Holy enrollers: boomers causing a boom at divinity schools

Holy enrollers: boomers causing a boom at divinity schools February 6, 2011

More of those over 50 are embarking on a second career — in religion.

Details, from TIME magazine:

Boomers are the fastest-growing demographic at U.S. divinity schools, according to the Association of Theological Schools (ATS), an organization of more than 250 theological graduate schools in the U.S. and Canada. The under-30 crowd may still be the largest cohort of students — accounting for a third of the total — but the 50-or-older group has grown from 12% of students in 1995 to 20% in 2009, the most recent year for which data is available.

While some boomers enter the ministry after being downsized or suffering career setbacks, ATS has some other theories about what’s driving the increase. 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. Or perhaps the trend is yet another reflection of a restless generation that isn’t content with simply making money or taking it easy in their golden years.

“I wanted to give back in some way,” says the Rev. Bob Fellows, who completed his seminary training three years ago at the age of 58. Fellows, who used to make a living as a magician and public speaker, now leads the 200-plus-member Community Congregational Church in Greenland, N.H. He says he spent two years as a youth minister in the 1970s before deciding he wasn’t ready to lead a flock at such a young age. “As an older minister, I have a lot more useful life experience,” he says. 

Like Fellows, many of the older divinity-school applicants have long been active in their churches but recently decided to step up their involvement. “It’s rare that they’ve had a complete 180-degree life change,” says McKennon Shea, director of admissions at Duke Divinity School. “They all seem to have had a calling to the ministry at some point.”

Check out the rest.  Unfortunately, there’s no mention of deacons here — a substantial number of whom are over 50 and, I suspect, find themselves drawn to the vocation for some of the same reasons outlined above.
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2 responses to “Holy enrollers: boomers causing a boom at divinity schools”

  1. I am counted into that number by virtue of my work in a parish as well as lay ministry that is part of my life at my worship parish. I am also enrolled in graduate school studying theology.

    At this moment in my life, I am happier than I have ever been and can’t imagine returning to the corporate business world. While what I will do with all of this is unclear, I remain obedient to this call that comes from deep within.

  2. One note on the idea that Deacons are mostly over 50, I suspect that this is not just a case of being at a particular stage in life. I served in pastoral ministry as a pastoral associate for 10 years while maintaining a job and a young family. In my previous diocese they just started the deaconate program. I was accepted into the program as one of the first five to be ordained. After one year, the only other man with a family left because they were making us take seminary classes during the day when most of us were working. Being self employed I was able to continue. However after 3 years of formation (understand that all of us in the initial program had M.A. in theology when accepted) which included seminary studies as well as pastoral work that was not allowed to include the ministry I was already involved in, I was asked to wait two more years. I was also the youngest of the group (I was in my early 40s). Subsequently, I moved to another diocese and presented my case to the director of the deaconate. He was kind, but his comment to me was that I was “young”. Perhaps most of the deacons are over 50 because that is how those running the program want it? It is disappointing that most other countries see the deaconate in the United States as a retirement club. Perhaps when I am 50 in five years I will be asked to fulfill a vocation I have carried with me since I was 32.

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