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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. Aezel

    How sad. They hit a middle life crisis and instead of finding real meaning in their life they go play pretend with their imaginary man in the sky. What a waste of human output and talent.

    February 14, 2011 at 4:53 am |
  2. Sean

    I think the great spike in seminary attendance among the 50+ crowd is because many of them led selfish lives that hurt others (dishonoring their parents, divorcing spouses, breaking children's hearts). Now they have "guilt" and they try to make up for it. Instead of proceeding selflessly, honestly, and sincerely (critical self-reflection, ammends making, humility), many join the "holier than thou" crowd. BTW, I say "guilt" because for some its more about fear of the afterlife than genuine pain over their past indiscretions.

    February 14, 2011 at 4:11 am |
  3. django

    why do all the atheist kids think theyre smarter than everyone else? Thats the one thing they have in common. Child like insults and arrogance..makes me wonder what the world would be like if left in their hands?

    February 14, 2011 at 3:58 am |
  4. Dawn

    I consider myself a Christian but I try to be respectful of others religious beliefs as well as those who choose not to believe. When I read these comments I am struck by how many do not have respect for what their fellow man believes. It is sad...

    February 14, 2011 at 3:46 am |
    • acinmaine

      You got that right sister! What I'm reading in all these arguments, "You don't believe what I believe, so you're an indiot." No actual room for dialogue anymore. And, no room to agree to disagree! We have all become our own gods.

      February 14, 2011 at 6:04 am |
  5. dr. Erniepaul Izereckt

    Yes! I do believe we have a winner in the pure B.S. category & he will B escorted to Hell 2 shake hands with the almighty MOFO himself Jebus!B4 being burnt alive I mean literally roasted 2 a crisp:) That lucky S.O.B. is none other than Mr. Paul Bishop....

    February 14, 2011 at 2:25 am |
  6. Saundra

    Most people in the baby boomer age bracket were taken to church and taught the Bible. They have never forgotton the responsibility taught them to follow Jesus and to believe in the everlasting life. We all know that we fall short and even though we realize that we can only be so obedient and so dedicated and also acknowledging the grace of God's love we have a deep down desire to be the best Christian we can be. Going to seminary exposes us to teachings and basic Bible teachings and on a daily basis keeps us involved in proper Christian thought. Seminary aids in our personal quest to be the best possible diciple we can be. This is simple but it makes so much sense to the child like faith that Christians are taught.
    God bless Sunday School.

    February 14, 2011 at 2:16 am |
  7. joe

    ..as boomers get closer to death they want a front row seat with God.. too bad death bed reditions aren't going to impress..

    February 14, 2011 at 2:04 am |
  8. Paul Bishop

    @ Magic

    You can't compare ideas of God w/ ideas about unicorns. With unicorns we have a frame of reference – we know horses, we know horns, it's working with natural material we already have. An eternal and perfect God is an abstraction unlike anything we've experienced.

    "The more perfect'? Perfection isn't in degrees. In nature we can conceive of things working better, but not of something flawless. Nothing in nature is flawless. Why can I think about flawlessness then? Why do I have such a goal?

    And why are we fearful and abhorrent of nonexistence anyway? Why aren't all humans hardwired to accept passing into nonexistence as part of nature? Or even if we can naturally conceive of going to happy hunting grounds after death, or our spirits hanging around the living for generations, that is a farcry from endless existence. Fearing death does not de facto lead to the concept of endlessness. Also, with God, we have an idea of endless beginning as well.

    February 14, 2011 at 1:59 am |
    • SB

      Unfortunately you have no facts upon which to assert that concepts of 'god' and 'eternity' cannot be derivative of preexisting ideas. All you have is another argument from ignorance.

      Again, the general observation that things can be improved upon is _exactly_ what gives rise to the concept of perfection. Humans are abstract thinkers. It's our need to classify these concepts within abstract space that allows it to happen. These observations can also lead to hypothetical models of perfect systems that cannot exist in nature. I mentioned absolute zero before. But another example would be if we had a perfect electrical conductor then it would have zero resistance. In nature we can never have a conductor with zero resistance (only negligible resistance). Yet none of this prevents us from deriving the NATURE of the PERFECT system! It is not difficult to imagine how concepts like this translate into generalized concepts of perfection, eternity, infinity, etc. with respect to any pre-existing concept, including god. The original god concepts were not perfect by the way; in fact they were very much imperfect beings. The combination of perfection and deity came later.

