by asking such a question.  Questions like this are disrespectful, hurtful, sexist, and are bridge burners instead of bridge builders.

After enjoying a conversation recently with an older gentleman whom I had just met, this question came.  He knew I was a pastor.  He knew I was sitting with some of the members of my congregation.  Yet he asked it anyway.  I immediately put a wall up.

Instead of asking this question or something similar to a young woman, why not ask about her ministry, her work as a pastor, her reasons for responding to God’s call upon her life?  If you’re so curious about her age, why not ask about where she went to school, or why, at a young age, did she go into ministry when there are a lot of pastors who do not go into ministry until later in life as second career? Or sometimes, it’s best just to say nothing at all.

As a young clergy woman, I want to build relationships with people of all ages and to be on this journey with them.  But when the older generation just cannot help themselves and makes comments like this, it makes it very hard.  The UMC has been ordaining women for 60 years, and I have a wonderful circle of young women clergy colleagues who are building the kingdom and the church, and we want to come alongside you.  So please, ask a different question.

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