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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. David

    Here is my question to all boomer/hippies; what is it about your lives that you have always felt like it was not complete. I mean, every time one of you is in the news, you're starting up "something" as though your life is incomplete or missing something in the first place. You folks have been harping on this since the 60s. What is difficult to find about happiness? You're not going to find it in money, beginning a business, moving to Europe, or anything. You're always searching for something that does not exist. Why do you insist on making life so difficult? I love my life at 48 yrs old. I've worked hard to get here, I have an small cozy inexpensive home(read: no 3000 sq ft big foot home), great career and at this moment, I am relaxing on my couch, in my house, watching a Star Trek movie and reading CNN. See? That ain't so difficult. I don't feel the need to get stoned, discover the "fountain of youth" to be happy, or read tarot cards. It is what it is and life is what you make of it NOW. There is no hidden secret to life.

    February 13, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
    • David

      Only a complete idiot can be happy. Life is hard. Life is very difficult. We all have moments of happiness and joy but to be happy 24 hours a day you would have to be a mindless drooling idiot.

      February 13, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
  2. the view from Canada

    Is it better to be a rookie minister when you have gray hair? In short, no. The downside to coming to this later in life is two-fold. First, people give you credit for having more experience than you really do. The expectations are higher, with less permission to screw up (I had plenty of permission to screw up when I started at 25). Second, older (new) ministers tend to have a tougher transition from lay to ordained–they tend to operate in the same way they always have–and some are quite arrogant about it. Mostly, being an active lay person is poor preparation for ministry. And a third issue: ministry is exhausting. Starting such a challenging vocation at 55 or 60 seems unrealistic for all but a few people in that age bracket.

    February 13, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
  3. M

    I'm just surprised so many people are really that much into a human sacrifice cult. It's appalling, really.

    February 13, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
    • Catholic Feminist

      Nice try, but faith is so much more than your box supposes. I'm sorry you're so angry.

      February 13, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
  4. Artimus

    When I'm 50 I am going to open up an Italian restaurant to fulfill my lifelong Pastafarian dreams.

    February 13, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • Noodly

      Ramen!

      February 13, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
  5. Andrea E

    Maybe the prospect of trying to live on their savings plus social security is fueling this boomlet.
    Religious leaders can get a place to live, and three squares a day.
    Beats living on macaroni and cat food.
    While I don't doubt that these older citizens like their religion, and think they can contribute to society through it, I also think that the recession, the difficulty older people have getting jobs, has far more to do with it than "baby boomers" suddenly getting some spiritual enlightenment as a group.
    When the economy rebounds this trend will not likely continue.

    February 13, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
    • W247

      My pastor doesn't get free room/board and food?

      February 14, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
  6. 33 year old Episcopal Priest

    When I went to a Noetheast Episcopal Seminary 10 years ago I felt like the majority of students were baby boomers but 9-11 came and many younger students flooded Harvard and Yale Divinity Schools (there is a NYT aricle out there about this subject) Seeking a more meaningful career. Now it looks like the tides are shifting again and baby boomers are the ones flooding the
    market. Watch out: in 10 years in will be the younger folk again. A good balance, I suppose.

    February 13, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
  7. Catholic Feminist

    Isn't it amazing how any conversation that even graces the topic of God can produce so much hatred and judgment? Best wishes to anyone who brave enough to enter theological studies. Your work is worthy of praise.

    February 13, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • David

      Catholic Feminist? Really? Now there’s a contradiction in terms. Talk about mutually incompatible.

      February 13, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
    • Catholic Feminist

      David, if you actually have a question, rather than an uninformed assumption, I'd be happy to converse.

      February 13, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
    • W247

      Actually had me thinking too, what is a Catholic Feminist? I will confess that I am not Catholic, however I follow Christ and His teachings.

      February 14, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
  8. MattyIce

    As long as they fall within the qualifications prescribed in I Timothy 3 it shouldn't matter that they are boomers. I attended an ATS seminary myself in my twenties and greatly appreciated all the diverse age groups, just like I saw beforehand in college. Going to school later in life is becoming more prevelant in all fields of study, not just theology.

    February 13, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
  9. CC

    David: if you are 48, you are a boomer too.

    February 13, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
    • David

      Technically you're correct, however, I am more like generation X in the way they think. My closest friends that I have grown up with since the 70s have discussed this generation over and over and we, for the life of us, can not understand our older brother's and sister's and they reflect every boomer we hear about in the news. We are nothing like them in behavior, thinking, work, and just plain life in general. I have a boss that is in his mid to late 50s and he acts just like a boomer/hippie and we do NOT get along. I don't like his way of thinking, management style, and his behavior is exactly what I expect from him for this generation. We will never see eye to eye on anything. He is argumentative and always thinks he is right. That is a boomer/hippie mentality.