      February 14, 2011 at 3:15 am |
  9. iveeno

    The Greatest Generation seems to have raised the Greatest Generatiion of Faith. Apparently there is hope for us, and for peace.

    February 14, 2011 at 12:21 am |
    • Marie

      They are just afraid that they won't end up in Heaven.

      February 14, 2011 at 12:37 am |
    • SB

      Interesting opinion. However I have to ask you, at what point in history has religion ever been associated with peace and not with conflict? Perhaps becoming more religious is something we should be very weary of and not proud of.

      February 14, 2011 at 1:07 am |
  10. Really?

    I know a lot of people out there are disinterested in faith and in God. And some people would describe those feelings with much stronger language (and have throughout this "soundoff"). The sentiments don't surprise me at all; a lot of what people say I can sympathize with. But I think I'm giving up on CNN's soundoffs. I've been repeatedly disappointed that when we suspend social norms (talking face to face, or dialoguing with people you actually know on some level), an opportunity for open dialogue morphs into a sport of one-up-manship in the arenas of sarcasm and bitter diatribes. So "cheers" to the players; this just isn't my kind of game.

    February 13, 2011 at 11:28 pm |
    • Marie

      Talking face-to-face to our church-goers? Parents do it only to feel important and pretend that they are "in charge" because they have no idea what is in their kids' heads. I made several attempts in the past, just to end up feeling like an idiot. Am I angry at them? No. They can fool me, but there is much bigger force out there that can see right through them, everything comes back to you.

      February 14, 2011 at 12:35 am |
  11. Shan

    When athiests deny there is a God, it only confirms there is a God because you cannot deny something unless it exists in the first place. hmmm

    February 13, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
    • JohninVegas

      and when believers profess there is a god, it only confirms there is no god because you cannot profess a belief in something unless there is evidence that it exists in the first place. hmmm

      February 14, 2011 at 12:33 am |
    • Paul Bishop

      JohninVegas... that doesn't make any sense. Can you explain?

      What Shan is talking about is the ontological argument for God's existence. It was developed by Anselm of Canterbury. I prefer Rene Descartes version which focuses on perfection. Look it up in a encyclopedia or something for full explanation. Descartes really makes sense though – why do I have ideas of perfection? Or even eternality? I find it laughable that purely natural causes in evolution gave these to me. Nothing in our natural experience is perfect or eternal. Why is it in our heads? That an Eternal Perfect Being designed us that way makes the most sense to me.

      February 14, 2011 at 12:52 am |
    • Magic

      Shan

      "When athiests deny there is a God, it only confirms there is a God because you cannot deny something unless it exists in the first place."

      It only confirms that there is an *idea* or notion of "God".

      If you deny believing in invisible unicorns, does that mean that they really exist?

      February 14, 2011 at 1:15 am |
    • Magic

      Paul Bishop,

      "Nothing in our natural experience is perfect or eternal. Why is it in our heads?"

      Similar to my response to Shan - because we can imagine unicorns, does that make them real?

      Our logic tells us that perfect things work better - cause and effect. The more perfect the better it works.

      Thoughts of eternity come from fear and abhorrence at the thought of our personal nonexistence.

      February 14, 2011 at 1:22 am |
    • SB

      Paul, the concept of perfection is derived from the existence of imperfection and improvement. Even if perfection does not exist, when we improve something we take it closer to a state which we are unable to improve it any further. Therefor the concept of perfection is easy to grasp. It is no different than the concept of absolute zero, without having experienced absolute zero. It is intuitive derivation and there is nothing more to it than that. So please don't evoke Descartes to support your argument from ignorance. Just because you can't personally understand how or why we have this knowledge does not mean god implanted it in our brains. There are other better explanations. Ones that don't rely on shaky ontological arguments.

      February 14, 2011 at 1:48 am |
    • Mark C

      Wow, did you think that up all by yourself? What were you smoking at the time?

      I deny there is a tooth fairy, so that must mean the tooth fairy exists by your "logic."

