Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Seminarians' Motto: It's Never Too Late Many Wait until Middle Age to Pursue Ministry

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Seminarians' Motto: It's Never Too Late Many Wait until Middle Age to Pursue Ministry

Article excerpt

Eden Theological Seminary's graduation Friday evening was typical of seminaries these days: It had plenty of middle-aged graduates.

Richard B. Hayes, 43, a former banker, was accompanied by his wife. His three children, 3, 6 and 13, fidgeted on the burgundy cushions in the pews of Pilgrim Congregational Church.

Audrey Nourse, 57, a pastor's wife and mother of five children, was cheered by friends from her days as director of continuing education at University of Missouri at St. Louis.

Hayes and Nourse are part of the growing number of second-career ministers. Nearly all Christian denominations are seeing older seminarians - men and women who are leaving well-established, often well-paying jobs for the long hours and low pay of preaching the Gospel.

Since 1985, the average age of Eden graduates has jumped to 34 from 24. Nationally, just 9 percent of seminarians now enter before 25. More than a third are, like Hayes, are over 40, according to the Association of Theological Schools. The average female seminarian is older than her male classmates: 43 percent of women are older than 40.

Seminary leaders say these older ministers often bring more compassion and understanding to their pastoral work. Innovation and willingness to change also are strengths. They preach based on real-life experiences, not just textbooks. They have mourned the deaths of their own parents, spouses, even children. They have suffered failures and celebrated successes in their families and businesses. When asking for contributions, they know what it's like to miss a mortgage payment or squander a paycheck.

"I'm glad I didn't go right to seminary. I needed to go to the school of hard knocks and get work experience," said Kurt Kuhlmann of Concord Village, 32, a seminarian at Concordia Lutheran in Clayton.

It isn't easy being an older seminarian. Those with families often need scholarships and more rooms. Eden gutted its women's dorm to install apartments for families. Clayton's Concordia Lutheran Seminary is spending $6.7 million to complete 79 apartments in 21 buildings on campus. Most units have three or four bedrooms.

Rusty students need remedial tutoring. Marriages often are strained as couples commute between cities so the seminarian can go back to school.

The seminarians' children have to make tough adjustments - switching schools to follow a parent. In some cases, paying for seminary means children must forgo expensive colleges and must apply for loans.

The sacrifices often go even deeper. Catholic priests must take vows of chastity, and priests in religious orders also take vows of poverty and obedience - tough choices for men who already have had careers.

"Men in their 30 or 40s are used to having a certain control over money, deciding where they will live," said the Rev. David Flemming, rector of the Jesuit Bellarmine House in the Central West End.

Priests in religious orders can't own cars. They can't decide on the country, even the room where they will sleep. Married Protestants also experience separation pain as they try to decide which comes first - a family event or a congregational need.

"I had to go through a period of grief when I realized I could no longer share Sunday morning with my husband and his congregation," Nourse said.

***** A Hunger For Answers

Dorothy Haire, 49, a speech pathologist at Dunbar Grade School in East St. Louis, is in her third year at Covenant Presbyterian Seminary in Creve Coeur. …

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