      February 13, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
  10. Dave

    I am an early boomer currently involved in spiritual care as a voluteer in nursing homes and hospitals. I welcome the opportunity to engage in further seminary training so as to better prepare myself to effectively relate to the the needs of sick and elderly individuals. No, I'm not interested in becoming a preacher or priest, nor am I looking to increase my income. Also, I am not attempting to force religion down the throat of those who have chosen not to embrace it. However, if by attending seminary and attempting to improve my skills, I can be more effective in my service to people who value their faith, I will welcome the opportunity. Have a great day.

    February 13, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
  11. ???

    guilt?

    February 13, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
    • David

      "guilt". Now that was a perfect answer and you're probably right.

      February 13, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
    • Sean

      Yes, that's all it is, and I wonder if God is saying: "Why don't you just call me stupid!"

      February 14, 2011 at 4:53 am |
  12. sheetiron

    I love being one of the few 23 year old ministers at a pastors conferance.

    February 13, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
  13. Thinquer

    Why do you have to pay to go seminary to do the work of Christ? Original Christianity never had seminaries or received paychecks. Neither did they participate in war. Jehovah's Witnesses still follow that model today.

    February 13, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
    • W247

      Jesus was considered a Rabbi, He did teach in the temple. He was radical enough to take the teachings out of the temple and out to the people.

      February 14, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
  14. CEL1

    interesting comments from people who think we boomers are the source of today's problems. It was not us, but our parents, who caused the problems. They came thru the Great Depression and WW II and thought that because they had survived the depression and the Allies had won the war that God was somehow directing them to tell the Boomers every breath top take and what to believe and what not to. Consequently, the Boomers grew up confused and believed the Bible as taught by religious fundamentalists rather than taking it as a guidebook, not a rulebook. We Boomers are now in the process of trying to straighten out our own lives. Allow us the opportunity, please. You may need to do the same thing in the future.

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

      "trying to straighten out our own lives". Well that is nice. Meanwhile, WE have to try to straighten out your messes like the mentality of a public school principle having a 6 yr old arrested for bringing a plastic knife into school for her brownies and ice cream birthday party. Yep, thanks to you boomer's this is what we are left with. Or how about the mantra that you folks began in the early 80s with the idea that "disciplining your kids was illegal". Oh yeah, I remember THAT ONE being written in the press so often that now everyone really thinks it is true. But it isn't. Ask any first year law student and they'll tell you that discipline is legal (not the same as abuse) but thanks to the boomers, they used this excuse to abdicate their parental responsibilities and condone their whiny kids as being "cute". And now that is another mess that we have to deal with and that is the plethora of precious little snowflakes that throw temper-tantrums in public.

      February 13, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
    • tallulah13

      My parents were Depression-era kids. My dad served in the Korean War. Neither of them taught me much about religion, but they sure taught me about personal accountability, respect for others and honesty. We were also taught a work ethic.

      I think that many Boomers suffer from their own rebellion and self-indulgence. Too bad so many never grew up and are still looking for a parent, this time a supernatural one, to tell them they're special.

      February 13, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
  15. Will

    As a minister who attended seminary in my 20's, I must say that I value these older students and colleagues. I think they "may" often bring a professionalism and maturity that many younger ministers have to learn. However, in my seminary training and in my clinical pastoral education (hospital chaplaincy residency training), I have seen students in their 50's and 60's who bring great wisdom... and some who bring great insecurity, inflexibility, and a lack of humility. Those who are youngish often think they know more than they do, but Baby Boomers "may" be guilty of this as well. I hope this bumper brop of older seminaries, and their younger colleagues, are approaching the process with curiosity and a willingness to be challenged. Seminary sure ain't Sunday School! At least not at Wake Forest University...

    February 13, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
    • David

      Well I would say that having a lack of humility is the greatest down fall of the hippie/boomers. They have a never ending source of "I'm better, hear me roar" and obviously at this point in their age, it hasn't stopped. My friends and I have been trailing behind these aggravating folks since we were kids in the 70s and our older brothers are no different; what ever they think, they do, and it's always better than you and me. Fortunately now that I am 48, most of them at my place of work are retiring and are being replaced with 20-somethings and let me tell you, I could not be happier. These younger folk are happy, well-balanced, educated, non-materialistic, and open-minded and don't "YELL" at you just for asking a question. The sooner this generation retires, the better.

      February 13, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
  16. phoenix

    any moax can be a christian its being christlike.baby boomers are like elvis can t imagine them in nursing homes.

