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Baby boomers flood seminaries
February 13th, 2011
06:00 AM ET

Baby boomers flood seminaries

In the 2002 film, “The Rookie,” actor Dennis Quaid plays a middle-aged high school baseball coach who tries out for a major league baseball team.

The movie’s plot line is now being replicated at the nation’s seminaries. A growing number of baby boomers are entering seminaries to take their last shot at fulfilling a lifelong dream, a recent article suggests.

Melba Newsome says in a Time magazine article that the nation’s seminaries are enjoying a baby boomers boom - the 50-or-older demographic group is the fastest-growing demographic at U.S. divinity schools, according to the Association of Theological Schools (ATS).

Seminaries tend to be dominated by the under-30 crowd, but the baby boomer group has surged from 12 percent of all seminary students in 1995 to 20 percent in 2009, according to the Association of Theological Schools, Newsome said.

Some of the boomers decided to enter the ministry after being laid off or  stalling in their careers, but some of their decisions go deeper Newsome said.

Maybe older divinity students – no longer saddled with their children’s tuition or big mortgages to pay off – are motivated by a newfound freedom to pursue their lifelong passions.

They include students include Patrice Fike, 64, who is using $100,000 of her savings from her career in pediatric nursing to enroll at the Episcopal Church’s General Theological Seminary in New York City, Newsome writes.

Fike said she was surprised to see so many seminary students who were her age.

It felt good to see so much gray hair.

The article said that many of the boomer seminarians thought of entering the ministry when they were young, but career, family and mortgages got in the way.

But, like Quaid’s character in “The Rookie,” they didn’t want to keep living with regret.

Fike told Newsome:

This is what I’ve wanted since I was 8 years old.

The article brought a question to my mind, though. In athletics, age is a liability.  Older athletes lose strength and flexibility.

But could old age equip people to be better ministers?

For example, how can a young minister who has never been married or had children or even lost many friends to death counsel grieving couples?

And might an older minister do better at dealing with the temptations of ego, sex, and money?

Is it better to be a rookie minister when you have gray hair?

- CNN Writer

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Church • Education

soundoff (459 Responses)
  1. learner

    Maybe the boomers are simply growing up.

    February 13, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
    • fsmgroupie

      no -there just going senile

      February 13, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Maybe..... Naaaahhh. They've just realized their mortality and have become afraid. That's usually the time when casual faith gets more serious. Some people require a parental figure to look to when they get scared, even if it's just a supernatural sky daddy.

      February 13, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      tallulah13,
      So many atheists are obsessed with their death....always bring it up.... or the other thing they are obsessed with is their money....what causes that?

      February 14, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
  2. jose amarillo

    According to St Paul, how can a man rule the household of God if he doesn't have his kids under subjection (1Tim. 3:5)?
    Then again, who knows if the other of Paul's prerequisites come into the play, e.g. blamelessness, for the older cohort.
    Wouldn't it be ironic if these older folk finally make it to seminary but learn lotsa pragmatic stuff but nothing from the Word, or worse, lose their faith in the Scriptures for all their dreams coming true?

    February 13, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      jose amarillo,

      It does not mean that a bishop must be married and have children…it just means that if a bishop is married he needs to be a good father to his family….which would mean ruling with discipline and love.
      None will lose their faith if they attend a seminary where they teach the Truth.

      February 14, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
  3. Paul

    It is perhaps more about one's own mortality and spirituality than anything else.

    February 13, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
    • Vic

      Yes! You are exactly right!! Until people become older they don't think as much about mortality and spirituality (this applies to most people).

      February 13, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
  4. Michael

    Hold on. This article doesn't say that more people are entering seminaries overall. It says that the percentage of seminary attendees over 50 years old has increased. This could just mean that fewer young people are entering, so the ratio of young vs. old has changed. This makes sense in light of the latest PEW report that says fewer than 20% of 18-29 year olds attend church regularly.

    February 13, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
  5. Reality

    And to put a final nail into Christianity:

    From that famous passage: In 1 Corinthians 15 St. Paul reasoned, "If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith."

    "Heaven is a Spirit state" as per JPII and Aquinas i.e. there can be no bodies. i.e. there was and never will be any physical resurrection/ascension of human bodies."

    And is it not ironical that JPII along with Aquinas are the ones who put finality to the words "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is useless."

