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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 • TV-CNN Newsroom

soundoff (653 Responses)
  1. novoodoo

    Our tax dollars go to operating the 'presumed' donation run organizations in the form of grants.

    And the volunteer work? Yes, that gets billed on paper at an average of $15/hr.. Making it look like CC is putting in cash.

    BTW: The largest worldwide contributor to helping humans is the USA. That's right. And that includes atheists too.

    To the freak catholic church, do it with your own money and get OFF my tax dollars.

    December 5, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
    • bad2worse

      I for one am all for taxing these religions.
      They are all in shape and form-a business!

      December 5, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
    • novoodoo

      That's right. They run the organization with our tax dollar and use the donation money for vatican profit.

      December 5, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
  2. mique

    Seems reminiscent of the Middle Ages when the sons and daughters of nobles were sent to the priesthood or convents when no other position could be found for them.

    December 5, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
  3. Reality

    Dear Seminarians,

    Saving Christians like yourselves from the Infamous Resurrection/Easter Con:

    From that famous passage: In 1 Corinthians 15 St. Paul reasoned, "If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith."

    Even now Catholic/Christian professors of theology are questioning the bodily resurrection of the simple, preacher man aka Jesus.

    To wit;

    From a major Catholic university's theology professor’s grad school white-board notes:

    "Heaven is a Spirit state or spiritual reality of union with God in love, without earthly – earth bound distractions.
    Jesus and Mary's bodies are therefore not in Heaven.

    Most believe that it to mean that the personal spiritual self that survives death is in continuity with the self we were while living on earth as an embodied person.

    Again, the physical Resurrection (meaning a resuscitated corpse returning to life), Ascension (of Jesus' crucified corpse), and Assumption (Mary's corpse) into heaven did not take place.

    The Ascension symbolizes the end of Jesus' earthly ministry and the beginning of the Church.

    Only Luke's Gospel records it. The Assumption ties Jesus' mission to Pentecost and missionary activity of Jesus' followers The Assumption has multiple layers of symbolism, some are related to Mary's special role as "Christ bearer" (theotokos). It does not seem fitting that Mary, the body of Jesus' Virgin-Mother (another biblically based symbol found in Luke 1) would be derived by worms upon her death. Mary's assumption also shows God's positive regard, not only for Christ's male body, but also for female bodies." "

    "In three controversial Wednesday Audiences, Pope John Paul II pointed out that the essential characteristic of heaven, hell or purgatory is that they are states of being of a spirit (angel/demon) or human soul, rather than places, as commonly perceived and represented in human language. This language of place is, according to the Pope, inadequate to describe the realities involved, since it is tied to the temporal order in which this world and we exist. In this he is applying the philosophical categories used by the Church in her theology and saying what St. Thomas Aquinas said long before him."
    http://eternal-word.com/library/PAPALDOC/JP2HEAVN.HTM

    With respect to rising from the dead, we also have this account:

    An added note: As per R.B. Stewart in his introduction to the recent book, The Resurrection of Jesus, Crossan and Wright in Dialogue,

    p.4

    "Reimarus (1774-1778) posits that Jesus became sidetracked by embracing a political position, sought to force God's hand and that he died alone deserted by his disciples. What began as a call for repentance ended up as a misguided attempt to usher in the earthly political kingdom of God. After Jesus' failure and death, his disciples stole his body and declared his resurrection in order to maintain their financial security and ensure themselves some standing."

    p.168. by Ted Peters:

    Even so, asking historical questions is our responsibility. Did Jesus really rise from the tomb? Is it necessary to have been raised from the tomb and to appear to his disciples in order to explain the rise of early church and the transcription of the bible? Crossan answers no, Wright answers, yes. "

    So where are the bones"? As per Professor Crossan's analyses in his many books, the body of Jesus would have ended up in the mass graves of the crucified, eaten by wild dogs, covered with lime in a shallow grave, or under a pile of stones.

    December 5, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
    • ?

      I was Hitler II last night. I'm considering being an outraged born-again Christian tonight and arguing with atheists. Or, I could be an argumentative atheist and ridicule Christians. I haven't decided yet. What do you think?

      December 5, 2011 at 6:50 pm |
    • John

      Dear Reality,

      Descarte had nothing on you. Fortunately for human kind, Descarte didn't have a clue of what he was talking about, and neither do you.

      For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18

      December 5, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
    • ?

      O.K., I've decided to be an outraged born-again Christian. That will be far more amusing. And ... I think I'll be female tonight, with a good uptight born-again Christian name like "Linda." Yes, that will be fine. I'll start when I get back from shopping at Costco with my wife, about 7:00 pm.

