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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

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soundoff (653 Responses)
  1. vel

    yep, get that foot in the pearly gates when you see your mortality coming straight at you. Too bad it will be for naught.

    December 5, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
  2. Peter

    whoever lets their kids in close proximity to any of these white collar wearing guys is looking for trouble...sheeple

    December 5, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
    • jwk

      Are you talking from your own experience?

      December 5, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
    • Chikenlips

      without a doubt

      December 5, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • Ben

      Using your logic children should also stay away from sport's coaches. Try not to sound so ignorant please.

      December 5, 2011 at 8:11 pm |
  3. mikemazzla@yahoo.com

    Nothing better than to reach out to ignorant immigrants who do not have a lot of hope with the BS story of God

    December 5, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
  4. loathstheright

    Maybe it's because if you are 50 and over and got laid off there is an ice cubes chance in h*ll to find another job....and this is the only thing available to them.

    December 5, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
  5. general

    I can't comprehend how anyone can still believe in this stuff. Idiotville. I am not hating but grow and wise the f up.

    December 5, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
    • larrydavidsandwhich

      That's like calling someone the N-word and saying you're not racist.

      December 5, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
    • Cassie

      Agreed!

      December 5, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
    • Cassie

      I find it absolutely amazing that people still believe in a bearded old white guy floating above the clouds, knowing our every thought. Wake up, people!

      December 5, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
    • jwk

      Cassie, are you talking about Allah?

      December 5, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
  6. Steevo

    They can't find a real job in this economy so they might as well go for a "pretend" job.

    December 5, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
  7. Ratetat

    It's pretty cut and dry judging people who are out of touch with reality. All religions have been created in our minds because it is so hard to accept that there is no real design or purpose for life. We, because of the nature of our brain development are the only species on this planet at least to express and be so frustrated by it all. Religion poses a very fatal mistake in our development too. It is a shame. It is a show stopper.

    December 5, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
  8. pulsars

    "Baby Boomers Heading Back to Seminary" – because the jobs they used to have are now overseas and are never coming back.

    December 5, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
  9. Jeremy

    How sad – there is so much more that you could do with your lives, so many meaningful things that can be learned. Why would you want to contribute to the rational thought neglect practised by any religion? The world woul dbe such a better place if we could leave all of that nonsense in the bronze age, where it belongs.

    December 5, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • larrydavidsandwhich

      As an atheist, I despise the moral superiority feigned by my fellow atheists.

      December 5, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
    • Chuckles

      @larrydavid

      Moral Superiority? I haven't seen it once other than atheists around here saying that have as much morality as the next guy.

      December 5, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
    • larrydavidsandwhich

      By calling everyone else stupid for not believing as they believe? Look harder, friend.

      December 5, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
    • Chuckles

      thats not moral superiority pal, it might be arrogance depending on the conversation. For instance, if someone, say like above posts, say "everyone is an idiot for believing in religion" that's arrogance or even a bit of superiority (not MORAL superiority though). However, if I get into a debate with someone like, @fred or @chad who clearly shows their ignorance than calling them idiots is nothing more than stating a fact.

      December 5, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
  10. jwk

    How many of you – people who claim all Catholic priests are pedophiles – have been actually abused by one?

    December 5, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
    • David in Corpus

      I have never tried cocaine either but I know it ain't good for me.

      December 5, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
    • jwk

      So, Dave, is the child abuse problem really wide spread in the Catholic Church, or is it just the media making it a good story?

      December 5, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
    • Little Billy

      I tried SO hard during my early school years, guess I wasn't their type. Love me daddy!

      December 5, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
    • mikemazzla@yahoo.com

      One only need to read the newspaper kiddo.

      December 5, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
    • J.W

      The problem is not necessarily how many there were, but how it was handled.

      December 5, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
    • dale

      I was and it was a Church of Christ preacher, same thing. Same storybook.

      December 5, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
    • jwk

      The bottom line is we all rely on stories prepared and delivered to us by the media. Oh, and by the trial lawyers.

      December 5, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
  11. Ben

    Having thoroughly destroyed the cultural, economic, and ideological foundations upon which this once great country was founded upon, the Boomers are now moving on to the clergy. No generation in the history of the world has been given more, wasted more, and destroyed more than the progeny of the "greatest generation".

    December 5, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
  12. Ratetat

    Nothing more needed to be said here. Good job everyone.

    December 5, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
  13. Livelystone

    Eventually every person ever born will know the truth and the love of Jesus Christ

    It would be so much better for all if the church would learn this one simple fact in this life, rather than have to be taught it in the life that follows this one.

