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. Crump

    Actually, my prediction is that this trend puts an exclamation point on the prevalent description of organized religion as DYING, ANTIQUATED, and IRRELEVANT. I've got nothing against the boomers. It just could not be more ironic that the "hippies" who rejected the modern modality of their own youth have turned around to drive what's left of organized religion into the dirt.

    With grey-hairs in the pews and grey-hairs in the pulpits, is it any wonder that the 40 and less crowd has abandoned ship? The boomers are bringing back the church of the '50s.

    Beaver Cleaver is back! And he's wearing a robe!

    February 13, 2011 at 9:33 pm |
    • Sam

      Hmmm....interesting opinion. But having just an opinion without any real life experience to back it up puts one at a disadvantage – like an unarmed man. In my experience with churches I've attended AND with churches I track online or on an inspirational network, there is an upsurge in twenty- and thirty-something attendees and the church is experiencing a transfusion of youthful, fervent energy. There is also a huge move of inter-generational communication resulting in the younger generation being mentored and enriched by the older generation, and the older generation being energized by the younger.

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

      Case in point... take a peak at these videos and tell me how much grey hair you spot in the crowd. As regarding "dying, antiquated, and irrelevant" – I don't see that happenin' here. Today's Christian music is anything but antiquated and the messages of today are alive and kickin' – and complete relevant. Not your granny's old time religion. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6QGIVpL5GdQ&feature=related – and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7zHZHhgzqZo&feature=related.

      February 13, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
  2. Chris

    It is great that folks have the opportunity to pursue advanced studies at seminaries. Having studied at a seminary as a young man, I found that older students with their years of experience, contribute much to the discussion and make the graduate experience much more enriching. Some of the texts I studied were made much clearer after I heard classmates share their reading of them. I applaud anyone who wishes to understand the Christian faith better through systematic study. I would also like to thank CNN for posting this story – I appreciate reading a story about religion that is respectful and positive.

    February 13, 2011 at 9:21 pm |
  3. ginger

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with pastors or Christians making money! The problem is the "love" of money.

    February 13, 2011 at 9:16 pm |
  4. myoleman

    How tragic that most early evangelists, those that founded the faith, could not do ministry in today's churches, since they didn't have the necessary educational credentials. Not even Our Lord Jesus Christ did. But again, I don't think any of them would want to work in today's churches. That's probably not what they had in mind when they gave their lives for the faith.

    February 13, 2011 at 9:01 pm |
  5. Whocares

    Who cares what the baby boomers do, good for them – it's a free country.

    February 13, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
  6. Trolleyfish

    This is a waste of time and money. They're better off reading real literature, going to a park, or spending time with others.

    February 13, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
  7. myoleman

    How sad that some people let economic concerns get in the way of pursuing a career in ministry. But again, it's probably better since anyone who looks back isn't worthy of Our Lord Jesus Christ. But better later than never. I also wonder how the early disciples did it, since the Bible says that most of them were uneducated, by today's standards they could not do ministry in most contemporary churches, yet their work survives till today. Maybe Jesus didn't know as much as today's organized church leadership knows.

    February 13, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
  8. msaprilr

    I went to Bible College when I was 17. My father was a minister so I had a bit of a head start on the education part. But I was at a disadvantage when it came to experience. Now that I'm much older, I have the experience, but not the energy required to minister to a church full of people. I don't know how dad did it. Even a small congregation can drag you in a million directions. I wish I could have the wisdom of experience and the energy of youth. But then, if I had the energy, I'd probably use it for something selfish.

    February 13, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
  9. CS77

    Lets see... Baby Boomers gave us a permissive drug culture, made broken families acceptable, fought tooth and nail for Roe v. Wade, have spent their entire inheritance (and every future generation's inheritance for that matter) making their lives comfortable, exported our jobs overseas, and now they want to preach to us too? Sorry... we (the succeeding generations) are too busy adapting to the garbage can world you left us... we want nothing to do with your sermons.