    February 13, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
    • Bob Rock

      Give Christ one bloody Mary and he will be "raised". It's just a matter of the right chemistry!

      February 13, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
  6. fsmgroupie

    love me for i am a god ( i don't need your love for i am a god ) but if you don't love me i will burn your a$$ in hell for millions and billions and trillions of eons to the godzillionth degree-– but i love you

    lmao-– how can any thinking person believe this garbage?

    February 13, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • Jeremy

      I really like your use of the word "godzillionth" 🙂

      church is a crutch that many people need in order to get themselves out of bed in the morning. They think that this life sucks so much that they can't wait to die and go to heaven... but the sad thing is, they waste all the time and effort going to church and spreading their lies to other people only to die and discintegrate into dust like the rest of us.

      February 13, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • momto2

      wonders never cease!!!!!

      February 13, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      Jeremy,
      ..............into dust like the rest of us.................? Maybe not.........................
      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F7uPLx8PM8c&w=640&h=360]

      February 14, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
  7. JimmyJames

    What a remarkably weak lead-in... The story of "The Rookie" is only distantly related to the trend of older people changing into one specific career... not to mention the fact that the career discussed here is starkly different than professional baseball. Somebody was short on time, creativity or both.

    February 13, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
  8. Dr Bill Toth

    This is not surprising for two reasons or more. First, there has been a general shift towards values – value based leadership, value based businesses, value based home life, etc etc. (for which I am grateful) And second, it appears that the mainstream media has done an effective job of portraying "business" and "money" as the root of all evil. I am curious to see what happens when these folks graduate and discover that a "church" is – in part – a business that requires money to operate. Live With Intention, DrBillToth.com/blog

    February 13, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
  9. Bob Rock

    There must be a lot of aging pedophiles out there! Heck, there's still a chance!

    February 13, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
  10. George Morris

    I knew there was something in me that was greater than me when I was 4 yrs old, I had never read a bible or been to a church. I have empathy for individuals who feel they are one throw of the dice from winning the lottery of life. I'm not mad at you because "many are called few are chosen", I'm overjoyed that I came here with instructions.

    February 13, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
  11. Mike

    Maybe it's just easier and cheaper to go to seminary than to get a college degree. It's far easier and cheaper to explain emotion and chaos and understand the world with supernatural belief than with science, after all. The boomers are giving in as the world gets more complicated and scary around them. Hopefully their fairy dust ideology and theories don't rub off on the younger generation.

    February 13, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
    • W247

      So you think it is easier to spend a lot of money on an education where you know you will be ridiculed, judged, called horrible and names by a society that wants to have nothing to do with you? or perhaps, finally becoming older and wiser they understand what the Truth is versus the selfish lives that they were formally living? I give them more credit and respect for going back to school and standing up for what they believe in while living in a hostile world.

      February 14, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
  12. Sam

    Zane: Jesus got right up in the faces of the religious leaders and called them on their legalistic adherence to man-made doctrine because they were so caught up in their rules they were missing the point. It IS all about God's pursuit of our hearts and about our relationship with Him. Walking in love and living lives of integrity breaks down the barriers that man-made religion has created. Jesus did not come to create yet another religion – He came to bring reconciliation with the Father.

    February 13, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
    • tommas

      Well he definitely failed if that was his goal.

      February 13, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
    • Sam

      Jesus didn't fail in that He brought that truth – and was a living demonstration of it. We failed to 'get it' – that it is simply about accepting the Father's love, accepting His son's message, and demonstrating their kind of love in our everyday lives. We make it so complex with our denominational rigidity, creating walls and animosity.

      February 13, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      Sam,
      You forget that Jesus was a Man, a divine man, a man just like everyone else except He was sinless. You talk ‘man-made religion’ as a put down to religion…but Jesus founded His Church and inst!tuted His Sacraments and Called and Sent His Apostles… yes, and it is all wrapped up the Catholic Faith.

      February 13, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
    • Dan

      CatholicMom: I don't think Jesus needs a particular church to let people know who he is. If that is what you believe, you would do well to look at what he said to the Pharisees who assumed that because they were descended from Abraham that their interpretation of the Scriptures and the attendant traditions were the correct ones. Just because one in older does not mean that one is correct.

      February 13, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • Sam

      OMGoodness....denomination branding (Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, etc...) creates walls and lack of unity in the body. We need less of the "my religion's better than your religion", less ritualistic, rigid behavior and more one-on-one honest, transparent relationship with the Father. I'm a Christian – not a demonation – seeking right relationship with my Creator.