      Get help.

      February 14, 2011 at 1:51 am |
    • Mark C

      "What Shan is talking about is the ontological argument for God's existence."

      Uh, no, not even close actually, and if you think he is then you don't know the argument (as ludicrous as such an argument is in its own right). What Shan is doing is babbling incoherently.

      February 14, 2011 at 1:58 am |
    • Paul Bishop

      @ SB. Ok, thoughtful response. But improvement never leads to perfection. We've never had such a state of needing no further improvement, only a state of satisfactory utility. Eternality is an even bigger problem. I have not seen any 'better' explanations than being made in the image of God. True, this is not the strongest argument for God's existence compared to teleological and cosmological, but I find it difficult to think through from a naturalistic worldview.

      @ Mark C. On the tooth fairy – as I said about the unicorn example, there is a frame of reference for mythical creatures – we know teeth and wings from nature, and fairies are human-like. With God, to what will you compare him? A Being having all perfections, existing in eternity, creating everything out of nothing.... The natural world did not produce such a character. On your rudeness – why? How is going around insulting people better than what Christians do in trying to 'save' people? Episodes like this is why atheists/agnostics get a bad name.

      February 14, 2011 at 2:27 am |
    • SB

      Paul, I feel a need to respond to your reply to Mark C. if that’s alright. You said, “With God, to what will you compare him?” To which I ask, what forms have gods and goddesses always taken? That is a rhetorical question of course because as you know they have never in the history of religion taken the form of something that we were not already familiar with. Not even strange looking gods like Pan or Ganesh. Contemporary concepts of god, particularly in patriarchal monotheistic religions, represent a human ideal. The perfect father, you might call it. This perfection has been reduced to the realization of god and other abstractions, but remains basically the same.

      February 14, 2011 at 3:53 am |
  12. CNN~Fan

    This is nice but let me be the weird and shocking one to open and say the truth, that Islam for once gives a straight answer to everything and what most of us americans think about it is actually totally wrong... i have converted right after i read and talked with one of the Musque people, it actually makes me feel like there is someone beyong our thoughts, am not trying to say that christianity is a fairy tale but at times it really sounds like it to me, Islam is like water- boring but pure, and christianity is juice- yummy but doesn't support that thirsty heart looking for real answers... am sure most knows what i mean somehow in this world...

    February 13, 2011 at 11:23 pm |
  13. Enlightened

    If you really want to understand the Bible and the concept of God, invite Jehovah's Witnesses to study with you. There offer for a Bible study is free of charge and if you are not happy with the results can be stopped at any time. They will come to your home or meet you in public. I was impressed with their ability to show me what the Bible really says on many subjects by using multiple Bible verses. I am convinced that they really understand what God intends for mankind.

    February 13, 2011 at 11:03 pm |
    • Paul Bishop

      Noooo I have to disagree. JWs do not know the Bible very well at all. They're basically a cult with a re-hashed version of the 4th century CE Arian heresy that Christ wasn't God plus teaching salvation by works rather than faith alone. As a Greek student, I can also tell you their translation of the Bible is very poor. They don't have a clue about the original languages and twist their translation to fit their theology.

      February 14, 2011 at 12:44 am |
    • Tia

      Enlightened, the JW's show you what the bible really says ACCORDING TO THEM. Their bible classes teach you only what they say the Scriptures mean. If you want to learn about religion, read the bible on your own. If you believe in God, then have faith that He gave you the ability to comprehend things yourself.

      February 14, 2011 at 4:45 am |
  14. Steve

    Reply to Fran

    It is true a belief is not a fact until that belief is fulfilled. However their were hundreds of Old testament prophesizes fulfilled between the Old and New Testament. I know in whom I have believed and am fully convinces he is able to deliver. Ist John 5;13 says I write these things that you may know you have eternal life... I encourage people to read the Bible give it a chance. Ask God to show himself through his word....

    February 13, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
  15. Hardy Dickwood

    come on people be serious

    February 13, 2011 at 10:11 pm |
  16. Dr. Earl

    I have been celibate for 25 years and it is wonderful. This story is right on. I will make the change at age 75.

    February 13, 2011 at 10:11 pm |
  17. Michelle T.

