Being a member of the clergy does not mean that Farren Watt cannot have long flowing curls and red lips and wear heels that would give other people a fear of heights.
In fact, when she applies her make-up and chooses her outfit, it is not for an evening out with her friends, but to stand behind the pulpit and preach the Word in the Uniting Reformed Church (URC), Lamberts Bay on the West Coast.
Now she has another pulpit: TikTok.
The 26-year-old native of Springbok in the Northern Cape says she originally wanted to become an actress, but her parents, Anne and Desmond, did not think that was a stable career.
When her matric marks were not good enough to study law, she gave theology a chance. Her idea of acquiring enough credits in her second year at Stellenbosch University to switch to a law degree came to nothing.
She says:One thing I learn repeatedly and I always preach is, if the Lord has a plan for you, He won’t leave you until you fulfil that plan.
Watt believes that her open support for the LGBTIQ+ community contributed to her having to wait six months for a pastoral posting.
“Then URC Lamberts Bay came [in 2019] and they took a chance and called me. It was a great opportunity, as the previous pastor, Reverend Johnny Phillips, had been here for 42 years.”
All the staunch church members still have a photo of “Papa Johnny” – who died six months after he stepped down – in their living rooms.
Nevertheless, the congregation welcomed Watt with open arms.
“The church council here – and even the majority of the congregation – leave me to be myself. The church council gives me an opportunity to make mistakes and doesn’t throw them back in my face, but rather says: ‘Reverend, let’s try it like this next time.’
“They really allow me to live out my ministry. Of course, not everyone does. There’s a group who hates me and prays for me to leave, but you’ll always have those,” she says.
When Covid-19 struck and the congregation’s services were streamed online, Watt’s “whole life” changed.
“I never realised how large a group of people we could reach. That was where my love of social media began. At first, we only did the voice-overs. Then I started showing my face,” she says.
Watt now has 63 000 followers on TikTok, where she shows her “team” how normal her life as a pastor is.
In addition to sermons, church bazaars and meetings, she also shows off her growing collection of shoes.
Her fiancé, Constable Bradley Cloete, also occasionally makes an appearance in her videos.
This kind of openness, Watt believes, breaks down the separation that often exists between a pastor and their congregation members.
“I’m friends with my people, but there’s still respect. Of course, everyone has their own style. Everyone has their own way of doing things, but I feel pastors need to get off their high horses and realise that they’re not God; they’re human, just like everyone else,” she says.
“One thing I should have learnt early in my ministry was that I’d have to become less. I must also give the people who’re here the opportunity to grow with me. I mustn’t be in a hurry to change. I have to take them with me on the journey, so that they change with me. Patience is a big deal in the ministry,” says Watt adding:I also had to realise that I wasn’t going to save an entire congregation within a year – and the entire congregation doesn’t need the salvation I think I want to bring.