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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. James

    Even though over ninety percent of the movie crowds didn't "Get it" in the recent movie the RITE. The movie actually explained the technique the Devil uses to entice his prey into his service. Few understand that the real devil is actually transformed as the good guys in this world. These hooked slaves then go about converting us into their obligated world with clever techniques of manipulation. Hey it works on the majority. I personally thank God that his Son of love set us free from all obligations to religion. We were never separated from God. But that's another story.

    February 13, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
  2. Carmine Monoxide

    Apparently the 'Boomers have hit rock bottom.

    February 13, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
    • Amanda Huggenkiss

      Absolutely. I think I'd turn to self-immolation as a source of fulfillment long before I tried seminary.

      February 13, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
  3. mttrailboss

    I wish within the story, they would have listed the 'Top 10' seminaries, that baby boomers are attending. That also would have been interesting. As for the comments on the Holy Bible.., I enjoy reading the bible, including my own bible study.

    February 13, 2011 at 6:53 pm |
  4. JFT

    The Episcopal Church has been burdened with people like this for years, in particular, career military who are retired. They look around, use their GI Bill money for seminary (and the seminaries let anyone in), then get a posting because the church is desperate for anyone who will be a priest. The church provides the house, often the car, some kind of salary. Add that to the pension they're already drawing, and they're set. This practice has provided the Episcopal church with priests who are nothing but time servers, taking it easy working one morning a week while they pursue other interests in the meantime. When you need a minister – well, they're not around. Not really interested in ministering anyway. No wonder nobody is going to church anymore.

    February 13, 2011 at 6:53 pm |
    • an episcopal seminarian

      thank you. thank you. thank you.
      i look at some and wonder when the fire went out – when did they wake up dead – some walk into it that way. my singular prayer is that i don't do the same. god help us.

      February 13, 2011 at 8:06 pm |
  5. Anna Nwa

    Age should not be a barrier. More laborers are needed in the vineyard of the Lord. Be prepared to answer Him when He calls. The baby boomers are setting a good example. Kudos baby boomers!!!

    February 13, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
  6. MeSoHappy

    The hippies will manage to f this up somehow. They'll begin with good intentions but soon they'll begin to stand outside the seminaries waving their banners wanting "change". This will push the long-standing SOPs aside as the boomers will "sue" and demand change just as they did with the public school system in the 1980s. Once they leave their mark of destruction, they'll begin rewriting the rules to appease their self-centered lives and then leave the seminaries stating, "well, we just didn't "feel" like it offered us a new life, blah, blah, blah". And then they'll move on to another phase of the life to ruin something else.

    February 13, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
  7. James

    The Episcopal Church has a tremendous discernment process that takes months to complete and then the diocese has to approve your discernment process. I know of several candidates who did not pass the stringent psychological evaluations, and personality profiles. The Episcopal Church does a good job in setting expectations up front rather than allowing anyone to attend seminary. And to respond to David thinking a full read of the bible leads to atheism I would agree if you just read it as a text book. I believe the Bible is to be read with literary criticism with a focus on Jesus' teachings. Those teachings alone have more grace, justice and mercy than anything I have ever read.

    February 13, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
    • John C

      Oh Please! Most just do questionnaires (MMPI) that can be faked out. They need to do comprehensive background checks instead (med records, interviews with family, coworkers.... I know someone who had admitted to previous suicidal issues and yet passed the discernment process.

      February 13, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
    • JFT

      Well James, if those people couldn't pass the pathetic excuse for screening that the Episcopal Church does, they had no business even considering the ministry. I have met more alcoholic mental cases as Episcopal priests than I can shake a stick at. Most of them had terribly dysfunctional families as well, including drug addicted children who were runaways, addict or alcoholic wives, and worse. For every functional, dedicated and sincere priest in the Episcopal Church, there are dozens of loafers looking for that free housing and other perks. Sure, I've known some priests who truly served their parishes, but these days, they are a tiny minority, while the rest are looking for that easy job you really can't get fired from.

      February 13, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
  8. john keon

    millions of great deeds have been performed by incredibly dedicated people throughout history of the church lets congratulate them for their dedication and inspiring behavior

    February 13, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
  9. cheshire

    Lol – i was wondering how long it would take the "angry atheist" crowd to pop up on here. Predictably, not every long. I've met some dogmatic Christians in my day, but they don't hold a candle to the atheists i've met.

