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. Jacqueline

    I'm glad to see renewed support for the mainstream churches but a bit perpexed at using 'mainstream' to describe Pentacostals. .

    December 5, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
  2. nonPCrealist

    Finally a good use is found for these people. Someplace quiet and out of the way where they won't bother anyone anymore..

    December 5, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
    • David in Corpus

      Impossible my friend. Didn't you know the world revolves around boomers. In fact, when the last boomer dies God will close the curtain on this show called Earth. What need is there to go on without the wonderous and oh so humble boomers.
      Besides, they will make sure they eat up every resource they can before they finally kick the can and dissolve into primal ooze.

      December 5, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • Keith

      read the article and then you go and find a little bit of bush to hide behind – out of the way.

      December 5, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
  3. jeorge

    the pedophile ring rebuilding, i see what you did there...

    December 5, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
  4. DC

    Sorry boomers, even God won't forgive the fine you've made for everyone here...

    December 5, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
  5. Aron

    The Church... where pedophiles go to hide!

    December 5, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
  6. Lee

    So sad to see people jumping aboard a sinking ship.

    December 5, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
  7. Al

    Religion is by far the most accessible open door to legitimate fraud and thievery.

    December 5, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
  8. itsallaboutyou

    ...and were in the 21st century. Who'd of known.

    December 5, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
  9. hope 4 now

    Tired, real tired of Catholic bashing.

    December 5, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
    • Kenneth

      What a coincidence! I'm real, real tired of Catholicism's influence on American culture.

      December 5, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
  10. DeeNYC

    din't realize there were that many pedophiles in our midst.

    December 5, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
  11. Johnson

    As someone who used to be in the Clergy Boomers have been joining for quite a while. Most are gay, alone and worried about retirement and old age. Hey, if they can provide a service and keep their hands off children good for them.

    December 5, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
    • Religiousnessness

      "Most are gay, alone, worried...etc"

      Right. And you can prove this... how?

      December 5, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
    • Yo!

      "Most are gay, alone and worried about retirement and old age. Hey, if they can provide a service and keep their hands off children good for them."

      In case you didn't know most pedophiles are straight, not gay!

      December 5, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
  12. Mark

    People my age are now feeling guilty as they see the results of their greed and selfishness take its toll on younger people.

    December 5, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
    • ChrissyinFL

      Many simply have no retirement plan, are divorced/alone, and since they are too old for the military, that seems like a safe, sure-fire job to not only keep them paid, but also can provide a place to live and plenty of access to others for relationship building. (not necessarily the pedophile thing)
      It is a career choice in a very bad economy that is not willing to hire those in their late 40's and older.

      December 5, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
  13. JEN


    December 5, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
    • J.W

      LOL you still have not figured out that caps lock have you?

      December 5, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    • Mike

      I've heard alot of insensitive things said about the church but never have I heard something so stupid. You ought to be ashamed of yourself. Your comment reflects your very unfortunate upbringing and may even be a reflection on your parents.

      December 5, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
    • geraldh

      Preists work harder by accident than you do on purpose. Your bigotry is duly noted.

      December 6, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
  14. gooddaysir

    This is an old article. And no that was not a joke.

    December 5, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
  15. novoodoo

    I can understand they would since most the older ones are brainwashed cath-aholics. Not many young ones though and that's a good sign for the future.

    December 5, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
    • novoodoo

      Not to forget, the best con-men, priests, hang out in nursing homes stealing would-be inheritance money away from the family.Then again, most of the vaticans 'things' are from theft, torture, murder and scamming.

      December 5, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
    • novoodoo

      Cor-rupt? Even the pope and bishops wrote do-cu-ments to hide the abuses of children. Denying small children help. And this is a religion?

      December 5, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
    • gerald

      Where does the article say there are no young priests comming through? Our seminary in St. Paul is overflowing with young men wanting to be priests? The CC provides more hospital beds, food, clothing, shelter, etc. for those in need than any other organization! That's a fact. Ever heard of Catholic Charities? Ever heard of Peter's Pence? You simply don't know what you are talking about. Most priests that I know live very auster lives. You simply don't know what you are talking about and only show prejudice and bigotry.

      December 5, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
    • novoodoo


      December 5, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
    • novoodoo

      catholic charities operates primarily off our tax dollars, grant money. Quit lying to people.