    Yeah, I think that this perspective is a little off. I think that people of all ages and life situations are called by God to be pastors. This means that it doesn't matter if they are retired or childless (etc.) – God still calls that person to do the work. God gives people strength and wisdom to help the pastor give care. So the questions at the end are moot.

    February 13, 2011 at 10:08 pm |
    • Marie

      If people chose not to have children then they did not do what God wanted them to do. It is very hard to be a responsible parent. Those who never raised a child will never understand all the sacrifice parents have to make. While the childless couple is enjoying a week in Hawaii, those with kids have to pay and drive their kids to various activities. Sure, it is easy to say at 50 that you want to be a priest, and pay for your education, too, because you never had to pay for somebody else's education, never had to stay up all night because your kid was sick... Is there anything such priest can teach me? I don't think so. In fact, I stopped attending my church about a year ago (my husband and kids still do). Those Catholic priests do not do anything I must do every single day. They do not have any understanding that not only family dinner has to be cooked, but somebody has to clean after it too... laundry piles up into mountains if you skip just one day... and there are bills to pay... There is nothing they can teach me anymore. Yet, I believe that God is watching me, and He is helping me just as He did before.

      February 14, 2011 at 12:25 am |
    • Tia

      @Marie -

      Are you saying that priests went straight into the priesthood from birth and didn't grow up in families, with parents that took care of their children? Do you believe that because you, personally, have not done something, you aren't capable of empathizing with someone who is struggling with it? Just because YOU can't put yourself in the place of other people doesn't mean that priests are that narrow-minded and can't do it. Sounds like you're just bitter towards the Catholic church and have invented a justification for turning your back on it while your husband and children continue to follow their faith. Good for them.

      February 14, 2011 at 4:42 am |
  18. Brian

    My doctor told me that most ministers are closet alcoholics. After four or five sermons they run out of things to say and become depressed.

    February 13, 2011 at 10:03 pm |
    • The reality is...

      Brian – While this may be true about a few ministers, it does not apply to all. Just as there are some witch doctors, you see, not all give good advice.

      February 13, 2011 at 10:21 pm |
    • Steve

      It would helpful if your Dr. would stick with medicine!

      February 13, 2011 at 10:41 pm |
    • Sam Brannon

      Dude, I am a pastor and a recovering alcoholic. I am sure there are plenty of closet drunks in pulpits and that is ok by me. Preaching the Word of God is not about dishing out the law (do as I say) but it is about assuring people of God's grace, despite all human evidence to the contrary.

      February 13, 2011 at 11:33 pm |
    • SB

      The only colleague/acquaintance I know who has enrolled in seminary school is a recovering alcoholic. He's a great guy but has struggled in his personal life. This is not meant to support your 'doctors' claim but I do find it interesting because from the impression I'm getting it seems that most of the people who choose to attend seminary school are seeking some form of social or mental help. Healthy minds seem to be less swayed by, or have less of a need for religion.

      February 14, 2011 at 2:00 am |
    • Violet Weed

      hmmm. Are you naively believing that all preachers write their own sermons? I had a nice little business for a while writing sermons, but then I ran out of ideas, and then I was depressed, because I wasn't making money anymore (I think God smote me for being so money-grubbing). Not as many preachers as you may think write their own sermons. Even MLK Jr was accused of 'plaigarism' for some of his sermons, in fact for his FAMOUS sermons. What the heck, there were a lot of good preaches in MLK's day and the black ones were basically saying the same thing... end racism, etc etc etc.

      February 14, 2011 at 2:03 am |
  19. Carmine Monoxide

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

    Translation: indoctrinated with Christianity as a child and had the child been born to different parents, he/she would be convinced of the truth of .

    February 13, 2011 at 9:40 pm |
    • Carmine Monoxide

      The sentence above should have ended with "fill in the blank" religion.

      February 13, 2011 at 9:41 pm |
    • Plato101

      @Carmine Monoxide You chose a toxic name, I approve of your choice, as it matches your toxic rhetoric.

      February 13, 2011 at 9:47 pm |
    • thinkfirst

      yes and if you were born to different parents you may not be a pessimist towards religion. If you were born to different parents you may be a Muslim or a Jew, or even a Christian. And yet your background experience doesn't seem to nullify your current beliefs, so why do you invalidate someone else's background experience? You are in the same boat as them.

