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December 5th, 2011
11:00 AM ET

Baby boomers heading back to seminary

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Washington (CNN)– At 51, Vincent Guest could well be the professor at a table filled with 20- and 30-year-olds. He is leading a lunchtime social justice meeting for seminarians at Theological College at Catholic University in Washington.

Forks clink on plates in the basement conference room as Guest opens the November meeting in prayer. "In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit," he says as he bows his head and clasps his hands.

Guest is not a visiting professor. He is a seminarian, just like the other younger men at the table.

But he is not alone in his age group. According to a decade-long study of enrollment by the Association of Theological Schools released in 2009, the fastest-growing group of seminarians include those older than 50. In 1995, baby boomers made up 12% of seminarians, while today they are 20%.

"I think I was always looking for something else in a lot of ways and always felt the call to do something else," Guest said.

He spent time in government and Pennsylvania politics before settling into a career in law. He had a three-bedroom home near the Jersey Shore with a meaningful job as an attorney helping the poor.

Though successful by any measure with a job that made a difference, he kept looking.

“Helping people with domestic violence, you know suffering from domestic violence or immigrants who were being deported ... I just saw their brokenness. In so many different ways, they were broken. And I know they needed to be touched by the love of God,” he said.

The feeling that something was missing led Guest to Theological College to study to become a parish priest in Camden, New Jersey.

Vincent Guest, right, leads a social justice meeting at Theological College.

“Ministry, whether that be a priest or a minister or a rabbinical student touches people’s lives at the core, where God is where it’s most meaningful. I think people grasp that and are searching for that," he said.

Guest, who never married, was good candidate to become a priest. As a young man, he enrolled in the seminary for a few years to become a priest before leaving to experience life.

It is a journey that has played out similarly for a lot of baby boomers.

“Many of them felt a call early in life, maybe in their teenage years or college, and set that aside to be the bread winner for the family or do what the family expected them to do,” said the Rev. Chip Aldridge, admissions director at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington.

The Methodist seminary, which boasts students from 40 denominations, has also seen a rise in baby boomers in the last decade, making for some interesting classes.

For many of the boomers who went to college in the analog age, they have to get up to speed in a hurry to learn in the digital era.

"Everyone has to be able to use online academic tools. ... They've got to be very comfortable with technology," Aldridge said.

The majority of seminarians are still in their 20s and 30s.

"You've got two very different kinds of rich experiences when the baby boomers and the millennials come together in the classroom setting," Aldridge said.

"Yes, the baby boomer may have had a career, two careers, has raised a family, but millenials are coming from these colleges where almost all of them have some overseas studies, almost all of them have been on some kind of volunteer mission; they speak a second language. So in some ways those two sets of life experiences complement each other, and it becomes a very rich conversation," he said.

One benefit, unseen a decade ago when boomers began returning to seminaries, was the impact they would have on shrinking mainline denominations.

“They’ve got a little bit of that financial burden taken off them because of a previous career behind them," Aldridge said. “We’ve got a lot of churches that would not have been able to have a full-time pastor unless these baby boomers are returning to study and are raising their hand and saying, ‘Send me to those churches because I’m ready for something quiet in the country or outside the beltway.’ "

It’s a working retirement plan that skips the beach house.

“Whose got time to lie on the beach? There’s so much going on out there," Leah Daughtry said.

Daughtry, 48, is a former senior staffer for the Democratic National Committee who ran the party's 2008 convention in Denver.

As her secular career was slowing down, she started ramping up a spiritual one, taking the pulpit at House of the Lord Church, a Pentecostal church in Washington.

Leah Daughtry studies at Wesley Theological Seminary library in Washington.

Like many boomers, she kept working a 9-to-5 job during the day and took seminary classes at night to bolster her theological knowledge.

On a bright November afternoon, she was pouring over books in the library for her thesis. She even was mastering paperless photocopying, using a USB thumb drive in combination with a photocopier at Wesley's new library.