    February 13, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
  17. Newbie

    I don't often post comments online, but I felt compelled to say something after reading some of the conversation here. I have attended the same small Christian church for 25 years, and am a volunteer member of the staff in various capacities. My senior pastor, who is now 80 years of age, entered the seminary later in life, about 30 years ago. As a bookkeeper for the church, I have seen that both pastors on my church's staff regularly donate nearly all of their $250-per-month salary back to the church. No one but another bookkeeper and I know this. Our senior pastor lives in an apartment in his son's home, and our other pastor supports his family by working a regular full-time job as a factory manager. A family member of mine is on the church board and witnesses the pastors, who are also on the board, arguing year after year that they should not receive payment for their services. All other members of the church staff are volunteers. We do not offer "membership" in the church; individuals come as they please and support the ministry as they'd like. We do not pass around collection plates and have never asked for money. Our small congregation feeds hundreds of individuals every month through a partnership with our local school district. We also provide coats and clothing to local soup kitchens and our local county-run nursing home in the winter, and run a holiday toy drive for homeless children and families in crisis, also through the school district. Our pastors provide free counseling, not only to church members, but to anyone in the community who stops in. When necessary, especially in cases of substance or other abuse, the church staff connects those in need with professionals in the community who can help them. We do not push our beliefs upon those we help, but include a card with some of our donations that states the name of the church and that we believe Jesus Christ called us to serve others. We do not believe that our community work "saves" us or gives us a free pass to heaven; the members of our congregation and many other congregations around the world simply believe in being the best people we can be. Neither we nor our pastors are "saints," but I firmly believe we are doing far more good than harm. Not only am I helping others in what I do, but I am bringing enjoyment and contentment to myself as well. I wholly advocate criticism of my faith; I question my faith on a daily basis. Only the uneducated follow a belief system blindly and without question. I do not understand every facet of the Christian faith or any other for that matter, but I have found more reason to follow the teachings of Christ than to shun them. My pastors, both the mature and the young, certainly feel the same way.

    February 13, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
    • Bob Rock

      You seem to be a person with an agenda. You don't really have to be religious to do any of the above. So, why associate yourself with a ridiculous, fraudulent scam?

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

      Newbie, that was well said and very inspiring. God bless your church. I don't know why so many people on these comments boards have such hate - they have an obvious need to mock Christians and Jesus. It makes me sad.

      February 13, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
    • Newbie

      Bob, I do not consider myself to be a religious person. However, I try to be good, ethical, and moral. As a student of the Judeo-Christian Bible for many years, I have come to the conclusion that my God does not expect religious adherance to rules other than the laws of the land in which we live. Over and over, the Bible teaches that we are imperfect and can never be "holy," although we can try, as I said, to be the best people we can. I feel that Christ provided an excellent example of a good, ethical, and moral life, and that pure Christianity is neither ridiculous nor fraudulent. In college philosophy classes, I often found myself backing up my positions with Scripture. Many philosophers have devised standards for determining if an action is right or wrong, but I have found the Bible to be a useful written standard for decision making. However, don't expect me to sit and pray the rosary or recite the Lord's Prayer at random.

      February 13, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
    • Mark

      Very well put. Very inspiring also.

      @Bob Rock...
      Your comments are so typical of your kind (and disgusting).

      "You seem to be a person with an agenda". Duh....yeah I think he/she spelled out what the agenda was. To help others.

      "You don't have to be religious to do any of the above".

      I don't recall reading the part where he/she said that you had to be. But, go ahead and lay out for us in detail exactly what you're doing to help those around you that may not be as fortunate. C'mon let's have it. If your non-religion is doing as much for those around you and "Newbie's" religion is, then by all means, share it with us.

      That's what I expected.....

      You're spiritually BLIND!!

      February 13, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
    • Noah Tall

      Mark,

      Ahem. You asked Bob Rock a question... and then you answered it for him... ?!

      February 13, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
    • ExLDS

      While I salute your church for the good work it does with the homeless, you should honor the man of God and give him more than a $250.00 per month salary. If he wants to donate it back, fine. When you honor him, God will honor you and you'll even have more opportunities to feed the homeless, etc...

      February 13, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • Newbie

      Thanks for the input, DG and Mark.

      Although I believe Christianity leads us to peacefully serve those around us, it is true that many people through the centuries have taken Christ's teachings and manipulated them. In the name of Jesus Christ, millions have been tortured, killed, robbed, and deceived. One doesn't need to be affiliated with a religion to do any of these things either. But study the Scriptures: Where did Jesus Christ teach that we should torture, kill, rob, or deceive? While any discussion of Christianity's benefits would be incomplete without mention of the negativity associated with it, I have found that true Christianity leads us to peacefully and lovingly serve others, and to serve and worship the God who made us. I have not always been a Christian, but I feel I live a happier, more fulfilling life as a follower of Christ.

      February 13, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
    • Newbie

      ExLDS, our pastors received higher salaries before the recession hit and donations dropped. When money became tight two Christmases ago, the board finally gave in to the pastors' demands and lowered their salaries so needed services could continue. I certainly agree that the pastors deserve more and that the ministry will prosper if our funds are effectively managed.

