room might look to younger ones for help in grasping the routines and rigours of academic study, younger students may turn
to older ones to share the kind of wisdom, encouragement and
support that comes through the perspective of lessons learned
with advancing age.
“I’d say older students are typically very committed,” says
Michael Knowles, professor and George F. Hurlburt chair of
preaching at McMaster Divinity College. “Sometimes younger
students come out of an initial sense of exploration. The older
students will say, ‘I’ve had this call on my life since I was a child.
I’ve been fighting it for 40 years, and now I’m going to obey.’ So
they’re very focused and determined.”
Or maybe, like me, they’re just really glad to be there. And a
wee bit terrified. Fear of failure can do wonders for your focus.
On the evening of my first class, ethics and character, I strategically chose a seat in the middle of the room, set up my
laptop, set out my textbooks (which I’d already read cover to
cover), and opened my blue binder (well stocked with loose-leaf
paper and the course syllabus). Then I looked around the room
and counted grey heads. I felt my whole body relax as I realized
that one-third of my fellow students were – ahem – “older.”
Clearly, what I was about to do was indeed “do-able,” because
others were already doing it.
My back-to-school jitters largely dissipated within the first few
weeks, and I’ve since been comforted to learn the qualms I experi-
enced are common. The reasons Boomers go to seminary are likely
as individual as the individuals themselves. Eliza Smith Brown,
director of communications for ATS, attributes the phenomenon
in the United States to several factors, including simply “tracking
the population bulge of the Baby Boom generation as it ages.”
But in Canada, she says, “Some would link the growing num-
bers of over- 50 students to the decline in church attendance, and
the need on the part of many devoted parishioners to step up and
take leadership positions when shrinking congregations can no
longer afford full-time pastors.” Whatever the reasons, there is
considerable commonality as to both how Boomers get to semin-
ary and the doubts they have about going.
There are only three basic ways people become involved in
any group – including seminary – according to Arthur McLuhan,
a PhD student in sociology studying the impact of seminary on
the character development of students.
“People are recruited, encouraged or affirmed by other people
in their lives,” McLuhan explains. “Second, they engage in seeker-ship, meaning they pursue some level of personal interest. And
third, [it’s about] attaining some other end, such as professional