The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

November 12, 2013

Getting spiritual

The Register-Herald

— Over the weekend we were gratified to see a story about a rebirth in belief among baby boomers, and that folks are heeding a call to the ministry even at some not very tender ages.

The boomers interviewed in the story — blue-collar and white-collar, doctors and athletes — all were part of a generation that set out to change the world. But then they, like pretty much everybody else who eventually grows up, “got sidetracked” by things like jobs and careers, marriages and mortgages and kids and grandkids.

We still find it curious in the path they have chosen.

The story was out of Minnesota but we find it believable that this kind of thing is happening elsewhere. So many people come to the realization that a bigger house, a nicer car, fancier clothes and all the other things that tempt us in our roaring consumer society can often leave us feeling a little hollow.

There is nothing in the world one can buy to fill a spiritual hole in one’s heart.

So these people born between 1946 and 1964 are seeking to fill those gaps in the soul by ministering to others. And for many churches, their zeal and a lifetime of experience are proving to be a blessing.

Jo Bauman was an architect, and was in sales and marketing. Now she is an ordained minister at Bethany Lutheran Church in Minneapolis.

“I loved both of those jobs,” she says. “At first I didn’t want to do it (enter the seminary). I was living a nice, happy comfortable life. People kept saying, ‘God could use someone like you.’ And I kept telling them they were crazy.”

They weren’t.

She entered the seminary and found that she loved pastoring.

Older folks who are called to help spread God’s word do have some different problems, they say. One is having to “learn how to learn again,” just like in grade school or high school.

But churches are finding the advantages of these older seminary students far outweigh the disadvantages.

For one, older seminarians are proving to be pretty good ministers, helping their parishioners with — what else? — life issues. It turns out that experiencing a good bit of life, then applying the knowledge to the problems of parishioners who have come for spiritual guidance, turns out pretty good for everybody involved.

Carrie Carroll is dean of students at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn. She says nearly one-third of students in local seminaries are older students. There are times, she says, when they still need a little push.

“Some students will say, ‘My experience doesn’t translate to the church.’ That’s not true. Everybody’s does; you just have to find the right fit.”

As an example she relates a story about a handyman who graduated from seminary school and took a job in a small town in Iowa. As an outsider in a closed farming community, he wasn’t exactly greeted with hearty claps on the back.

“Some of the men wouldn’t come to church because he was there,” Carroll says. “Then he started going out to the farms and helping hang drywall. It created an incredible connection. Everybody’s gifts are valuable.”

A handyman called to minister to the spiritually needy?

Well, why not? We recall a carpenter who did pretty well in that regard.