      February 13, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
    • Mark

      @Noah Tall...

      Ahem......yeah.....I know that. Becasue I'm quite sure I already know that answer. But, kudos to you for being so astute.

      Just in case I've been too presumptious.....Bob Rock, do you:
      1. Volunteer you time in various capacities (that means doing productive things without accepting payment)?
      2. Partner with your local school district to feed hundreds of people each month?
      3. Provide coats or clothing to people who have none?
      4. Run Holiday toy drives for homeless kids?
      5. Provide free couseling to people both in and outside your core group? (No, telling religious people on this website they're stupid for beleiving in God doesn't count).

      If these things do characterize your life, then please do accept my apologies.

      February 13, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
    • Noah Tall

      Mark,

      I hope that Bob Rock sees this, but in the meantime, I'll add my $.02...

      I have no leadership qualities, so I don't 'run' anything, but I have been a pretty good helper:

      1. Have volunteered for 18 years in school classrooms and at the library, helping to foster kind, educated citizens.
      2. Give all unneeded clothing to The Salvation Army.
      3. Assist a local service club in their Christmas parties/gift presentations to needy children. Also, "Angel" trees, etc.
      4. Donate $ as I can to various charities.
      5. Volunteered in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts

      I'm sure there's more, but I don't have time to scour my brain right now... also, I do think that offering input on boards like these is helpful to assist people to get their heads on straight and to accept reality.

      February 13, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
    • Mark

      @Noah Tall...

      I commend you. Truly I do, no sarcasm intended at all. Those are all admirable things and all praise worthy.

      I really do agree. I don't think people have to be religious to be "good" and do "good" things. My only point was that it's kinda unfair to make the comment that because someone is doing something in affiliation with their church or because of their faith, that they have some kind of hidden "agenda". Especially since the person making the comment seems to have some personal "beef" with Christians or religion in general.

      February 13, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
    • Newbie

      Great discussion. I listed the services my church provides in an effort to show how an faith-based organization can be a positive influence in its community. I don't believe one has to be a person of faith to be a "good person." It just makes it easier for me. All around, I feel that I and others have benefited from from my choice to follow Christ.

      One last note: Noah, those are all excellent achievements. Did you know that the Salvation Army and Prison Fellowship, which runs the Angel Tree program, are Christian organizations? Many charitable organizations exist for some of the same reasons my church exists.

      My apologies for a discussion that is only loosely associated with this article. Good night and God bless.

      February 13, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
  18. Ltrain

    Can't the baby boomers just shut up and retire already? Im sick to death of hearing how awesome they are. They're the reason the US is so fooked up right now.

    February 13, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
    • Parkerman

      Thanks for the tolerant and compasionate comment. Baby Boomers still have a lot of life to live so it is unfair of your hateful comment.

      February 13, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
    • cpg35223

      Actually, he has a point. Baby Boomers are pretty much the biggest bunch of narcissists ever to come down the pipe, and I'm one of them. They're the generation of locusts, consuming everything in their path and leaving chaos in their wake.

      February 13, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
    • David

      We are fully aware of this Parkerman, no need to tell us something that we already know. But assuming you're a boomer/hippie, you'll be intent on telling us that anyway as it makes you feel superior. But I know one thing; in the next few years, we will all be suddenly force-fed some new initiative by the boomer/hippie as it comes down to us through the news. Probably some new idiotic management style that pushes us to work naked. The latest initiative is trying to force the legalization of marijuana. Gee, like none of us didn't see this coming forty years ago. LOL.

      February 13, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
    • George Morris

      They should have left you on a Picnic Napkin, what a waste of sperm.

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

    just like me-–they're

    February 13, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
  20. Observer

    The Seminary is charging the ex-nurse $100,000 to learn how unimportant money was to Jesus. They are sure showing her.

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

      Seminaries are expensive to run. Yes, money was unimportant to Jesus. Nonetheless he still paid his taxes, etc.

      February 13, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
    • rohn

      however, these seminaries don't have to pay taxes

      February 13, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • Zargoth

      Thank you!

      February 13, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • Daniel

      The most important thing she will probably learn in seminary is just how unimportant and unnecessary seminary is for understanding the Bible, even if she is fortunate enough to have chosen a seminary where the professors still believe the Bible. Most Bible scholars and professors in seminaries today do not.

      February 13, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
    • cpg35223

      Well, you have to pay faculty, keep buildings open, maintain libraries, employ janitors, etc. Why kind of cosseted bubble do you live in, anyway?

      February 13, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      Daniel,
      Choose a good Catholic Seminary....ask Scott Hahn which one is the best.

      February 14, 2011 at 7:44 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.