    February 13, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
    • Bugmenot

      Way i figure, atheists are going to have more than candles being held to them to worry about.

      February 13, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
    • hillbilleter

      I have never seen so many people so confident that they know everything about making the hard decisions in life. They do not need any help and are angry that someone may think that they do. It's really sad how vocally offensive they're becoming.

      February 13, 2011 at 9:10 pm |
  10. abby

    I would be delighted to have the opportunity to do this; I am very active in my church as a lay reader, eucharistic visitor, etc. Sadly, I cannot afford it.

    February 13, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
  11. PJ

    I would say many of those entering the RC Seminaries are looking for a nice retirement place. Can't be for the inspired leadership. I wonder how they evaluate gayness?

    February 13, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
  12. RoyalWulff

    Jimbo obviously has not a clue in regards to service in the ministry. I am a boomer who entered the ministry 30 years ago. No I do not have a car given me, I pay for mine like everyone else. My "cushy" job is far below the standard position and income for a person my age with the same years of experince and a Master's degree. Last but not least "20 hours per week," I usually have my 20 hours in by Wednesday if it is a quite week. I have spent nights at hospitals and sat up with families in their homes and counseled people hours on end in addtion to preparing for a message for the people on Sunday. You really should take a moment and follow a committed clergy and see if you could keep up-I have my doubts. Just refrain from comments about issues for which you have very little information.

    February 13, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
    • SolaGrace

      Amen!

      February 13, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
    • AsayaYeahyas

      Royalty ? Wulff ? Wolves eat sheep. Royalty is BS people who consider their selves better than others. Possibly due to their ancestors killing someone who did not believe what they believe.Maybe you should choose a different name.

      February 13, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
    • JFT

      That's great – but you are an exception, not the rule. I've been a church musician for forty years, much longer than you've been in the ministry. For every dedicated minister, there are dozens who are anything but. It's seen by many as an easy ride, and I've even served in parishes where the priest went and got another job, even though his house, car and salary were coming from the church! Let's not even start talking about their dysfunctional families – you've got an alcoholic wife who picks up different men in the local bar every week, your kid is on drugs and a chronic runaway, you seem to take no interest in the fact that your family is in ruins and you're gonna get up in the pulpit and tell other people how to live? These are the priests who are never in the church office, who don't answer their phone messages, and who never go near the hospital for visiting. Forget about seeing shut-ins. If you're in the ministry in any church, you know that this is true. Ministers are as bad as cops for covering up the shortcomings of their fellow ministers – but church workers, like musicians and secretaries, know the ugly truth.

      February 13, 2011 at 7:05 pm |
  13. NGN

    Wonder what will happen to the seminaries once scientists find a cure for aging.

    February 13, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
    • AsayaYeahyas

      Some people probably should not take it. Maybe dumb needs to die off. Not speaking of anyone in particular. cough.

      February 13, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
  14. ronnie reagan

    you have to be kidding

    February 13, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
  15. Don

    It's nice that people that can't get a grip on life have something like this to fall back on.

    February 13, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
    • AsayaYeahyas

      There might be a comet they can get a ride on coming to a church near you. But first drink this.

      February 13, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
    • hillbilleter

      Actually, we're lucky that we all have someone like you, who instinctively knows what to do at every turn and never makes mistakes. You evidently have never had any problem making the hard choices in life.

      February 13, 2011 at 9:06 pm |
  16. A

    Boomers already think they are God's gift to the world, so this vocation is entirely fitting... Seeing as ever Boomer I have ever met acts holier-than-thou: It is a natural fit!

    February 13, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
    • John D.

      Clearly you should get out more and meet more people. Since you seem to clairvoyant, tell me what I am thinking right now.

      February 13, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
    • Scott

      Well John D., as he said, you boomer's seem to think you "know it all" and you just proved him correct. lol.

      February 13, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
    • John D.

      Well Scott, I don't know enough to follow your train of thought. Please explain.

