Katherine Spearing worked in a church for years but was expected to take on more work than her male collegaues and her sermons were described as ‘cute’.
When my vocation was ministry, the stakes were high each time I received a speaking opportunity. If I had any hope of being invited back, I had to knock it out of the park. But I wasn’t just representing myself, I was representing every woman who wanted to communicate. The weight on my shoulders stemmed from knowing, because opportunities for women to teach, preach, and speak were so rare, I’d be assessed not by myself, but for the merit of all womankind.
For women in the spaces I worked, we had to be hyper focused on our biblical knowledge, because every word would be scrutinized for accuracy and precision. Next, we had to speak and teach coherently and be entertaining (let’s make it a good show so no one will pay attention to her female body).
I wasn’t just representing myself, I was representing every woman who wanted to communicate.
While I was a better communicator, with a proclivity for connecting with teenagers, my male counterparts in youth ministry rarely stepped aside to let me teach. They would take hours to prepare for their lessons every Sunday, often leaving me to pick up the bulk of the admin and discipleship work. If I was ever slotted to speak to the students, I had to fit my preparation time in with the rest of my tasks for the week. This meant on the weeks that I taught, I was often exhausted and under-prepared due to limited time and resources.
A friend of mine told me he spends nearly twenty hours every week preparing for his sermons. Granted, this friend is a remarkable preacher and I have to credit his dedication to the craft for most of his skill. Yet the only opportunities where I had even close to that amount of time to prepare were gigs outside of my workplace, when I was invited to be a guest at an event and had months to write and practice.
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Once, a pastor read a talk I was preparing to give to the staff. The only thing I remember from his feedback was: “This is cute.” I doubt he’d ever tell another man their lesson was “cute”.
When I shared with another woman on staff that I wanted more opportunities to teach, she reminded me that none of the male pastors got very much time because they all shared the pulpit. The message felt clear: I was selfish for wanting something the male pastors were scrambling for.
A pastor read a talk I was preparing to give to the staff and his feedback was: “This is cute.”
I no longer work for the institutional Church. After three painstaking years, I’ve created a space for my voice. I teach every week via a podcast. The number of times I am invited to speak or to write grows every year. I still battle imposter syndrome, a gift I received from my years on staff in churches. It is my opinion imposter syndrome isn’t a syndrome at all. Rather, it’s the feeling of inadequacy as the result of actual discrimination.
A part of me is grateful for how hard I had to work for opportunities to teach in the Church. I was under greater scrutiny, so it made me a better teacher. I couldn’t fall back on my gender and the support of a boys’ club. I had to stand on my own two feet. Just me and a mic and a sea of strangers.
I hope I continue to help create spaces where all humans are safe to fail and try new things. And I hope I continue to grow in giving myself compassion when my communication is just mediocre, relieving myself of the pressure and the weight I should have never had to bear.
You can listen to Katherine Spearing’s Uncertain podcast here.