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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Filed under: Church • TV-CNN Newsroom

soundoff (653 Responses)
  1. TRH

    “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.”

    Excellent. But learning and teaching Bronze Age mythology doesn't seem to me to be a very productive way to "crave involvment." Try OWS. Otherwise hit those beaches and look at the sun. It would be just about as relevant.

    December 5, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
    • datruff

      Well, if you are right, we just wasted a lot of time and effort preparing for what comes after this short earthly life. But if you are wrong (which you are), you are eternally hosed.

      December 5, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
  2. meagain

    just math... and string theory.

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

    I'm not spiritual, but would consider the free room & broad. No one hires 50+ professionals in corporate America.

    December 5, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
    • tyler

      too bad for you, correct spelling is required in most seminaries...

      December 5, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
    • Mike

      Free room and 'broad'? Wow! No wonder men are signing up!! 🙂

      December 5, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
    • Pete

      If you're looking for a free broad, I'm pretty sure a seminary isn't the right place.

      December 5, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
  4. ProudChristian

    The rise of atheism/agnosticism has led to the moral degradation that can be found in this our society. All sorts of vices have infected our society.

    December 5, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
    • Gumby

      This is a Christian, lying. No surprise there.

      December 5, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
    • jimbo

      Like what? Having fun.

      December 5, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
    • Don

      I think it is an encouraging sign that these people who spent their lives in the rat race have finally heard a call that was probably there from day one. They bring a range of experience to their ministries that, had they entered the seminary earlier, would not have been there. No amount of schooling in the world can replace experience and that will make all of these individuals better equipped to lead their congregations.

      December 5, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
    • Yo!

      "The rise of atheism/agnosticism has led to the moral degradation"

      You've been watching to much TV, 2010 was one of the safest years, moron. Let's say that 15% of people are bad that leaves 85% of people that are good hardworking people in this country. So by your poor logic this world is headed in moral degradation because of a few. This is the problem with Christians like you because all you see is negative, negative and stop seeing the good in humanity. It’s why your religion SUCKS!

      December 5, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      What do you consider "moral degradation"?

      There's a story about interracial marriage on this site. Years ago, such marriage was considered immoral.

      Just because you think something is "immoral" doesn't make it so.

      Furthermore, there is no evidence whatsoever that atheists are immoral or that Christians are moral.

      Unless you can define the terms and put forth sources for your claims, they're nothing but a bunch of hot air.

      December 5, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
    • Ran

      One of those moral degradations is religion....and the narrow minded simpletons who are brainwashed into not thinking for themselves under a doctrine of fear.

      December 5, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
    • loathstheright

      Odd, atheists are some of kindest people I have ever met.

      December 5, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
    • TRH

      Don't read history much?

      December 5, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • TRH

      Proud? Yes. Delusional, definitely.

      December 5, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
    • pirate

      Your Jeebus was a racist pig. The Canaanite woman had to beg and compare herself to a dog before he would heal her daughter because he was "sent only to the lost sheep of Israel"... ---– "First let the children eat all they want," he told her, "for it is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs."

      "Yes, Lord," she replied, "but even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs."

      December 5, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      The phrase "moral degradation" kinda cracks me up. It's one of the lines Harold Hill uses in "The Music Man", when he's warning the people of River City of the evils of playing pool.

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

      The comments in answer to your comments. would be funny if they weren't so sad.
      Younger people don't even know they have lost their moral compass..All they can do is sneer and make jokes..

      December 5, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
    • datruff

      I think that you spoiled idiots need to do an internship in an Islamic caliphate, such as Afghanistan. When you post things such as these not believing in Allah they will cut off a body part or worse. Easy to puff out your chicken chests here in the US on a forum like this. Have a set, move there, and put your resolve to the test. wus!

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

      Yo!.....compare divorce rates of today with 50-60 years ago , compare children born into single parent households. The lists go on and on. 2010 safest , what are you , like 15. For those old enough to have lived through those years there is a substantial acknowledgement of societal decay.

      December 5, 2011 at 6:50 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      I'm not "young" by any stretch of the imagination. I don't believe there's any more "moral decay" than there has been at many other times in our country or in the world. I don't believe that increased divorce rates are indicative of "moral decay", which, by the way, none of you has been able or willing to define. And if you can't define what const it utes "moral decay", you have no point.

      December 5, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
  5. TheCosmicOne

    This is to all of you who attempt to figure me out. Your most knowledgeable state of being will reveal that you and I are one of the same! There is no outside. No God. Needn't there be, for I am fully contained and self sufficient. You don't comprehend me? Your time will come; I proceed toward full self awareness – the big bang, and the universe will continue to unfold! Close your eyes and the world disappears because I am nothing without YOU.

    December 5, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
  6. Rob

    Boomers... fakes... They never found what they were looking for. So, off they go to religion fantasy land.