      December 5, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
    • catholic engineer

      "Again, the physical Resurrection (meaning a resuscitated corpse returning to life), Ascension (of Jesus' crucified corpse), and Assumption (Mary's corpse) into heaven did not take place."

      Your definition of a Resurrection is not correct. People are resuscitated on deathbeds all the time. They are still the same physically, we still recognize them, touch them, talk to them. Like Lazarus.Even the people who have experienced NDE's are the same physically. But in Lukes gospel, the Resurrected (not resuscitated) Jesus takes a long walk with desciples on the road to Emmaus. They did not recognize Him until he broke bread. When after He rose, He appeared in the upper room, He said "do not touch me since I have not yet ascended to the Father." A resurrection is a completely different phenominon from a mere resuscitation.

      December 5, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
    • catholic engineer

      I'm a sceptic. Specifically about modern "scholars" working in ivory towers on the doctoral theses. In Acts 5, old Gamaliel had something to say to our scholars. He told us of a Thadius who passed himself off as someone special, built up a followiing, was killed, and his followers dispersed. Likewise, a certain Judas the Galilean did the same thing. He, too, was killed and his following evaporated. Gamaliel said to the Sanhedrin "... have nothing to do with these desciples (of JC). If their purpose is of human origins, it will destroy itself. If it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them without fighting God Himself." In short, in the face of Gamaliel's words, many of today's scholars are wasting their powder and shot.

      December 5, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
    • Dasein

      Catholic engineer: Are you a real engineer or the custodian kind of "engineer"?

      December 5, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
    • TheWiz71

      There have been some very scholarly refutations of Crossan, and the methods of the "Jesus Seminar", most notably by N.T. Wright. Even for modern scholarly theologians, there is plenty of reason to believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus.

      December 5, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
    • catholic engineer

      @Dasein

      I am a mechanical engineer who specializes in stress analysis of pressure vessels. I possess two US patents, and a third pending in five nations.

      Thanks for asking.

      December 5, 2011 at 8:12 pm |
    • Reality

      And then there are the infamous angelic cons:

      Joe Smith had his Moroni.

      Jehovah Witnesses have their Jesus /Michael the archangel, the first angelic being created by God;

      Mohammed had his Gabriel (this "tin-kerbell" got around).

      Jesus and his family had Michael, Gabriel, and Satan, the latter being a modern day dem-on of the de-mented.

      The Abraham-Moses myths had their Angel of Death and other "no-namers" to do their dirty work or other assorted duties.

      Contemporary biblical and religious scholars have relegated these "pretty wingie thingies" to the myth pile. We should do the same to include deleting all references to them in our religious operating manuals. Doing this will eliminate the prophet/profit/prophecy status of these founders and put them where they belong as simple humans just like the rest of us.

      Some added references to "tink-erbells".

      "Latter-day Saints also believe that Michael the Archangel was Adam (the first man) when he was mortal, and Gabriel lived on the earth as Noah."

      Apparently hallu-cinations did not stop with Joe Smith.

      newadvent.org/cathen/07049c.htm

      "The belief in guardian angels can be traced throughout all antiquity; pagans, like Menander and Plutarch (cf. Euseb., "Praep. Evang.", xii), and Neo-Platonists, like Plotinus, held it. It was also the belief of the Babylonians and As-syrians, as their monuments testify, for a figure of a guardian angel now in the British Museum once decorated an As-syrian palace, and might well serve for a modern representation; while Nabopolassar, father of Nebuchadnezzar the Great, says: "He (Marduk) sent a tutelary deity (cherub) of grace to go at my side; in everything that I did, he made my work to succeed."
      Catholic monks and Dark Age theologians also did their share of hallu-cinating:

      "TUBUAS-A member of the group of angels who were removed from the ranks of officially recognized celestial hierarchy in 745 by a council in Rome under Pope Zachary. He was joined by Uriel, Adimus, Sabaoth, Simiel, and Raguel."

      And tin-ker- bells go way, way back:

      "In Zoroastrianism there are different angel like creatures. For example each person has a guardian angel called Fravashi. They patronize human being and other creatures and also manifest god’s energy. Also, the Amesha Spentas have often been regarded as angels, but they don't convey messages, but are rather emanations of Ahura Mazda ("Wise Lord", God); they appear in an abstract fashion in the religious thought of Zarathustra and then later (during the Achaemenid period of Zoroastrianism) became personalized, associated with an aspect of the divine creation (fire, plants, water...)."

      "The beginnings of the biblical belief in angels must be sought in very early folklore. The gods of the Hitti-tes and Canaanites had their supernatural messengers, and parallels to the Old Testament stories of angels are found in Near Eastern literature. "

      "The 'Magic Papyri' contain many spells to secure just such help and protection of angels. From magic traditions arose the concept of the guardian angel. "

      December 6, 2011 at 12:03 am |
    • Reality

      . JC's family and friends had it right 2000 years ago ( Mark 3: 21 "And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself.")