She chuckled as she considered when some of her classmates were born. "I'm glad that I came later in life after I had a chance to experience some things and experience some knocks in the outside world before coming to this sort of secluded space of seminary."

For Daughtry, it's natural for boomers to return to seminaries.

“We came of age at a time of activism and doing something, where you want to roll up your sleeves and be involved in something, somewhere," she said. "I don’t think we’re people who check out, and would be happy sitting on the beach in Florida looking at the sun. There’s something in our ethos that craves involvement with the world around us.”

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- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Church • Faith Now • TV-CNN Newsroom

soundoff (653 Responses)
  1. Feaby

    shchukin.info rtem.info http://njutka.info/ – njutka.info http://rkhipov.info/ – rkhipov.info

    January 14, 2012 at 5:04 am |
    • Alfred Eaker

      http://alfredeaker.wordpress.com/2014/04/21/matthew-myer-boulton-sounding-the-death-knoll-for-indianas-progressive-seminary-christian-theological-seminary-2/

      April 21, 2014 at 7:16 pm |
  2. RevElation

    *Holy Spirit
    *Bible
    *God-breathed
    *worshiping
    *means
    *worshiping
    *Halloween
    *difference between
    *prayers
    *putting
    *Matthew
    *As good students
    *asinine
    *Kool-Aid
    *leave
    *it's
    *Galatians
    *it's
    Thank you, Greatest Generation, for teaching me how to spell and proofread. Glory to God! Amen.

    December 26, 2011 at 12:55 am |
  3. online Bible college

    Online colleges are great when people are tight for finances. When people are tight in finances, it usually means that they are working odd hours in order to save money. So they are also tight on time and need a flexible class in order to get the degree to apply for a better job in a field they would enjoy better. Online schools also are cheaper in the sense that you wouldn't need to drive to the class nor would you be spending money on being on campus in a dorm room. There are many benefits to going to college online

    December 21, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
  4. arcandciel

    OOPS! MY COMMENT IS UNACCEPTED! WHO CARES!

    December 7, 2011 at 10:03 am |
  5. R

    If you are looking for Jesus do not look to Seminary Schools which are teachings that serves the mind only. I can assure you that Jesus has left those places long ago.

    Look to the bible itself, it is god breathed, ask not for intellectual discernment, but for spiritual discernement. Call on Jesus himself, without turning to the world of men for guidance.

    Ask for forgivness for your sins, and take off your old self and put on the new in Jesus and he will fill you with the Holy spirit
    and allow you to understand the teachings of the bible . Which is a guide to Salvation , Sanctification, to peace and rest in this world.

    If you are looking to fill that void, turn to him and him only, call on him by name. He will come to you if you are of sincere heart.

    He will fill that void and more.

    The bible is foolishness to those who are perishing but to the believers it is the power of Almighty God.

    December 7, 2011 at 9:13 am |
    • Erica

      @ R I totally agree and very well put!

      December 8, 2011 at 10:04 am |
  6. Satan

    No surprise that once senility starts setting in people will cling to religion...

    December 7, 2011 at 2:38 am |
  7. Thewind

    I am a Muslim, but I used to spend a couple of weeks living with some Catholic nuns in a rural in Indonesia in my youth. I was impressed with such a devotion of these nuns. Similar to Muslims, they pray many times in a day and do extensive community works. Today, living in North America for nearly 2 decades, I don’t see many Christian followers living to a degree of what prophet Isa Almasih (pbuh) or Jesus Christ tried to deliver. Many are worshipping Jesus as a son of God, having a lifestyle beyond their mean, and worshipping the cult with complex rituals including haloween. What make me sad; many don’t know the different of Almighty God and Jesus. Jesus was a messiah, a messenger from the mankind, one of the Apostles that Allah Swt had chosen to deliver and teach the revealed book, the Bible, for human beings. Allah SWT created him just like Adam, from none to existence through a medium of Maria. He was a great man, but he was not son of God. We do not pray to Jesus for guidance. Allah is the Almighty One, the Eternity. We do not associate Almighty Allah with anything, no partner, no children, no beginning and no end. To Allah alone we must address our pray and to Him alone we seek forgiveness, guidance, and protection. I think, the seminary today has a huge task in straightening this falsehood. I am sorry if my comment might hurt anyone.