      February 13, 2011 at 6:39 pm |
    • Sean

      One of the more wittier posts I've read

      February 14, 2011 at 4:55 am |
  17. Yahuah

    You Tube: WEAPONIZED PRAYER

    February 13, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
    • AsayaYeahyas

      PHANTOMSLAYER777 is trippin. when I count to 3 you will wake up and be in my control 1 2 3

      February 13, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
  18. AJ C

    I have an alcoholic neighbor who is totally screwed up mentally who just entered Seminary at age 62. No undergrad degree, but they let her in a so-called graduate program anyway. She had been a secretary and this seemed to be the only field where she could start her career over because they accept everybody. I feel sorry for the poor church that gets stuck with her.

    February 13, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
    • pockets

      Everyone is heading for the end of the line

      February 13, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
    • drwelby

      People gravitating towards religion in their later years "just in case" after a life of relative debauchery is almost cliche.

      February 13, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
  19. Jack

    Just another tax deduction scam.

    February 13, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
  20. David

    I'm amazed anyone who actually reads the ENTIRE Bible does NOT become an Atheist.

    February 13, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
    • Linda

      David,
      Read it again, but, ask God, if He is real, to open your eyes to the truth.

      February 13, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
    • David M.

      Well David, apparently you have not read it at all.

      February 13, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
    • Kutulhu

      The Bible, as fiction, is a hoot. As a guide to live by, its so full of inconsistencies and so antediluvian that its pretty much impossible. But people who tend to try are incredibly hypocritical, so I guess it doesn't matter.

      February 13, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
    • john

      Agree with you David, if not atheist then at least a non-christian.

      Anyone with more than 3 brain cells can see how messed up that "perfect" book is. Praise reason that I escaped from it.

      February 13, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
    • AsayaYeahyas

      Praise Reason.

      February 13, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
    • Earthling

      @ Linda – if you didn't have your prejudices in favor of christianity, and someone came to you with a story about a talking snake, or a dead man come to life, or a woman turned to salt, or any of a hundred other impossible stories, you'd have them committed. Yet when you read these same stories in a book that has been rewritten dozens and dozens of times to more closely align with the political desires of some monarch or other (being rewritten again in Texas today because it's "too liberal"), which book purports to accurately describe the experiences related by uneducated bronze age sheep herders, you believe it wholeheartedly. You chose to stop believing in the tooth fairy, the easter bunny and santa claus when you noticed their potential existence didn't fit in with the reality you live in every day – why do you persist in believing these other equally nonsensical myths?

      February 13, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
    • Bugmenot

      You need to do more than view the words dude.

      February 13, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
    • cheshire

      Atheism is an assertion, not a default position. That would be agnosticism. So reading the Bible and finding it unconvincing does nothing to "prove" atheism anymore than disproving evolution would "prove" creationism. Atheists have to build a case for their position, not just tear down an opposing or alternate belief system. Otherwise they are just agnostics or non-Christians.

      I'd highly recommend you read up on some philosophy next time before you hop on a blog trying to rip people for not being as "intelligent" as i'm sure you believe yourself to be. Ironically all you did was demonstrate how uninformed you are.

      February 13, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
    • Scott

      LOL,,David so you and Kutulhu have some insight about God that we do not? Please inform us of your wisdom.

      Ohh what's that? Nothing to say?

      February 13, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
    • Stephen

      Right there with you David, religions use fear and manipulation to put the blinders on most "Believers" that keep them from being able to be objective when reading their sacred texts. The filter doesn't let them see the truth. And if they begin to then the fear of living with their disillusionment keeps them in check. It is scary when mind control works at a pandemic level!

      February 13, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
    • hillbilleter

      The Bible is not a history book, it's a road map. For people who tend to take wrong turns, it can be a Godsend. Use it to help you decide which way to go. If you are perfect, you do not need it.

      February 13, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
    • Matt

      So true. I am not even going to read it. But still I am an atheist.

      February 13, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
    • Noah Tall

      cheshire,

      I'm not sure that I understand your viewpoint. Can you tell me your definition of "atheist" or "atheism"?

      February 13, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
    • Andrew

      cheshire do you believe that unicorns exist? Proving atheism is about as difficult as proving unicorns don't exist, so while you can say "take an agnostic position about unicorns, leprechauns, etc etc", it's silly to believe they exist unless evidence is put forth confirming their existence in the first place.