      December 5, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
    • J.W

      The Vatican gets our tax dollars? I don't believe that is true. You sound like a crazy troll.

      December 5, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
    • novoodoo

      Ah.. The vatican gets the donation money. Tax dollars go to operating the 'presumed' donation run organizations.

      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.

      Do it with your own money and get OFF my tax dollars.

      December 5, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
    • J.W

      The charities might get some federal money, but not that much compared to what they get from regular donation. And the money does not go to the Vatican.

      December 5, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
    • novoodoo

      Grant money doesn't go to vatican, never said it did. Donation money does and LOTS of it.

      Get off my tax dollars.

      December 5, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
    • J.W

      Ok well then dont donate if you dont want your money to go there.

      December 5, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
    • novoodoo

      I have no choice.. Your filthy religion steals my tax dollars..

      And BTW.. I was violently sodomized by your f'n priests. One is a bishop today. And guess what? Your lying pope made sure those as me were never given help with orchestrated cover ups. And your religion uses donations to lobby to stop laws that will expose the truth. That's right.. Denied again by your filthy religion. The truth is the greatest healer and your religion lobbies to stop the truth from exposure.

      December 5, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • J.W

      Well I am not Catholic. I wont argue with you about the other issues.

      December 5, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
    • Johnson

      The young ones who are entering are damaged. They have a distorted view of the Church, much like Rome -so they sing the Mass in Latin and preach hell and damnation.

      December 5, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
  16. AGuest9

    Another cult, just no guns like Koresh's, nor Kool-Aid, like Jones'.

    December 5, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • fred

      So, it is not the boy scouts but a minority of gays and atheists that have a problem with $ex and God? Sounds like the democrat party pulling the strings on their puppets and the boy scouts just got caught in the middle.

      December 5, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
    • fred

      Opps, Doc I need to go back to posting 101. This should be below.

      What? we have lots of Kool-aid, join us. Tastes great, less filling

      December 5, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
  17. fred

    "felt something was missing" – Yes, that is why mankind, since recorded cave drawings, show a heart inclined towards God. The vast majority of people know they need something to complete themselves. They see how small they are relative to the observable universe and instinctly understand and seek the glory of God. There is always a minority that cannot or will not acknowledge this core sense of soul.
    Now I have no idea what the connection is but many in this minority also attack other traditional inst-itutions. The Boy Scouts has been under attack by this same basic group for 30 years. What is it about scouting that bothers this minority to such an extent that they go all out to destroy it. Let us look at the Boy Scout Law:
    A Scout is:
    •and Reverent.

    I am thankful that a scout leader grabbed hold of me when I was young and took me under his wing. These characteristics were instilled in me at a young age and I hold onto them to this day. I have no idea how many young men benefited from this organization. It is a shame that a small minority continues to seek and destroy this organization. Perhaps they too some day will awaken like the baby boomers to acknowledge and support this worthwhile organization.

    December 5, 2011 at 11:48 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      A lot of people have a problem with BSA's overt hom/ophobia and their religious affiliations.

      December 5, 2011 at 11:57 am |
    • fred


      So, it is not the boy scouts but a minority of gays and atheists that have a problem with $ex and God? Sounds like the democrat party pulling the strings on their puppets and the boy scouts just got caught in the middle.

      December 5, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
    • fred

      I remember a couple of wierd olderguys in the showers on national camp outings. We used the buddy system for good reason. I think it is a bunch of nonsense that a gay scout master should be allowed in the shower room. How is that different from common sense that says Bill Clinton should not be left in a girls shower room?
      The ho-mophobe thing is all contrived. We had a couple of gay kids in our scout troop and because or the boy scout law we were always kind and it made no difference. It was in the public school playground that did not allow prayer or reverence towards God where I had to defend my gay friend from bullies not in scouting.

      December 5, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
    • The Bobinator

      A Scout is:
      •and Reverent.

      All but one of those can be achieved through secular means. The one that cannot is the one that supports theology. And if the only purpose religion in the group serves as a drive to respect religion, then your religion is useless.

      December 5, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
    • captain america

      Some people have problems with canadians not minding their own business.