    February 13, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
    • Sean

      Can't these folks (the 50+ers getting a sudden "calling") just repent to God and the people around them...that would probably go alot further in accomplishing God's work than self-serving, self-agrandizing actions.

      February 14, 2011 at 5:03 am |
  10. Thegoodman

    Well being a minister is essentially a salesman. Even if they have a noble goal of caring for their flock; they still require money to do so. Any salesman knows that credibility is terrific asset for any sales pitch. The sales pitch of "I know, I lived the life you live for 20+ yrs, now I'm a man of god" certainly holds more water than "I admired my youth group leader and just finished seminary, I'm 24". The church sells life lessons and advice for the low low price of 10% of whatever you make. Who is going to take advice or life lessons from a kid that is wet behind the ears?

    February 13, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
    • msaprilr

      Your a sick person. My dad was a minister and he in no way ever sold anything you filthy freak. Neither do any of my friends in Ministry around the world today. You've got some big fat balls on the internet. You say something like that to my face and I promise you I will not react like a good christian. You SHOULD be ashamed of yourself. If you're not, then you're even sicker than I thought. Your mother should have washed your mouth out with soap before you became such a verbally foul fool. Go crawl back to whatever toothless drug addicted crack ho spawned you and work out your emotional issues.

      February 13, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
    • satan

      msaprilr, there is no god and your mother should have had an abortion.

      February 13, 2011 at 9:12 pm |
    • Sam

      The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”

      February 13, 2011 at 10:49 pm |
  11. bailoutsos

    So, if I find God, can I make millions like Joel Olsteen and his wife?

    February 13, 2011 at 8:07 pm |
  12. bailoutsos

    So, if I find God, can I make millions like that Joel Olsteen guy?

    February 13, 2011 at 8:06 pm |
  13. solorunner

    I did my research, did you Zak?

    Frank Lambert. The Founding Fathers and the Place of Religion in America. (Princeton, NJ> Princeton University Press, 2003) identified Roman Catholics, Church of England (Episcopalian), Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Lutherans, Dutch Reformed, and Methodists. Several were deists, not most as you have suggested.

    Perhaps you have an anti-Christian agenda? Actually you do, as demonstrated by your posts.

    February 13, 2011 at 8:03 pm |
    • Zak

      Tell me this; would it be wise to make a proclamation back in those days? Even today it's a political career ender. No I didn't read any obviously biased books on the matter, but that doesn't preclude me from sharing my opinion on the matter, nor does it make my point any less valid.

      February 13, 2011 at 8:06 pm |
    • Zak

      To make the proclamation that one is not Christian.*

      February 13, 2011 at 8:07 pm |
  14. Frank J

    I think it's important to remember that priests and preachers "answer a call." They do not "pursue a lifelong dream." At least that's the way it's supposed to happen.

    February 13, 2011 at 8:03 pm |
  15. bhasky

    What a waste of time and money!

    February 13, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
    • Steve

      As one of those boomers who quit a good job and went to seminary 2003-2006 I did not find it to be a waste of time or money. In fact I found it to be very fulfilling. But hey for poeple seeking God read the Bible for thirty days and ask God to reveal himself through his word. The question being "is this 70 years all there is" to living or do we have an eternal soul? If we have a soul therefore there is a God. That God commands everywhere to repent. Acts 17

      February 13, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
    • Fran

      Steve, first, you're going to have to prove that The Bible is The Word of God. A belief is not a fact.

      February 13, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
  16. E.D.

    "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?"

    A young minister can counsel grieving couples because he stands on the Word of God, as he should. Yes, with age comes experience, but let us not forget that Jesus was only 30 when he began his ministry.

    February 13, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
    • Zak

      30 in the days of Jesus was the equivalent to about 75 by todays standards.

      February 13, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
    • razor

      what a crock

      February 13, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
    • Michelle T.

      And Jesus didn't have children and wasn't married.

