Adult education and spirituality

Time looks examines a new trend in adult education.

Holy Enrollers: Why Boomers Are Going to Divinity School
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.

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