      December 5, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
    • fred

      Can't all be acheived through secular means? Although "reverence" is often associated with God atheists claim reverence to many things yet deny God. My scoutmaster was a budist and the rest of really did not have any great knowledge of God. God was always spoken of in such a broad term that it lost any meaning whatsoever. We were kids having fun and helping old people across the street was ok. I do not understand why non gay atheists would bother the scouts.
      Gays on the other hand are used as puppets by the Democrat party and set up the scouts as some right wing republican christian group. This is not the case yet all the money spent to fan these flames is just another form of bullying

      December 5, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
    • fred

      Capitan America
      I like canadian beacon it represents the finest cut of the pig. Perhaps if Americans went back to the formula that made America succesful you could also begin to put out some better products. In case you have been brainwashed by the liberal media the success formula was tto honor God Family Country. That combination inside a man (not the government) built this country. The current formula: godless, broken family and divided nation (black american, mexican american, latino american, etc. instead of american) is not working.............how is that working for you?

      December 5, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
    • fred

      Somepeople think the Vatican gets our tax dollars because their operations are tax free. GE did not pay any taxes last year even though they made profits in the billions. You could say the same for GE that they took our tax dollars.

      December 5, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
    • Yo

      "Gays on the other hand are used as puppets by the Democrat party and set up the scouts as some right wing republican christian group. This is not the case yet all the money spent to fan these flames is just another form of bullying"

      Gays are only trying to get their civil rights, its against the law to discriminate based on sexual orientation, so gays have a case against the scouts. The scouts are nothing more than cowards homophobes.

      December 5, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      The BSA will not allow atheists, agnostics, or gays to join.
      If they were still denying black people membership, would you support them?

      December 5, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
    • captain america

      Go screw yourself doc and take care of the bsc ,your opinion ain't worth sh it here. Qu eers ain't the same as black people ass hole.

      December 5, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      @Cap'n America
      That was the finest charicature of an ignorant American I've yet to encounter.
      Now go empty your spittoon and raise that confederate flag, bigot boy!

      December 5, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
    • fred

      That is a real shame we did not care if you were gay and my best friend in scouts was gay. No one kicked him out and everyone looked out for one another. I still think it is just a big political snow job or smoke screen. Scouts do more good than harm. We were made to feel silly and guilty wearing our scout uniform. I say thanks to the 3% that spoiled it for the remaining 97%. The 3% shut down our campgrounds and camps without bothering to notice that we had the same % of gays and straights in scouting as in the general population. Gays avocates puppeted by the democrats were the bullies and are the bullies. Scouting taught us to treat everyone with kindness and equality not just the demcrates choice target group of the month.
      Public schools is were the real problem is not the scouts. Perhaps you cannot be a scout leader if your an atheist but hey how about you force the Vatican to allow atheists as Bishops or the local Wickens to allow Christians as witches? Chill out.

      December 5, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
    • fred

      Even though you do no like Canadian beacon I agree with you that the gay community really should not tag their message onto Black America it is very different.

      December 5, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      The gay community is not attaching themselves to the black community.
      Well, except for the people who are both black and gay.
      The point is that whether the discrimination is based on se.xual orientation or race, it is still discrimination.

      If the ROTC at your local college announced that they were going to deny admission to anyone with blue eyes, would you call that discrimination?
      What if the Police decided that Young Earth Creationists were not to be allowed on the force?

      December 5, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
  18. Big Chris


    Why do you think seminary is such a scam and what makes you think they are lying?

    December 5, 2011 at 11:39 am |
  19. Hob

    Why bother taking note of all these unemployed fat people trying to find an easy scam to play in their religion?
    If the economy wasn't so bad there would be no migration of hippos to "seminaries" because they'd all be sitting behind desks doing actual work of some sort.
    Religion is the easiest scam to run. It takes no training even though training can help you fool more suckers. Anyone can be a priest. All it takes is the willingness to lie.

    December 5, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • J.W

      Seminary is the training that they have to do. And almost all clergy have an undergraduate degree as well.

      December 5, 2011 at 11:34 am |
  20. check123

    They keep misspelling "semenarian"

    December 5, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • Bo

      @check123 What dictionary are you useing? It is spelled: seminarian.not: semenarian.

      December 5, 2011 at 11:20 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      He is using Roget's Dictionary of Puns.

      December 5, 2011 at 11:46 am |
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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.