      Said passage is one of the few judged to be authentic by most contemporary NT scholars. e.g. See Professor Ludemann's conclusion in his book, Jesus After 2000 Years, p. 24 and p. 694

      Actually, Jesus was a bit "touched". After all he thought he spoke to Satan, thought he changed water into wine, thought he raised Lazarus from the dead etc. In today's world, said Jesus would be declared legally insane.

      Or did P, M, M, L and J simply make him into a first century magic-man via their epistles and gospels of semi-fiction? Most contemporary NT experts after thorough analyses of all the scriptures go with the latter magic-man conclusion with J's gospel being mostly fiction.

      Obviously, today's followers of Paul et al's "magic-man" are also a bit on the odd side believing in all the Christian mumbo jumbo about bodies resurrecting, and exorcisms, and miracles, and "magic-man atonement, and infallible, old, European/Utah white men, and 24/7 body/blood sacrifices followed by consumption of said sacrifices. Yummy!!!!

      So why do we really care what a first century CE, illiterate, long-dead, preacher man would do or say?

      December 6, 2011 at 12:13 am |
    • Reality

      Please note that the "raising" of Lazarus appears in only John's Gospel, the least historic of the four. Such an important event would have been noted in all the gospels and other related docu-ments from the time period.

      From Professor Gerd Ludemann's book, Jesus After 2000 Years, p. 416, "Anyone in search of the historical Jesus will not find him in the Gospel of John......This verdict is the consensus among New Testament scholars."

      December 6, 2011 at 12:17 am |
  4. fedup99

    Let the churches die. Free market right? Good old capitalism, right? Just giving hope to the hopeless poor, right?

    December 5, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
  5. celticrose

    Having been through seminary myself and my spouse is an out of work minister, I have to say that while it may be a fulfilling academic career, it will not be a financially good one. We have been turned out of not only a job,but also a house (manse), community (where our manse was and the friends we made)and church (because how can you stay after you are no longer the minister?) due to the poor economy and now are trying to change careers. It is a huge thing to loose all these things at once and it happens all the time. Churches are getting smaller and unless you have great plans to start your own church or don't need an income, the money is not going into mainline denominations anymore. It is a great part time career, but I would not suggest making it your primary income.

    December 5, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
  6. Mr. Black

    Oh, isnt it precious....the boomers want to dominate something else; the clergy. Such and safe a secure gig after the destroyed the country. The precious boomers deserve it and shouldnt have their feelings hurt.

    December 5, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
  7. Enlighten

    Absolute nonsense.

    December 5, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
  8. Coyote

    The boomers destroyed this country via greed and (as another poster pointed out) left their children with a lower standard of living than they had. I hope they are happy with their new found positions of religious importance. They should be happy....because their happiness is clearly all that matters, ever.

    December 5, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
    • Gary

      Yeah... but it was the generations before the boomers who allowed the development of the military-industrial complex... which is the root of our broken economy. Boomer merely inherited that economic system. Gen X and Y will have the opportunity to fix it and no matter what they do, Gen Z and those that follow will blame the Gen X and Y for being incompetent, selfish, and greedy.... History does repeat itself... over and over.

      December 5, 2011 at 7:09 pm |
  9. jimmyjames

    Further proof that baby bummers are the most worthless, selfish generation to ever exist on the planet. Anything for attention and an easy check.

    December 5, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
    • Jamie

      Easy check? You insult me.

      December 5, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
    • TheWiz71

      I have known very, very few clergy who do it for the check – and such as it is (because usually, it's not much), it isn't easy. Some of the stuff clergy deal with on a routine basis would give you nightmares. You try giving comfort to a newly bereaved family, especially when the person who died did so as the result of violence. You try bringing peace to people on the margins of society. Heck, you even try preaching a Christmas sermon year after year to the same congregation, and struggle to find the inspiration to find a new angle. Not easy work at all.

      December 5, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
  10. bill

    So the baby boomers realize that they cant retire after the recessions and think that the religious calling is a good way to guarantee that they wont starve or be homeless int heir old age.

    December 5, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
    • DuckHunter

      Agreed. The boomers destroyed this country with their narcissism and then claim we, the younger generation, is lazy because of it. The boomers, for the first time in history, will pass along a worse economic future for their children. This is what their legacy is. Self centered f@*#&rs

      December 5, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
    • Martin

      and tax exempt too

      December 5, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
    • RR1982

      Thanks for trading morals for profit, baby boomers! Gen Y really enjoys the 19% REAL unemployment. Have fun in the seminary. See you at the church food pantry, because that's what we inherited from you.