    December 7, 2011 at 12:36 am |
    • R

      Jesus himself says, I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the father except by me.

      He also says to be saved you must be born again. Separate from the world taking off the old self and puting on the new in Jesus.

      His blood and trust in him forgives sins, gives salvation, peace and rest from the anxieties of this world. Don't listen to me, read the book of Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, and read the books of Mathiew Mark Luke and John. It is all there.
      Read it with and open mind and and an open heart and you will see.

      December 7, 2011 at 8:54 am |
  8. Reality

    Dear Seminarians,

    As a good students, you have read the reiterations of the "fems" (flaws, errors, muck and stench) of religion. Therefore the seeds have been planted in rich soil. Go therefore and preach the truth to all nations, reiterating as you go amongst the lost, bred, born and brainwashed souls of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism as Rational Thinking makes its triumphant return all because of you!!!!

    For your edification:

    • There probably was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • There probably was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    Added details available-

    December 6, 2011 at 11:49 pm |
    • Chris

      @Reality...

      LOL. You're so funny... Not. You need to do some more research. You can start with geographical, biological, and just scientific research in general. If you do it with an open mind, and not a pre-disposed point of view, then you will find truth.

      If not, you will continue to post ignorant, uneducated, ill-informed posts such as the one you just did.

      Happy New Years =)

      December 31, 2011 at 1:47 am |
  9. ArchieDeBunker

    Grow up Joe, and use your brain for something besides a hat rack. If it wasn't for the baby boomer generation you'd be speaking German, there wouldn't be an Internet for you to make assinine comments on, and you wouldn't be free to write idiotic drivel – even on your Big Chief paper tablet. Get your Liberalism Warped head out of the muck of socialist thinking and be properly grateful for what the Boomers gave you – a life of luxury second to none anywhere else in the world. And quit swallowing that Liberal Cool Aid about us "Harvesting" the planet. The real "termites" are you guys who are sitting around feeling sorry for yourselves because your parents are no longer handing you your life on a silver platter. If you and your generation want to continue to live a decent life you'd all better get out of the Democrat party and become a thinker – and a doer instead of socialist whiner.

    December 6, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
  10. letsgomets2011(and 2012!)

    A Catholic seminary that took back somebody who left?

    NEVER heard of it.

    It is also not that easy to drop out of a seminary and leave due to whatever reason...and it is not all that easy to leave an order. You are considered a priest for life.

    December 6, 2011 at 9:40 pm |
    • Robert

      He didn't leace the priesthood, he left the seminary before ordination. Its not ideal, but its like dropping out of college in your 20s and then returning in your 50s.

      December 7, 2011 at 1:18 am |
  11. joe

    Screw the baby boom generation, everybody knows they harvested the planet much like a termite infestation would a fence post.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
  12. R

    These folk seem to be looking for something to fill the void that their careers never filled for them. They seem to think that if they "do" something like going volunteering or going to a seminary, it will fill that void. They are trying to fill that void with things that are of the world. Folks, doing these things will not fill the void. Jesus said "You must be born again." this means you must take off your old self and put on the new in Jesus. "Come out of the world and be ye separate." Look to Jesus, trust in him, and him only, he will fill that void. Begin in Romans, then Galations, continue with Ephesians, its all there. Trust in him and he will give you the peace and the rest that you are searching for.

    December 6, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
    • Robert

      ....isn't that what you do in seminaries?

      December 7, 2011 at 1:19 am |
  13. jamesnyc

    If there wasn't so much blatant age discrimination in other industries, if other fields actually respected life experience, these people wouldn't have to resort to this line of work but the minute you become a "person of age" in this country, corporations show you the door.

    December 6, 2011 at 11:22 am |
    • Chico

      And they have some very nice doors, too.

      December 6, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
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About this blog

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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.