    December 5, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
    • Martin

      spoken like a true religious supremacist...one day, maybe, religious supremacists will be clearly unmasked as being as evil as racial supremacists

      December 5, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
    • Livelystone

      What is evil about helping your neighbor no matter their beliefs, taking care of the poor, healing the sick and putting an end to war?

      Seems that the beam of hatred in your eye is blinding you from the truth

      December 5, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
    • Daniel in Canada

      Congrats. Fine demonstration of the self delusion necessary to be a member of any religious cult. Replace J.C. with Santa Claus. Does your statement still make sense to you?

      December 5, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
  14. Justice

    Why do you feel the need to tear down others who are different than you? Do you judge all others who are different than you in some way? It sounds like you won't have many friends with this practice. Try practicing tolerance just as we believers tolerate you. God bless you.

    December 5, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
    • Ratetat

      It's pretty cut and dry judging people who are out of touch with reality. All religions have been created in our minds because it is so hard to accept that there is no real design or purpose for life. We, because of the nature of our brain development are the only species on this planet at least to express and be so frustrated by it all. Religion poses a very fatal mistake in our development too. It is a shame. It is a show stopper.

      December 5, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
  15. Adam

    Now they can spend the rest of their lives lying to children as much as they have been lying to themselves.

    December 5, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
  16. the_dude

    Thanks for destroying our country boomers!

    December 5, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • Doug in SF

      Maybe you should put forth some constructive ideas to fix it if you think it's broken.

      December 5, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
    • Martin

      next batch indeed...the American dream is now only for the rich and exceptionally brilliant...for the rest, its become a hopeless nightmare...and now come the baby boomer carpetbaggers...in ten years or less, there will be guerilla warfare in the US...you can only drug the hopeless with religous opium for so long til even they realize they are nothing but beat down pawns in a plutocracy

      December 5, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
    • Hadenufyet

      Violence ... the last resort of a weak mind.

      December 5, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
  17. durundal

    Great so they trash our economy, and now they want to move onto our churches. Hey, wait a minute! GO GO GO GO

    Maybe after that we can focus on training in skills that actually contribute economic value to society, and promote higher thinking so that american innovation wont die out and be replaced by 'creationism' and religious studies.

    December 5, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
  18. humilitynow

    Why are most of the comments on this site cynical and full of enmity?

    December 5, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
    • sam

      It's the whole site. Mostly it's treated like a place to hassle each other and make snarky comments about everything. It's tradition.

      December 5, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
    • Granite Sentry

      We live in divided times. It's not just in here, and it's not necessarily bad. The times were divided before we stamped out slavery in this country, too. Granitesentrydotcom.

      December 5, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • EnjaySea

      Because non-believers are fed up being considered as non-earthlings because we use critical thinking instead of gullibility to form our opinions. This, and other comment threads like it, are one of the few ways that we can finally stand up and fight back, and be heard.

      Because christians have had the upper-hand for centuries and are terribly offended now that they are actually being challenged, and reply back with equal "enthusiasm".

      It's good for all of us.

      December 5, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
  19. Bob D Iowa

    unemployment insurance ran out. get a real job...

    December 5, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
    • Sarah

      How about getting an education. Most pastors work the same hours as Doctors. It's not just about the pulpit, studying the bible, etc. It's also about visiting shut-ins, those in hospitals, assisting the dying, funerals when necessary, weddings when requested, and sometimes preparing a sermon can take days. It depends on where God leads. Don't speak out of ignorance. Otherwise, all you have to share is your hatred.

      December 5, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
    • Sarah

      At our church, let's also add in committee meetings to discuss evangelism, the church budget to keep us afloat, committee meetings to discuss social ministry, and assisting the poor, committee meetings to discuss buildings and grounds upkeep, committee meetings to discuss Christian education, and the sunday school curriculum for the next quarter... So see, a Pastor's job is a real job.

      December 5, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
  20. David in Corpus

    Sorry boomers, a lifetimes worth of mistakes, failed policies, and corporate greed at the expense of your children and their children will not be stowed away into that good nite by getting right with God.
    Sounds like a new (and as usual) expensive boomer hobby.
    Boomers = the worst generation america has ever seen.

    December 5, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
    • Doug in SF

      Have you seen the current generation? Wait another 25 years and see what they've accomplished.

      December 5, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
    • jimbo999

      Whatever. There's plenty of nice retail jobs at McD's or Walmart for all you ungrateful gen-x/y folks. Stop your whining, get a job and move out of your parent's basement.

      December 5, 2011 at 4:36 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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.