    December 5, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
    • novoodoo

      worse is they now support the pedos..

      December 5, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
  7. aa

    So glad to see these godly people moved to work for the Kingdom of God.
    Of course, will always have opposers, but they have been defeated. The important thing is that the doors will always be open to the same opposers, when they change their minds and find themselves alone. Actually, heavens rejocies in an incredible holy way when that happens, and the Father embraces US all.

    December 5, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • claybigsby

      I hope you dont base your opinion on a book written by men.

      December 5, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
    • novoodoo

      Book written by man? Oh, you mean the bible.

      December 5, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
  8. M

    Hmmm. If I recall correctly, during the final fall of the Roman Empire the dioscesene and monastic ministries expanded dramatically, presumably their applicants seeking some level of security being eroded from general society.

    December 5, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • MMM

      Hmmm... If I recall correctly, those same monastic communities were pretty much responsible for preserving huge portions of Roman and Greek writings while most of Europe was being sacked by various barbarian tribes...

      December 5, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
  9. meagain

    Boomers have scorched the earth because of their numbers and improved health over other generations. Stop having babies if you want to save the world. It's just math.

    December 5, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
    • Curious

      Imagine a world without babies, just math.

      December 5, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
    • novoodoo

      correct.. We cannot continue supporting billions of lives on this planet. The religious are irresponsible.

      December 5, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
  10. 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.

    Odd, the baby boomers are many of those who were sodomized by priest and bishops. Nice slap in the face to those abused.

    December 5, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
    • jwk

      I think you posted the same comment once before here. Are you on a mission?

      December 5, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
    • Ed, Spring TX

      It's good that a preacher of the athiest religion never abused anyone.

      December 5, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • franniemae

      What??? You don't even make sense.

      December 5, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • novoodoo

      I was violently sod-om-ized by your f'n priests. One a bishop today. Your church lobbies to stop laws that would expose the truth. Your pope demanded the cover ups and childrens denied needed help. Because they received no early intervention. Many comm-itted suicide and others mentally ill.

      Nice example freaks..

      December 5, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
    • Lee

      Are you really this stupid? Since 95% of priests (or bishopes) never molested children, the majority of us Catholics have a very favorable view of our priests. The ovewhelming majority of whom are great human beings. Bigoted people like you who want to use the few bad ones to crucity all of them need to get a clue. There are over a billion of us Catholics on the globe, we aren't going away anytime soon (at least in your lifetime) so get a grip. Try taking some classes on being culturally sensitive to other people's views, religious, policitcal, cultural,, racial etc. Just because you may disagree with someone or differ with them doesn't mean you have to turn into a bigot with a closed mind. Good luck with that.....

      December 5, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
    • novoodoo

      latests say that over 20% molested children and over 95% of the bishops carried out the popes orders to deny the child help. How disgusting.

      December 5, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
    • novoodoo

      oops, you must be referring to the catholic churches 95% percentage. They paid John Jay to perform a study using data from the bishops. Sound tainted? That's because it was.

      December 5, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
    • MMM

      Citations, please, novoodoo?

      December 5, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
  11. Ed, Spring TX

    Nearly 100% of the anti-christian remarks are very hateful, insulting at the least. If that's what it means to be anti-christian then I believe that I'll just keep on believing. The athiests seem to have a lot of pent up bitterness.

    December 5, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • mfx3

      They're not hateful, you people are just overly sensitive when the folks getting bashed aren't gay, liberal, or anything other than Caucasian.

      December 5, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
    • DrD

      Well we can't always be like you Christians and love everybody (except for atheists, jews, gays, moslems, communists, the French, etc.) Actually now that I think of it the bible has more hate in it than Mein Kampf. Try reading it and you'll see.

      December 5, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
    • Ed, Spring TX

      I'm not sure where in the Bible all of the hate is that you're referring to. Can you quote a few passages?

      December 5, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
    • Lawrence

      “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you." (Mathew 7:7)

      December 6, 2011 at 5:41 am |
  12. ProudChristian

    If you atheist do not like hearing about Judaeo-Christian beliefs, then you can leave this country. Go wherever, your atheist/agnostic beliefs take you.

    December 5, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • mfx3

      Actually the USA says we're more than welcome here. It's your kind that was put on watch when this nation was founded. Get your religious antics and get lost, America doesn't need you.

      December 5, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
    • DrD

      Yes, because it's so easy just to leave. Like if you're not happy with your town just leave. Or your state. Just find a new job, sell your house, pack up, and go.

      newsflash: the "just leave" argument is pretty moronic. Really.

      December 5, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
    • novoodoo

      atheists are one of the fastest growing groups. Thankfully the USA has tamed the xtians, otherwise we'd see these freaks destroying more lives than they already have.

      hey, christian/muslim.. all the same.

