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August 30, 2011 > More leave formal careers to join the clergy

More leave formal careers to join the clergy

Submitted By AP Wire Service, By Irie Price, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal

LUBBOCK, Texas (AP), Aug 13 - The Rev. Edson Way was New Mexico's cultural affairs officer when the call came to him like a voice over the radio. The Rev. Scott Campbell was working in conflict resolution at a computer company when he answered the call.

The Rev. Kate Hutson had been serving in the communications field when answering the call suddenly seemed like a possibility, and the Rev. Ruby Moultrie taught music and served as a music minister when someone encouraged her to consider answering the call.

Each of these ministers felt called into pastoral life after decades spent working in other careers.

They are not alone.

More than half of graduate students enrolling in theological training programs during the 2010-11 school year were more than 30 years old, according to data from The Association of Theological Schools. The association is a membership organization of more than 250 Christian and Jewish graduate theological schools in the United States and Canada.

Research performed by the Duke University-based Pulpit and Pew from 2001-05 indicates 41 percent of mainline Protestants and 66 percent of conservative Protestants became clergy after working in other careers. Almost 27 percent of Catholic clergy and nearly 84 percent of clergy in historic black denominations had careers prior to entering ministry, according to the research.

Clergy provide various reasons for delayed entry into ministerial vocations.

Hutson, pastor of United Congregational Church in Lubbock, says becoming a pastor didn't seem like a possibility in the church she attended in her early adult years. The church forbade female pastors, so Hutson taught Bible classes to satiate a latent desire to enter ministry.

Eventually, Hutson says, her theological view changed - and so did her view of her professional calling.

``As my theology changed, my sense of calling became more real because it became more possible - more OK.''

Hutson had worked as a stay-at-home mother, a communications manager for a corporation and then as a copy editor and columnist for The Avalanche-Journal before becoming a pastor and resident hospital chaplain.

In contrast to Hutson's lifelong sense of calling, Way didn't feel a calling toward pastoral life until about 10 years ago.

He had been working in anthropology for most of his professional life. He taught anthropology at his alma mater, Beloit College, before going on to direct the Wheelwright Museum in Santa Fe, N.M. Eventually, he became the state cultural affairs officer for New Mexico - a job he says he loved.

Then, on a drive home alone from a retreat, Way heard a distinct voice. ``You should go to seminary and become a priest,'' said the voice.

``My immediate reaction was, `I can't do that,''' Way remembers. ``But I couldn't stop thinking about it for the next two hours as I finished the drive up to Santa Fe.''

Way spoke with his wife and church for a couple of years before entering seminary at age 58. ``Quite frankly, I didn't want to mess up a good life,'' Way says.

But Way, who has been pastor of St. Christopher's Episcopal Church for three years, says he couldn't be happier with his decision.

Although Way occasionally wishes he had entered pastoral life at a younger age - the workload in seminary was extremely demanding, he explains - he values the historical and cultural grounding he gained during decades in his prior career. He uses that grounding in his work with his congregation, particularly during his sermons.

Campbell, who is pastor at Grace Presbyterian Church, also says his entry into ministry later in life allowed him to develop helpful skills. While younger pastors bring energy and enthusiasm to the field, he says age afforded him life experience, greater financial stability and a disposition less easily discouraged than in his youth.

In fact, Campbell seriously began considering pastoral life as he approached middle age. A company retreat was designed to inspire more dedication to the company; instead, Campbell began to ponder his legacy, he says.

``How can I invest in things that last forever?'' He began to wonder, before deciding to become a clergyman.

The four pastors expressed happiness with their chosen paths, but admitted transitioning into their new careers presented some challenges.

One challenge was going through necessary training. Many churches require seminary degrees or some level of training for pastoral candidates - that can mean hitting the books after a decades-long hiatus from academic study, sometimes in a completely different field.

Beyond that, the pastors say, there is the day-to-day work of responding helpfully to spiritual needs, preparing sermons and addressing administrative tasks like paperwork or staff management.

Moultrie, who is pastor of First United Methodist Church in Brownfield, found sermon preparation daunting when she first began pastoral ministry. She had been serving as a voice instructor and choir conductor at South Plains College and choir director at a church in Levelland, when a pastor urged her to consider pastoral life.

Though Moultrie might sing in front of others, she says, ``I wasn't one to stand up in front of people and just talk.''

Eventually she found sermon preparation enjoyable, even if paperwork doesn't carry the same appeal.

The four pastors carry vestiges of their former lives in their current roles. Campbell uses conflict management skills to address congregational concerns and helped initiate a new website for his church; Hutson's communication skills gave her confidence to initiate a media campaign earlier this year for her church; Way used his gallery expertise to position and display his church's artwork; Moultrie occasionally incorporates song during her sermons.

Incorporating prior gifts made the decision to enter ministry come a bit easier, Moultrie says.

She gives the following advice to those considering a vocation in the church: ``I would first say, `Pray about it. Listen to God - really seek God's voice.'''

She encourages those with families to enter the discernment process corporately.

While discerning, don't overthink the obstacles, Hutson suggests.

She notes the obstacles that were seemingly insurmountable - initially her gender, then her age and inability to spend time and money on a master's degree in divinity - were able to be overcome.

``It's never too late,'' Hutson says.

But, she adds, ``When the door opens, go through. It's not going to be open long.''

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Information from: Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, http://www.lubbockonline.com

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