      February 13, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
    • W247

      Sam – you are spot on!

      February 14, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      Dan and Sam,

      I am sorry to have to disagree with you, but Jesus DID want a particular Church to let people know who He is, and He founded it; He prayed… ‘let them be One in me’. He did not say there are many paths or ways; no, there is only One way, One Truth, One Holy Spirit, One Church; or if I am wrong about this….which Truth is the Truth given by the Holy Spirit? Please, don’t tell me that He gave out 38,000 differing Truths….NO! There is only ONE! He said His yoke is light and easy for those who choose it. For those who do not, the path becomes winding, twisting, and all up hill.

      It is so like some Christians to see the error of the ‘way’ that they have been on, the 38,000 differing ‘ways’, all springing from the first break-away from the Catholic Church about 500 years ago, and now they want to reject ‘religion’ and go it alone….each with his Bible…each with his own interpretation of the Bible…because they see the dilemma….which ‘community’ to choose…how can I find the ONE, they wonder….so they have decided to go it alone. They surely can’t choose Mother Church, after all, they heard all those bad things about it from their pastors in their ecclesial communities…so which denomination should they choose? So, they choose themselves…they become their own Pope and do not need their ‘Church Family’. As Sam said, he doesn’t like the ‘my religion is better than your religion’ stance. It may not be his fault that there are so many to choose from…but it isn’t the Catholic Church’s fault either that they keep splitting and splitting….and splitting.

      Yes, take a look at the Pharisees and….wonder why Jesus had a plan for ALL people and wonder why so many stray from His Way after learning that there is a Road Map…..they still think ‘their’ way is just fine. No one says that just because something is ‘the oldest’ that that is what makes it ‘the Way’…. if that were true we would still be living with Scripture with no New Testament.

      Jesus was born as a little helpless child. He shows us the need for family. He called His Apostles together as His brothers…He calls us to Him and each other as His holy family in the Body of Christ and in His Communion of Saints of which we all are members through our Baptism. But some want to go it their own way…not His.

      Pride is our #1 enemy….it prevents us from doing what we know is right. It allows greed to flourish in our hearts. Hatred stems from pride. It all causes a spiraling downward and outward and away from ‘togetherness and home’. The farther we roam from home the harder it becomes to see Jesus in our neighbor and life becomes more about ‘me’ with no thoughts about our sisters and brothers….children of God.

      I know so many dear people who are struggling with themselves, their families, their pride….it is not easy when one is off the Path.

      February 14, 2011 at 7:05 pm |
    • W247

      Catholic Mom – How many different people do we need to pray to? Is Jesus not enough to take care of all of our needs?

      February 15, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  13. dave

    "Baby boomers flood seminaries" What kind of seminaries? The only one mentioned here is Episcopal. What about Catholic, Orthodox, charismatic, evangelical, Mormon? Are they seeing the same trends, same proportion of 50+ year olds? Do other religions (Muslim, Buddhist) see the same trend? What seminaries are in the "Association of Theological Schools" who gave the numbers in the article? Please, more details please.

    February 13, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
    • mormon?

      mormons are idiots. It shouldn't even be considered a religion.

      February 13, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
  14. Bob Rock

    I understand a lot of out-of-work atheists are now joining up. What the heck, you can't beat the money for a one hour speech every Friday! You don't have to be pious to be fraudulent!

    February 13, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
    • ohioboy

      The speech is given on Sundays, and if it is an hour long someone else will be in that pulpit soon.

      February 13, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    • momto2

      Amen to that!

      February 13, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
  15. Richard

    Hey Adrifter,

    The Jesus I believe in is alive and resurrected. Since you don't believe I guess you have no hope – enjoy this life because that is all you are given...unless you open your heart to Christ, then you got a shot.

    February 13, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
    • M0rMon

      Do you still believe the world is flat? no... and why is this? Science... yet you people take the word of folks living 2000+ years ago that say someone was crucified and then rose from the dead? Someone simply stole his body out of the grave...no angels...no nothing.

      Joseph Smith found golden tablets and translated them into the book of Mormon... Do you believe that? No? Why not? He did the same thing as people 2000+ years ago...he simply told people that God or an angel wouldn't let him prove to people that he had them... and idiots like you believe that kind of crap because they need a crutch to get through life.

