Priests-in-training are reportedly getting older, at least in the Catholic Church. Many older men, seeking second careers, are responding to the priest shortage in the Catholic Church, which has reportedly been seeing a shortage for decades. For some, the Sept. 11 attacks inspired some of these men to enter the priesthood. Others reportedly said they considered the priesthood as children but were distracted or afraid. What do you think, in general, of the idea of being ordained later in life? Can it help a ministry?
The foremost criterion of authentic leadership in the church is divine calling and not human career choice. Ephesians 4:11-12 says that God “gave . . . some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ . . .” (New American Standard Bible).
Again, Scripture teaches us that “God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.” (1 Corinthians 12:18, NASB).
God’s call to serve is always according to His timing in our lives. For most people, it happens in their youth, but for some the calling comes in the mid or later years. Moses was 40 years old when he first acted in his own initiative to defend his countrymen. It was 40 years after that, when God appeared to him in the burning bush and officially ordained him to confront Pharaoh and lead Israel out of captivity.
Samuel the judge began ministry in the temple as a child, and that experience served him well, but Moses’ 40-year exile was also used by God to prepare him for the Old Testament’s most memorable experience of divine deliverance.
So the point is to serve whenever it is that God calls you, and benefit from the lessons He’s taught you along the way.
PASTOR JON BARTA
Valley Baptist Church
The physical age of newly ordained clergy is not as important as the value of worldly experience they may bring to an ever-changing religious climate.
I have many friends serving in pastoral capacities who are over the age of 40. Many, just like in the Catholic church, have chosen to serve their churches as a second career. While some will stick fast to traditions and hold that ceremony passed down through the ages is followed, other clergy who have lived through the dynamics of religious change will embrace and recognize new dimensions of faith in this climate of diversity. Both types of leadership are necessary in a healthy church today.
Scientology is a new religion, philosophy and lifestyle. Its philosophical roots are a marriage of ancient Eastern spiritual truths with contemporary Western applications. The focus of the Scientology religion is application of its fundamental principles to live a better life for oneself, one’s own family and one’s fellows.
The Church of Scientology welcomes volunteer ministers and ordains clergy of all ages. The requirement for service is parallel to other faith practices — the desire to serve and help others lead more rewarding, enlightened lives, to salvage those who suffer from addictions, illiteracy and crime while bringing calm to society through spiritual growth. There is much need in the world, and Scientology ministers are answering this call.
Glendale Church of Scientology
I have recently encountered this phenomenon within the Jewish community as more people decide to become rabbis later in life, often as a second career. A common understanding is that wisdom often comes with age, and it’s certainly true that older clergy, in addition to their accumulated “book knowledge,” can draw on a wealth of life experience to guide them as they help others along their spiritual journey.
Nevertheless, I feel there is a significant advantage to entering seminary at a young age and making divinity studies one’s first choice. Although Judaism teaches that we all must learn until our last day, a great emphasis is placed on study during the youthful years since that approach tends to be the most productive. I believe statistics confirm that learning is generally easier and more fruitful during the early, formative years of life.
We should encourage youngsters to enter religious seminaries early on so that they can achieve profound learning. Knowledge is a critical component of religious guidance, and building a sound educational foundation in youth helps us become effective leaders as adults. Although experience is also important, that is an element that everyone gains over time, regardless of age.
For those considering entering the clergy at an advanced age, I want to offer an important reminder: The path to spirituality can be found anywhere, and anyone can attain the highest levels of divine fulfillment.
Clergy members are no closer to God than laymen; they are simply stewards of faith and protectors of the message.
RABBI SIMCHA BACKMAN
Chabad Jewish Center
I’m very surprised at the number of men who upon meeting me will say, “You know, there was a time that I wanted to priest.” Most of them will continue to tell me their story in very real terms, including a sincere desire to serve others. I ask them if they have been successful in helping others outside of the priesthood. Probably many are doing some great altruistic work, but they long for the connection to the mystery that the priesthood symbolizes and embodies.
In the Armenian Orthodox tradition, the priesthood is considered a “calling.” Saying no to that invitation is difficult and can fester in a person’s soul throughout life. I also believe that a person can’t really escape the call. Perhaps he may postpone it, but ultimately it catches up with him. He then acts on it in a variety of manners, most pronouncedly through the priesthood.
It’s been said that in the end, people don’t regret the things they do as much as the things that they don’t do. If an individual accepts the call later, it is better than never. Sure, these late arrivals will bring in baggage from the outside, but this is where the ordaining process will filter what is necessary and what isn’t.
In all things, we believe that the call is from God, and the church, in accepting or rejecting an individual, is being guided by the Holy Spirit.
FR. VAZKEN MOVSESIAN
Armenian Church Youth Ministries
In His Shoes Mission
It is true there is a shortage of priests and that the average age is rising. Also, the average number of Catholics per priest is rising, and so is the average age of those preparing for the priesthood. I have no problem with a man being ordained later in life. If he is capable of doing the work it certainly would help.
In affluent societies like the United States, young people find it very difficult to give up some of the freedoms and comforts they enjoy. It is difficult to commit oneself to anything that takes a long time. Our young people are maturing at a later age and getting married at a later age. It used to be closer to age 20; now it seems closer to age 30. Marriage requires a lifelong commitment. Even if divorce follows, the children they had together create a lifelong bond.
Saint Peter said to Jesus, “We have put aside everything to follow you!” And Jesus said that anyone who gives up family or children or property for him and for the gospel will receive 100 times as much in this life and in the age to come everlasting life. (See Mark 10: 28-31)
Some suggest solving a complex problem with an easy fix, such as ordaining women or a married clergy. Either idea seems most unlikely and probably wouldn’t help the mission of evangelizing the world and preaching the gospel message of Jesus.
THE REV. GENE FRILOT
Incarnation Catholic Church
They say that youth is wasted on the young, and that’s because age grants us wisdom that would’ve been so useful when we were in our physical prime. However, ministry doesn’t necessarily require men to be young and athletic; healthy yes, but Proverb 16:31 observes that “Gray hair is a crown of splendor” (New International Version), and that’s because a person of maturity has experienced life. Every trial leaves silver strands as it fashions us into counselors, teachers and sympathizers. Issues have been meditated upon, wrestled and settled, and the realization sets in that we actually know a few things, finally.
Perhaps retirees and midlife vocation switchers would actually be in better position to know what they want, and to what they are best suited (especially pertaining to religious office).
Something that’s always stymied me about the Roman priesthood is the Vatican’s insistence that its clergy remain unmarried. The practice was not always the rule in Christianity, and certainly it was one of the first things jettisoned by Protestants when we broke away during the Reformation.
We’re all plenty aware that there are fewer men with the gift of celibacy than there are men who nevertheless become Catholic priests, but a man of more years would be in a better place to know this about himself.
My admonition? Consider well the ramifications of what you represent if you choose this course, “because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1).
THE REV. BRYAN GRIEM
Montrose Community Church