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. Hans

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    March 3, 2012 at 11:47 pm |
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    February 7, 2012 at 5:22 am |
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    February 3, 2012 at 9:00 am |
  4. Apostle Eric vonAnderseck

    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.
    Apostle Eric says; Great! And I am sure the ranks of enrolment will swell just after the rapture. http://apostlestoday.net/

    February 16, 2011 at 9:01 am |
  5. Confused

    I really begin to question the goodness of humanity, when innocent articles such as this come under such heavy scrutiny.

    February 14, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
    • Teens

      Wow! Thank you! I continually wnaetd to write on my site something like that. Can I include a fragment of your post to my website?

      March 4, 2012 at 12:43 am |
  6. Layton

    In "The Collar," journalist Jonathan Englert describes the seminary experiences of five "second-career" priests - men who came to their vocation later than their college years. A fascinating book; another part of the dialogue.

    February 14, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
  7. Richard McCarthy

    As usual, these types of articles only touch the high points of a topic. I would be curious to see a cross-section of those entering seminaries of different faiths, especially if they are entering the seminaries of non-mainstream denominations. I am 60 years old and just completed a bachelors degree in religious studies, which included my ordination as a non-denominational minister. My "scripture" includes the Bible, but I have no problems reading or discussing the Quran, the Upanishads, or the Pali Canon. All of these texts are useful as long as they are NOT used to justify hate, violence, or isolation of one race, group or tribe from another. At its best, all scripture teaches us to love God, and to love, feed and assist those less fortunate than us.

    February 14, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
  8. Bob Rock

    There must be a lot of aging pedophiles out there – but I guess it's never too late for them!

    February 14, 2011 at 11:10 am |
  9. JohnF

    I am one of those later-life seminarians, beginning at 46. I didn't enter the seminar to become a pastor but only to study and learn at a depth that simply isn't possible through popularized, feel-good literature. Certainly, there are very tough questions to be debated and very tough personal decisions to be made in the face of the possibility of eternity. Whether you are here as a God-Jesus-Christian basher or its opposite, it is extremely gratifying to know that the debate rages on. No subset of humans will ever settle these issues for all involved – we have ample evidence of that. It would be sad, indeed, if the voices on different sides of the issue fell silent. So, please, speak your heart and mind but, if possible, perhaps with a renewed sense of civility that recognizes each person does, at the end of the day, have their own choices to make. I chose to follow Jesus a long time ago but that was my choice. As a Christian, I am charged with the task of _informing_ others about Jesus, but absolutely not with the charge of debating or browbeating them into believing. Once informed, others are in a position to search their own hearts and make their own, hopefully fully-informed, decisions. Obnoxious Christians are a real bother and people who don't grant themselves the option to consider the possibilities are a tragedy. Enjoy the debate!

    February 14, 2011 at 10:58 am |
  10. Margroks

    Truth is that Catholic seminaries can't keep their ranks up anymore. And no wonder. They teach nonsense and women aren't invited. Thank God my hubby had the sense to get out after five years of that. He serves God every day by being a wonderful human being, husband, and father to a wonderful child. Thank goodness he didn't waste his life in the seminary with Conservative exclusionaries.

    February 14, 2011 at 10:56 am |
    • Jeb

      happy hating

      February 14, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • CatholicMom

      Seminarians are expected to discern their vocation while at seminary. It is a good thing that your husband discerned that his vocation in life was in marriage to you. Those who discern wrongly end up having problems later on.
      Sounds like you think that your husband needs to as you do, hate the seminary just because it was not his vocation.

      February 14, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
    • ScottK

      "Thank goodness he didn't waste his life in the seminary with Conservative exclusionaries." – I have heard the old "I'd rather believe and be wrong than not believe and be right" excuse for having a religion, but i think you make a good point against that, though probably not meaning to. You are thanking goodness that he did not pursue a life spent working for and dedicated to what many people believe is the one true God, why? Because you feel (and I think rightly) that his life has been better spent enjoying the life he has been given, spending time with family, getting to love and be loved, instead of denying himself lifes wonders in the name of self sacrafice to a supposed ancient diety. Well, I think that can apply to all religion as a whole. Getting to live life on this planet is an amazing thing and I think far to many people end up trading the bird in hand for the two in the invisible, unproven heavenly bush.

      February 14, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
    • kryga

      Perhaps your husband was kicked out or was not able to cope with the seminary academic life...

      February 14, 2011 at 10:56 pm |
  11. Real words

    I think the whole thing is "mind over matter". If you are religious and it brings you comfort in your life than more power to you! If you belive in God and you feel the need to share.....than DO IT! If you don't believe and you think "luck" is all there is, than "good for you"! What most people fail to realize is that everyone has a CHOICE and it's a free country. You can believe however you want. What's wrong with believing in GOD if it brings comfort through hard times and confirmation through the good times! BUT I bet when it is close to the end for you, my friend.....you would rather believe in SOMETHING than NOTHING!

    February 14, 2011 at 10:52 am |
  12. JonathanL

    I bet it's only because they were laid off before they planned to retire and have little else to do. Besides maybe for most of them, the thrill (of leading a sinful life) is gone. Personally I am a strong moralist, lead a relatively virtuous life, enjoy church music and love the story and I can enjoy going to church for social reasons, but since I always put reason over faith, I am classed with the Doubting Thomases and would not make a good seminary student (knowledgable perhaps but not believing much of it).

    February 14, 2011 at 10:49 am |
    • JohnF

      Whose morals? Yours?
      You're a Doubting Thomas? Seems he encounted Jesus big-time with major dose of reality – John 20:24-29.
      Attend Church for "social reasons?" Hmmm ...

      February 14, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • Maybe

      Well, this "Thomas" guy just must have been so much better and so much more loved by this "God" than anyone since then... to have had all of his doubts so easily and completely answered. Isn't that special.

      February 14, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
    • chris

      How does reason overcome faith? When I talk to my unbelieving mom about God, and tell her why I came up with the conclusions I have, she said, and I quote "you shouldn't reason so much."
      Examining everything truly will lead you to Him, but you have to really examine EVERYTHING. He leaves us no room to doubt when we deliberatly seek for answers.

      February 14, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
    • Bob.

      > How does reason overcome faith?

      Very simply Chris.

      1) There are many different religions on earth.

      2) These religions have different beliefs about God.

      3) Religions are based on faith.

      4) Given 1 and 2, not all religions can be correct about the nature of God.

      5) Given 3 and 4, faith is unreliable for discerning the nature of God.

      In fact, I'd say that at best, only one religion would be right and the rest wrong. That means 99% of all religions that have ever existed were wrong. And their logical basis is faith.

      That's how reason proves faith wrong.

      February 14, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
    • Bob.

      > He leaves us no room to doubt when we deliberatly seek for answers.

      So, when you've accepted that it's true, you then accept the answers it provides? Wow.

      February 14, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
    • BarbaraR

      Doubtuing is why one goes to seminary – its vertianly not faith – its faith in faith perhaps. If one did not have serious doubts, why woul done want to study it?
      I for one amons of those who learned enough in seminary to make a decsion about my faith. It drives me nuts when people think that we folk who go in fo rhtis type of thing are holier than tho and that we are the faithful more than those who don't choose to study.

      February 21, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
  13. fran drake

    They are going into it because of the job market...no jobs...re tool....

    February 14, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • ScottK

      The two things that almost always rise during a recession, crime & religion.

      February 14, 2011 at 6:23 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.