      February 13, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Yes, that's the point: Enjoy this life because that's all you get. It's also all you really need, unless you are afraid of dying.

      You can enjoy life, try to do no harm and try leave the world in at least as good a condition as you found it. Then you cease to exist. What in the world is so horrible or undesirable about that?

      February 13, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
  16. bailoutsos

    They better start looking at "long term care" seminars. Less that half of them have anything planned.

    February 13, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
    • uscentral

      That was I was thinking. Now we know how the BBs are planning for their retirement. (Telling us how we should live our lives.) Very resourceful of them.

      February 13, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
  17. adrifter

    It never ceases to amaze me how so many people can believe something that is so blatantly contrived and false. But, if it makes them happy, the best of luck. Just stay away from me.

    February 13, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
    • Eric

      Happily.

      February 13, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
    • Bob Rock

      Well, even Hitler did a lot of good. He panned the present day freeways in Germany, for example.

      February 13, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
    • michael Roper

      Amen!

      February 13, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
    • Rofliamsmarterthanyou

      Such a hateful little atheist. Thank God the ones that don't spend their time online are smart enough not to dedicate their lives to something 'non-existent' and bashing it with hate. It's idiots like you that make me think maybe there is something to this whole God thing.

      February 13, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • Mark

      Yep, I know what you mean. It never ceases to amaze me either how people can blatantly ignore the fact that there's a Creator God responsible for all we see around us.

      Ya know, you can close your eyes and deny the obvious, but God has his existence independent of your philisophical point of view. Your lack of belief doesn't negate his existence anymore than your lack of belief in the force of gravity would keep you from breaking your neck if you dove off your house.

      You sound like ALL the other typical anti-God crowd that I see so often on this "Belief Blog" website. Trolling around looking for stories that are obviously pro-church or pro-Christian and then take the iniative to dive in and scream "stay away from me". Uh, excuse me but if your trying to stay away from Christians, you might wanna re-think your strategy.

      February 13, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
    • momto2

      Yep....as long as they live and let live.

      February 13, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
    • Bob

      “adrifter—
      It never ceases to amaze me how so many people can believe something that is so blatantly contrived and false.”

      Just so there’s no confusion, you are talking about anthropomorphic global warming correct?

      February 13, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
    • Mark

      @momto2...

      "Live and let live"...what does that mean exactly? I hear that a lot from people who are hostile to the Gospel message. The statement takes various forms...
      "Don't force your religion on me"...."Don't force your God down my throat"....etc etc. Invariably I always end up confused as to exactly what Christians are doing that is forcing anything upon you. When was the last time a band of Christians showed up at your house on Sunday morning and hauled you off kicking and screaming to church???? When was the last time you were forced to do anthing "religious"????

      The truth is NOT that you don't want Christians forcing anything upon you. The truth is that you find it offensive that Christians are around at all. How could a story about a middle aged man or woman going to seminary be construed to imply that they're "forcing" anything upon YOU.

      So, when you read stories about doctors, or lawyers, or car salesmen do you log on and start blogging about......"as long as they don't force me to buy a car!!".

      February 13, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
  18. Judit

    Wonderful! I am only 36, but I am so glad to hear that some older individuals decide to spend their time and money on service and not on selfish pursuits. Thank you!

    February 13, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
  19. JesusisLord

    My theology in 2 words: He's alive. I think it's great that people head to seminary but obedience is the best and only teacher one needs. Psalm 119:99.

    February 13, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
    • Sean

      I agree; I worry many of these folks put the carriage before the horse. Commit yourself to being like Christ in your own life before you endeavour to instruct others and make it the blind leading the blind.

      February 14, 2011 at 6:12 am |
  20. fsmgroupie

    how much is the take ( fleecing of the flock) should I decide to join up?

    February 13, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • Bob Rock

      There must be a lot of aging pedophiles out there! Heck, there's still a chance!

      February 13, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
    • B-man

      It gives cramming for the final a nice double meaning.

      February 13, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • jimbo

      Boomers are plagued by lay-offs (poverty) and a 51% divorce rate. The life of a priest, pastor, or minister is pretty 'cushy', and is a logical choice for anyone alone, poor, and with grown and scattered children. Most get a free car, prestige, and a fairly generous allowance for – what? – maybe 20 hrs of 'work' per week? Like I said; a very sweet deal, indeed.

      February 13, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.