      February 13, 2011 at 8:22 pm |
  17. my two cents

    At the end of the day, we can all think and do whatever we like about religism, atheism, or any other ..ism, but one fact will not be able to refuted, disputed, or ignored....on the third day Jesus came out of the grave alive...no other man or poster has ever or will ever do that. My advice to all the pundits out there ...You better pay attention to someone who can come out of a grave alive 🙂

    February 13, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
    • Zak

      Prove that he rose from the dead and we'll talk. And by prove I mean evidence, not from your book of fables.

      February 13, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
    • RickK

      "on the third day Jesus came out of the grave alive." Well, 2000+ years ago there were many stories about people being resurrected. You don't believe those stories. You probably don't even believe the non-canonical accounts of Jesus's resurrection (did the cross talk or not?). The only thing that separates those stories from the current Biblical account is YOUR belief, nothing more. Belief does not make myth into reality.

      February 13, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
    • MikeJ

      Jesus said, "I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:"

      February 13, 2011 at 8:14 pm |
    • razor

      he was not the first god to do that

      February 13, 2011 at 8:15 pm |
    • MikeJ

      Perhaps there has been some that have claimed to have risen, but He is the only One to have actually risen.

      February 13, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
    • riverrunner

      You lie1

      February 13, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      You are as full of crap as the guy on a street corner in Las Vegas crying the need to accept Jesus. I told him that it was all bullsh!t, and the crowd agreed with me. THERE ARE NO GODS!!

      February 13, 2011 at 9:20 pm |
    • MikeJ

      Consider the empty tomb.

      February 13, 2011 at 9:21 pm |
    • B(iraq) Hussein Osama

      there is lots of evidence that Jesus did nt actually die, but fainted on the cross. and was whisked away and hidden in a spacious tomb, from where he recovered, met his disciples and then disappeared. He was on the cross for only a few hours and the crucifixion narrative in the bible features no credible eye witnesses swearing to have seen Jesus actually dead when taken down from the cross.

      February 14, 2011 at 5:23 am |
    • B(iraq) Hussein Osama

      notice in the gospels, there is no major figure that verifies jesus died on the cross or that they buried his dead body in the tomb. it is all "assumed" by the writer of the events. The whole of christianity depends on the death of Jesus on the cross, yet not a single one of his inner circle or any of the high priests or respectable jewish citizenry of the time is known to verify his death. assumptions, assumptions, assumptions.

      February 14, 2011 at 5:41 am |
    • W247

      Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemis were pretty reliable and respected men of their time. John 19:38

      February 14, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama

      John 19:38
      "Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. 39 He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds.[a] 40 Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the sp-ices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. 41 At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. 42 Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there."

      Like I said, Joseph of Arimathea is not telling you Jesus died! The author of the Gospel of John is ASSUMING Jesus was dead! There is no quotation or eyewitness account by Joseph of Arimathea that "HE SAW JESUS DEAD." Joseph could have picked up a fainted Jesus and hid him in a nearby tomb for recuperation back to health and the above verses could still be written the same way by someone else ASSUMING Jesus was dead.

      The above verses actually add credence to the theory that Jesus may never have died on the cross. A WEALTHY DISCIPLE talks the Roman Authorities into giving him the body of Jesus and takes it down and whisks it away quickly and "buries" it in a NEARBY roomy chamber with plenty of space for recuperation as well as hidden from public view.

      Its interesting there is no credible eyewitness testimony of Jesus actually seen dead, HUNDREDS of people did not touch and feel and see and report a dead Jesus lying on the ground once taken down! The foundation of the faith of billions to come is resting on a weak presumption, that the body that came down after just a few hours was dead.

      You would think that if someone is going to die, and then rise from the dead, a STUPENDOUS MIRACLE, he would atleast get some serious eye-witnesses to testify of his death! Touch and feel his body, have a medical examiner there too. Since this death is going to form the bedrock of billions of people's faith thereafter. Nope. Secretly taken down, whisked away and "buried" in a tomb within the hour. No medical examiners, no nothing.