      December 5, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
    • Tracy

      No, they have grown up. They realize there is more to life than what most people believe is SO important. (materialism, and a really big one...themselves) Besides, I grew up where those in the ministry worked 1 maybe 2 extra jobs to help pay the bills. Jesus was a carpenter you know.

      December 5, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
    • TheWiz71

      See my reply above. Same goes to you.

      December 5, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
  11. slupdawg

    Navel-gazers to the end. Blech.

    December 5, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
    • datruff

      Are you fer real? This is a noble profession. What do you do for a living- oh, I get it you are one of the 99 percenters that think that we owe you a free living. Get out of mommy's basement and get a job, 'tard."

      December 5, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
    • novoodoo

      Hitler was a devout catholic. In fact the vatican held onto his possessions for him. Ever wonder why the vatican was never bombed?? There you have it. Remember, the catholics hated jews

      December 5, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
    • The 666 Club

      datruff – you epitomize the word moron.

      December 5, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
  12. Deist 1#

    Easy money.

    December 5, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
  13. bluemax77

    It’s the only place the thrown away and neglected over 50s can get a meal...

    December 5, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
    • datruff

      How does your fat a...z get a meal or 10 a day. Do you actually work for a living or are the folks you diss and I support you?

      December 5, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
  14. WyoWind

    I enjoyed this article. While I am a younger Baby Boomer (1960) I have given some thought to attending seminary. I am glad to see people in this generation wanting to do what they can give give back to their country and community. Many churches do what they can i.e. donating clothing and sponsoring food drives. There are certainly worse ways to spend ones time on the other side of 50 than rethinking life priorities and working for such good.

    December 5, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
  15. carm

    It's probably because they failed at life, and can't afford to pay their rent. 3 squares a day, a roof over their heads, too old for gay bars now.

    December 5, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
    • daveinla

      Indeed. They broke the bank with Great Society, now time to hide under the frock and get free rent.

      December 5, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
    • Gary

      Actually your comment is completely off base. If you think about the psychology of Erickson there are natural stages people achieve before moving on to the next stage. Of the highest stages of development there is ego integrity. If these boomers had not been high achievers in early life they would not be called to spiritual and social service. They are displaying integrity rather than dispair or stagnation where many of their age group get stuck.

      December 5, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
    • bluemax77

      Psycho-babble...

      December 5, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
    • Gary

      bluemax77.. you could try getting an education or you can label something you know notihing about as psychobabble and stay ignorant... choice is yours but it doesn't appear to be the choice of those entering seminary.

      December 5, 2011 at 6:20 pm |
    • datruff

      You are obviously not too old for the gay bars! What a loser u r.

      December 5, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
  16. Spence

    It's pretty bad when all these laid off 50 somethings are taking whatever they can get just to have a roof over their heads. No one is hiring people over 50 so they get a job at a church that will house and feed them. Sounds pretty sad to me.

    December 5, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
    • datruff

      So Spence, do you actually have a job? I'm guessing 7-11 or a retail store. Many of us 50+ are smart enough to not have to work in menial jobs, but folks like you...

      December 5, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
  17. Father Stacy

    "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."

    Because clergy, apparently, do not experience LIFE. Very poor writing, CNN.

    December 5, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
    • Ann the Atheist

      Accurate, unless you count raping small children

      December 5, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
    • Yo!

      "Accurate, unless you count raping small children"

      Wow the stupidity of people, only 4% of the priest were convicted of child molestation, that means that 96% of the priest are good people. What just because a few are bad then ALL people are bad, what an idiot.

      December 5, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
  18. Gary

    I don't affiliate with any organized religion but I can't help but think that the clergy will benefit greatly from having members who have lived lives in the real world... paid mortgages... raised kids... and had the knocks life can dish out. They will be better prepared to minister to their congregations with more than academic knowledge.

    December 5, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
  19. Alex

    BOOOOO stay out of the church's and head to a school instead

    December 5, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
    • TheWiz71

      Anyone who doesn't know how to use an apostrophe, and who doesn't know that the plural of "church" is "churches" not "church's" (which is actually the possessive form of "church") cannot be taken seriously in this matter.

      December 5, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
  20. pat

    Cool, there is more to life than money, maybe some will find the way.

    December 5, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
    • Watch for the Catholic Church to loosen up.....

      its rules on celibacy as their priest candidate ranks dwindle. They will begin to allow married dudes to be priests very soon. Did you know that Peter (yep, that Peter!) the Apostle WAS MARRIED. For those that never read their Bible and just accept what ther priest tells them, look it up. Peter was married. His mother-in-law is referred to (Matthew 8:14). His wife accompanied him on at least some of his missionary journeys (1 Corinthians 9:5).

      December 5, 2011 at 5:36 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.