      December 5, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
    • mfx3

      I for one am all for bringing back the Roman gladiatorial form of entertainment...make those Christians run around and hide from wild beasts as a form of national entertainment. Think of all the jobs that would create!

      December 5, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
    • J.W

      They should come up with an Atheist Land with its capital Agnostic City

      December 5, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
    • Lawrence

      Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall. (Proverbs 16:18, NIV)

      December 5, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
  13. mfx3

    Just think of the death blow the Christian church will be dealt when the Baby Boomer generation dies off. Could take the church with them lol. Fingers crossed.

    December 5, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
    • chip

      yeah, and take all those catholic, baptist, methodist, etc. hospitals, orphanages, universities, homeless and abuse shelters with you!

      December 5, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
    • novoodoo

      The USA provides more help to humanity than the sum of ALL religions. Yep, atheist who pass laws to help others.

      December 5, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
  14. Kev

    Personally I'm pretty much agnostic. So I really don't care what anyone believes or doesn't believe in, but I really do get a kick out of the atheists that hang around the CNN religion page to pontificate to believers their rage and disgust with anyone that belongs to a faith. I'm not a psychologist, but isn't that a tell-tale sign of insecurity? So if a majority of these "atheists" are insecure in their absolute certainty that there is no omnipotent being, why do they all waste their time trolling and bashing the believers? I guess I don't understand it.

    December 5, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
    • mfx3

      You're right, you're not a psychologist.

      December 5, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
    • Peter

      haven't thought of it like that

      December 5, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • Ed, Spring TX

      They don't want to miss an opportunity to try to convert someone to their religion, the religion of nothingness. They seem to be very vocal missionaries.

      December 5, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
    • Really?

      "why do they all waste their time trolling and bashing the believers? I guess I don't understand it."

      Religion, amounts to turning off the thinking mind, turning on the engines of fascism and totalitarianism, and turning out the modern world's lights. Being an atheist is just a symptomatic by-product of defending the basic rights of humanity and guarding any hopes for further progress for the world. The world is a complex place, with many mind-control powers all-competing for control of this planet and its resources. There can be no thoughtful compromise with people who hate the fact that you think.

      December 5, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
  15. meagain

    you folks have missed the lead in the story by now. ranting, raving...

    December 5, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
  16. Karen

    Your kids have left the nest and you're worried that people aren't listening to you. What is it with boomers and self-importance? You have talked enough.

    December 5, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
  17. Lawrence

    You, too, can join the Professional Liars Club. (And, who knows, you just may get 'lucky' with underage children at the same time you are fleecing their parents in the pews!) Or, how about traveling to the Middle East and evangelizing to practicing Muslims? Monotheists and their imaginary friends and their self-contradictory 'infallible' books and their stubborn, prideful, willful ignorance in the face of falsifiable scientific evidence that they continue to attempt to force down everyone's throats – all at taxpayer subsidized expense – are the scourge of humanity. If you want to find life's meaning through helping other people, become a social worker or family counselor-that's great! But don't waste your lives (and infect the lives of others more vulnerable than yourselves) with the stultifying nonsense of monotheistic cults.

    December 5, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • B-one


      December 5, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
    • Peter

      your a hateful man....get a chia pet

      December 5, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
    • Fuji

      Don't like church? Don't go to one. But seriously, this anti-theistic stuff is as obnoxious as a guy who stands on street corners and tells you you're going to hell because you wear shorts.

      December 5, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
  18. Peter

    science has adopted the theory of parralel dimension....that suggests a person could be in the same room with you, but he or she may as well be across the universe.....who resides in that dimension? what is it doing there? time is relative! Einstein said the past, present and future is a illusion! mammals are stuck in the element of time? Christians have escaped this element, its a faster dimension....ever dream 15 minutes worth of dreams in one minute of time?. YOUR SPIRIT IS IN A FASTER DIMENSION ...you were designed for these limitations, it's a wall, a confinement, chains!!!!!! the Christian is given a 6th sense to escape this prison house....you can keep your miserable limited (loser) platform in all its confinement and limitations

    December 5, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
  19. Ricardo

    We are the worse species God created. The only species on earth that would destroy it's own eco system to live and one day will make ourselves extinct by our own choice. when we have the intelligence to "choose" and think not to.
    Second coming just God throwing in the towel and just wiping out humans? Is that the Revalation? First Comin gwas creation. Second was it's destruction? We are making a good case for it. Ask Pat Robertson.

    December 5, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
    • Greg

      Yes, because Pat Robertson is such an intellectual giant, isn't he?


      December 5, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
    • B-one


      December 5, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
  20. Greg

    I guess it's never too late in life to get in on all the little boy action within the secrecy of the RCC.

    December 5, 2011 at 4:53 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.