      To say you would not be part of a religion if you were born to different parents is nullified by the fact you too have experiences that affect your current views of religion which i doubt you would invalidate. cheers!

      February 13, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
    • John

      Like Christians or agnostics, when people come to the end of there lives they stop to wonder if they had picked the right path. And like I have seen many agnostics come back to religion at the time of there death, just incase they were wrong.

      February 14, 2011 at 12:01 am |
  20. Water to whine

    People reach middle age, become destressed that they are closer to death, and they try to find something to make themselves feel better. Some by motorcycles, others get in shape, and the people in this article go to divinity school. Sorry if that sounded cynical. It's not like I don't fear death, as well. But, it's true. People find all kinds of ways to make themselves happier. And, there's nothing wrong with going to divinity school. I just hope the people that graduate actually go out and try to make the world a better place, rather than just going out and preaching at others.

    February 13, 2011 at 9:37 pm |
    • Priestess

      Thank you for all of your preaching!

      February 13, 2011 at 11:58 pm |
    • Paul Bishop

      Religion isn't a matter of indoctrination as a child. Many, many people convert away from the religion of their parents. If current global trends continue, Christians born into Christianity will be a minority, if it is not already. Islam and Wicca also brings in many converts from other faith or non-faith traditions.

      February 14, 2011 at 12:19 am |
    • Paul Bishop

      woops, sorry, I meant to reply to Carmine M. below.

      February 14, 2011 at 12:36 am |
    • Violet Weed

      Well, you make a point, but you forgot to consider something else. People my age (I'm a boomer) also have more money and more time now, then when we were younger. I have hungered after God since I was a small child, but I was raised as an atheist (though I always Believed). I'm living in the Chicago area now and thinking about going to a seminary too. As for 'fearing death', not everyone fears death. As a believer in God, since a small child, I do not fear death. I DO fear 'pain of dying', but that's something else. I have never felt great physical pain in my life, yet, and I worry that I would whimp out should I ever get cancer, or something else that causes great pain. That's all I worry about, not death itself. Either my beliefs are right, yippee! heaven exists and I am gonna get in!!! or there's no such thing as God or Heaven and when I die I'll be ... gone.

      February 14, 2011 at 1:59 am |
    • JOregon

      I like your points Violet.
      Seems to me that someone that is going to seminary has gone past the fear of death thing.
      When you know God death means nothing.

      2 Corinthians 5:8 We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.

      I might add, if I am wrong and there is no God it doesn't matter. I have been blessed in this life. Not with $$$, with joy. Before I knew about God I was afraid I would miss something. After finding God I miss nothing and am amazed at what I was missing before.

      February 14, 2011 at 2:35 am |
    • django

      Waters comment betrays both his/her age and modesty. Read Violets post 3 times Water...okay buddy

      February 14, 2011 at 3:42 am |
    • Water to Whine

      The fear and misunderstanding of death is one of the reasons religion came about in the human psyche in the first place. Religion would have no milieu without the event of death. Our souls would not have the same purpose if there was no end to their occupation of this life. This is why the fear of death is applicable to most all religions. All religions offer a resolution to this end. Any one of you may claim to not have a fear of death, and it may be true for a minority of you, but the fear of what death might mean is a driving factor in all religious folks whether they realize it or not. There would be no reason in the first place for religion if life was eternal. Only in the very fact that individual life ends does religion make itself credible. The spirit would not need to be acknowledged, if it never had the distinction of leaving the vessel. Anyone who tries to escape this fact by claiming to not fear death does not understand it enough to fear it. Fear of death is not shameful. Jesus himself expressed his fear of death, when he asked God if there was another way other than being crucified. It is the way a soul honors its own passing. Fear is respect in this case. I am confident all of those who do not believe me will show their respect to this passing, when their time comes.

      February 14, 2011 at 3:53 am |
    • mary

      The fact that people look for God as they get closer to death is what makes God even more believable to me..
      I think we are born knowing, and during our lives, many begin to forget.. When we are older we are being drawn closer again, because we are being called home..

      February 14, 2011 at 4:00 am |
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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.