      When someone claims to perform a miracle, the burden of proof is on the claimant to show conclusively that indeed he performed a miracle, with eye witnesses and specialist testimony. The burden of proof is not on those who claim that he simply fainted and recuperated in a tomb and was seen alive thereafter. That would be what you would expect to happen.

      It is for the Bible to provides us with irrefutable proof that he DIED ON THE CROSS, beyond a shadow of doubt, and then was seen alive later, but such proof is not there in the Bible narrative.

      February 14, 2011 at 10:11 pm |
  18. solorunner

    Here's another perspective:

    With the increasing islaminization of America, boomers like me are sick and tired of seeing our hard-earned values and traditions been eroded on a daily basis.

    I have nothing Islam and moslems ... when I am in their countries I obey their laws and live by their values and traditions – I do not try to impose Shariah laws and set myself apart as better and holier. Consequently I do not see why I should concede.

    Entering a seminary is a hard stand on the Christian values of our founding fathers, and for some a line in the stand. My other option is to join the army, or enter politics. I myself prefer a grass root level action plan.

    February 13, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
    • Stuart


      February 13, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
    • Zak

      "Christian values of our founding fathers" I cannot think of a more incorrect statement if I tried. Separation of Church and State aside; Most of the Founders were Deists, which is to say they thought the universe had a creator, but that he does not concern himself with the daily lives of humans, and does not directly communicate with humans, either by revelation or by sacred books.

      February 13, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
    • RickK

      When you wield a sword in the name of Christ, you've sorta missed the point, no?

      February 13, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
    • Zak

      Getting your sense of morality from the bible is like receiving financial advice from a homeless man.

      February 13, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
    • solorunner

      I did my research, did you Zak?

      Frank Lambert. The Founding Fathers and the Place of Religion in America. (Princeton, NJ> Princeton University Press, 2003) identified Roman Catholics, Church of England (Episcopalian), Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Lutherans, Dutch Reformed, and Methodists. Several were deists, not most as you have suggested.

      Perhaps you have an anti-Christian agenda? Actually you do, as demonstrated by your posts.

      February 13, 2011 at 8:06 pm |
    • Zak

      Tell me this; would it be wise to make a proclamation that you were not Christian back in those days? Even today it's a political career ender. No I didn't read any obviously biased books on the matter, but that doesn't preclude me from sharing my opinion on the matter, nor does it make my point any less valid.

      February 13, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
    • Zak

      My agenda is not anti-Christian, it's anti-religious. The Crusades and 9-11 were enough evidence for me to want a world without mysticism and bigotry based on imaginary friends.

      February 13, 2011 at 8:10 pm |
    • Zak

      It was during Adam's administration that the Senate ratified the Treaty of Peace and Friendship, which states in Article XI that "the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion."

      February 13, 2011 at 8:14 pm |
    • razor

      you would be better oft to study american history because you must not listened the first go around.

      February 13, 2011 at 8:14 pm |
    • Zak

      I know my history very well, and if you would like to elaborate on the parts I "missed out on" I'd love to hear it.

      February 13, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
    • solorunner

      Zak .. Frank Lambert is bias? Perhaps you should read one of his many books.

      FYI, he is Professor of US History at Purdue and his books are published by academic presses such as Princeton and Oxford. I doubt your "scrutiny" poses any challenges to his academic integrity. If you wish to debate matters such as this, do bring a full mind ... high school history will suffice in this case.

      February 13, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
    • solorunner

      Let me see if I am following you ... a moment ago you were saying they were mostly deists (based on whatever research or books you have "read"). Deists reject God and Christ ... and by extension are Anti-Christians.

      "Tell me this; would it be wise to make a proclamation that you were not Christian back in those days? Even today it's a political career ender."

      By claiming to be a deist, you are proclaiming to not be a Christian.

