Pretty Little Minister

20070826_1314a“Well, aren’t you a pretty little minister? How old are you?”

The grey-haired piano tuner had met me on the steps of the church, in the small New England town where I was serving, so I could unlock the big wooden doors and he could tune our grand piano.

Bristling, I told him: “Twenty-four.”  Then defensively: “How old are you?”

Surprised but game, he responded: “Seventy-two!”

I will turn forty this year. I went to seminary and was ordained almost ten years ago, but people still make comments about my age. I admit: I have a youthful face, I’m blond, and I tend not to wear make-up or spend much time on my hair. But over the years, I’ve noticed that it doesn’t matter if I’m wearing make-up, if my hair is long or cut short, or if I’m wearing a collar: I look younger than I am and probably always will.


One Christmas Eve at St. Benedict, an unfamiliar older couple came through the front door and I heard the woman say to her husband, “Look, there’s their priest! The one who looks like a teenager!”

In my first few years of ordained ministry, when I was struggling to claim that new identity, it hurt when people made comments about my age. Parish priesthood was hard enough without being reminded that I didn’t look the part. I tried to play it cool, but probably sounded as defensive as I felt, responding with things like, “Yeah, I get that a lot,” or “Well, I’m older than I look,” or “Jesus said ‘a little child shall lead them!’”


Sometimes, I get frustrated that it matters to me when people comment on my appearance and age. It’s nothing personal, right? I don’t look like a classic “Pastor,” and people often are so surprised that they can’t help but express it out loud.

Fr. Bing Crosby

It’s a cultural reality: there are not many clergy in the world or in the media who look like me. There are not many leaders or spiritual guides in the world or the media who look like me (except maybe yoga teachers?). It may be unreasonable to expect people to see leadership in my face as quickly as they would in a greying, 55-year old male face. Instead of lamenting that people think I’m a teenager, why not accept that fact and get on with it?


I feel like a whiner, writing this post. Since this blog is about my Vicarhood (?), however, I include as a signifiant part of my experience as a pastor. Encountering this reaction from people is a constant part of my life and the lives of many other young clergy women (and men, I imagine). I have aunts and female cousins who are also young-looking and they get this kind of reaction in their line of work, too – nursing, business, government, psychology, academia.

Are there benefits to looking so young? As much as it rankles me to admit, there may be. Older female priests face other prejudices that I don’t – I probably seem fresh, energetic, and less likely to be domineering or grumpy. (Let me assure you that this is not the case!) Could coming across as open, approachable, sweet, kind, and huggable be an asset in my line of work? Could my bossy tendencies seem less threatening because of my blond hair and child-like face?

I have a feeling my parish actually likes having a cute, girly priest as their pastor and Fearless Leader. 

CSB Easter-56

Maybe that seventy-two year old piano tuner was right: I am a “pretty little minister.” I bring wisdom, bravery, and leadership to my work but I also bring myself: blond hair, teenage-face, and all.

I am grateful to serve in a place where the whole of me is welcomed and respected and I hope that, one day, when any of us meet young pastors, male or female, (or doctors, nurses, managers, professors, and the like) there will be no need for exclamations of surprise or disbelief.



  1. Catherine Scott says:

    I too was ordained (deacon) at 24 and lived through a lot of what you describe – only I was one of the very first women to be ordained in the Episcopal Church. I’ve been a priest for over 36 years now, and I am getting a tiny bit more respect these days. I remember meeting a parishioner for the first time who said “Oh – you must be a little younger than my granddaughter.” Trouble was – she was right. Her granddaughter WAS older than me. The library in town was inside the High School. I was invited onto the board. When I showed up for the first meeting, the librarian asked me for my hall pass. Two of my acolytes were in the library at that time and nearly got booted out for laughing. These things stopped happening when I was about 50. Only 10 more years for you! 🙂

  2. This is lovely, and as one new to accepting that women may, indeed, pastor, it is refreshing to hear your sweet, wise perspective. I’m glad I’ve found you.

  3. Barbara Kohnhorst says:

    Heidi – I love your blog. The truth is, you look exactly the same as the day I met you. Sorry. I think that is countered by the fact that you have always been wise beyond your years.

  4. Barbara Vaughan says:

    Heidi. Your blog is wonderful. Whenever we are back in town we look forward to a visit with you and hopefully have time to spend at your services.

  5. Jim Harrison says:

    “It may be unreasonable to expect people to see leadership in my face as quickly as they would in a greying, 55-year old male face.” And it would be oh so wrong to not! (Type the fingers of a graying, 58-year old male who knows you to be an inspiration for his own ministry.)

  6. I was still getting carded at your age. 🙂
    But at 50ish I let my hair go grey, and no one calls me “young lady” anymore. I must admit I miss it…a little bit.

  7. Back in 2001 I was teaching a kindergarten class and a youngster wandered up to me and gurgled “Hi my grandmother was your student.” Never knew what to say except ” tell your grandmother Hi.” stuff like that sorta sneaks up on you.

  8. I was a young (27 year old) pastor in my first solo call, and I said to an older colleague, “people keep saying I look too young to be a pastor, and it’s super annoying.” She laughed and said, “Oh, they don’t mean you look young, that’s just sexism!” I’ve never forgotten that.

  9. I was ordained at 49 and am now 70. I don’t mind if people think I look younger then the, but I still bristle when men twenty years my junior get patronizing. Just enduring that now with one who is sure he knows process and procedure better than me, and is checking it out with the former minister to see if I am wrong. Am I wrong to bristle? Nah, don’t think so….

  10. Roy Nilsen says:

    Regardless of facial features, height, hair color, or age our Lord creates each of us in his own perfect way. The only feature that matters is our heart and how it responds to God’s calling. Your continued response to that call demonstrates that every part of your being is just as it should be.

  11. Alison Lane-Olsen says:

    I enjoyed reading your post! I was ordained at the age of 26 – I’m 37 now. So many similar comments and experiences…and I was very sensitive to it at first. I’ve found there to be a lot of positives, particularly in engaging the children. Every day is a blessing and I wouldn’t want to rush any part of the earthly life I’ve been gifted with. Thank you!

  12. Get over yourself. People make idle chatter and think they’re being nice/gracious. They also make similar remarks to the men. Difference is the men shrug it off. Women let it fester. If I had a half pence every time someone stated something ridiculous along the same lines I’d have more money than Queen Elizabeth.