      I don't believe in unicorns, god, imps, demons, etc. Atheism really does seem a reasonable default position, that lacking evidence has no reason to be believed. It's possible, but do you believe anything just because it's possible?

      February 13, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
    • Davidloc

      You will get the "It means exactly what it says" or "don't take it literally" (God created man in his own image" Really had nothing to do with how god looks because he isn't physical. Then you get the "Read the whole thing to understand it" or "Look to bla bla 7 : 12 to really understand". God really didn't mean stone your own son. God really didn't kill his own son so he would not have to kill his other relatives. God created man in his spiritual image so he would have compassion and love for his fellow man. A strong moral code to help him decide during lifes tough times. God was the first and alone if the bible is true , why would this ever be part of the equation. Do not bother trying to convince the diehards that this life is full of wonder and miracles and that the "afterlife" was created by man to control man. The moderates might be more open minded to see this before their whole lives become wasted on this garbage.

      February 13, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
    • Jonny

      I prefer reality to "truth". In fact I'm actually trying to get the word "truth" out of my vocabulary. "Truth" tends to be what works to justify pre-existing beliefs. "Truth" doesn't challenge. Reality is another matter and I think that's what I seek, casting off as much "truth" as I can.

      February 13, 2011 at 7:21 pm |
    • Amanda Huggenkiss

      If you're going to devote your life to the study of fiction, why limit yourself to one book?

      February 13, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
    • Mei

      The priest or pastor is suppose to represent Christ, Who took on the form of a man on earth. Just had to comment on this since the article only had the one example of a woman entering a seminary (which to me speaks volumes of liberal theology). Liberal theology is "old hat" and more a selfish matter. Those whom I've met who are serious about their faith seek out the conservative seminaries because they truly want to give everything up for God.

      February 13, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
    • klove

      I am often times impressed with how confident opinions contrary to faith are given. I've spent my life searching, studying and praying. After 42 years, I still don't have all the answers. But I have seen and heard with my own eyes and ears things that I can't explain without God being somewhere in my life. Has he answered every prayer? No. Has he saved me from every bad thing I that has happened around me? No. But at 43, I now have greater confidence that God is real and he cares deeply about us. I guess I'm just curious how anyone can express the negative feelings I read on these opinion pages, if they tried for themselves to discover God. It sometimes seems like these forums are filled with opinions that "up the ante" on who can say the next most offensive opinion to tear down others.

      February 13, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
    • Andrew

      klove it's by that same measure I can be bewildered at someone willing to accept as true a postulate just because it feels good. That people say "I have felt this, ergo god", when people of all religions will tout the same. I feel probably the same overwhelming sense of majesty when I go stargazing (which is rare given how seldom I can see the sky from Vancouver) but I don't feel a need to ascribe "god" to that. I don't believe what I believe to give me comfort, I don't believe what I believe to make myself happy, I don't believe what I believe because I want to.

      You don't choose your beliefs, you are convinced of your beliefs. How can we say, so confidently, "god does not exist"? Because we have been given the same tokens of evidence across virtually all religions that establish little beyond what could be explained by psychology. With the forms of evidence we have been provided with, and the weak arguments demonstrating the VERACITY of the claim rather than the usefulness of the claim, I am simply as unconvinced of god as I am of unicorns.

      Notice what the claims of the atheists have been versus the religious... would arguments used by the religious, if made by members of any other faith, be it buddhism, jainism, hinduism, etc, convince you of the veracity of their religious beliefs? I sincerely doubt it... so why would we be convinced by any of your declarations of faith and claims of profound experiences?

      February 13, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
    • hillbilleter

      Quantum physicists manage to believe everything is possible and is happening all at once; and that one object can determine another object's fate without any physical contact. Why are atheists so closed -minded? Do they not believe in quantum mechanics?

      February 13, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
    • gogogopher

      i'm a former christian comedian, christian author....The study of the Bible with ventures into the Quran and Torah led to my rejecting the bible. A just God would never kill children with bears for making fun of a prophet. Jesus loves the little children?

      February 13, 2011 at 9:06 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.