      So, you contradicted yourself in 2 short posts. What is your point, or there were none at all??

      BUT ... coming back to the original article here, I am more concerned about the clear and present danger.

      February 13, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
    • Zak

      I'm actually going to read that book of yours for reasons none other than I respect Purdue as a University. If you would like to talk more email me at klogbert@gmail.com

      February 13, 2011 at 9:05 pm |
    • Thomas


      When you wield a sword in the name of Christ, you've sorta missed the point, no?

      February 13, 2011 at 7:59 pm | Report abuse | "

      And yet God called King David a man after his own heart.

      February 13, 2011 at 9:16 pm |
    • True Believer

      Modern religion is ruining this world.

      God would be appalled at how much hate and money is involved with his church. So much of what is wrong with the world right now is caused by religion. I believe in my god and he does not want me to go to a church. I worship him on my own how I want. Without having to pay anyone anything to do so. The bible is not a true religious text. It has good lessons in it that should be taught, but no one can live in a whale, and god has never spoken to anyone about killing their kids. I view my ability to see past the facade of modern religion as a benefit of my good life. I do not need to rely on someone to tell me if I am living a good life or not. I do not need someone to tell me where I will go once I die. If we truly want to be good people, modern religion should die.

      Modern Religion is ruining this world.

      February 13, 2011 at 9:47 pm |
  19. Dan Mac

    Wow, the only thing I saw when I read this was that it costs 100k to study at a seminarie? Wow. God sure is becoming a greedy jerk in his old age.. if I had to guess I'd say the churches are pocketing huge profits from this.

    February 13, 2011 at 7:22 pm |
    • Penelope

      Dan Mac,
      Re Your concerns about seminary (not seminarie) costing $100k – Divinity degress are not four year (bachelor), they are 6 year (Master) degrees, so that averages out to about $16,500 dollars a year. I don't even know if that includes textbooks and other expenses. Relax, nobody is asking you for a donation.

      February 13, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
    • Dave

      Bear in mind that the money or expense must also include housing arrangements and such. If someone's moving to New York and living in an apartment for a couple of years, while earning essentially no income, then $100K is pretty cheap. Not that it's a happy situation when new church pastors often earn less than $30,000/year, to be sure, but it is a reality.

      February 13, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
    • Sam McInroy

      Even with an article like this, we find such commenters as "Dan Mac." Rush to seminary, Baby Boomers, the world's afire.

      February 13, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
  20. Suzie

    The reason the seminary accepts persons without an undergraduate degree is many churches send them and have decernment around who would be a dedicated minister and/or who knows the bible and lives out what they've learned. Most of the disciples were uneducated... the one who was educated, gained 30 pieces of silver in exchange for the knowledge he received from the years he spend learning about God from Jesus himself. So if he was there and didn't believe I understand these writers point, however it doesn't mean the bible is inconsistent or untrue.

    February 13, 2011 at 7:15 pm |
    • bailoutsos

      So, if I find God, can I make millions like Joel Olsteen has?

      February 13, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
    • Amanda Huggenkiss

      Very convincing ... in a rationalizing kinda way.

      February 13, 2011 at 8:15 pm |
    • Sarah

      Main-line denominations like Episcopal and Presbyterian do not accept people without a bachelors degree. It is a three year masters program. Evangelical, mostly non-denominational, types a schools are the ones that take people without a degree.

      February 13, 2011 at 9:01 pm |
    • myoleman

      If you want to make the kind of money Osteen does you must give the people the kind of religion they're looking for, and package it in an attractive way they want to buy, you also need a mass audience outlet, and the right publicity. It's not as easy, and it doesn't have anything to do with true faith, just smart marketing. On the other hand, if it's true faith you're after–don't go to any school (none of the early apostles did). You must've been chosen by God himself. He'll make your ministry successful according to his own standards for success.

      February 13, 2011 at 9:16 pm |
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