While this would seem at first glance like a striking reinvention turn of events, it does tend to look more like a fulfillment of a heartfelt dream. Fike had retired earlier that year from a career as a pediatric nurse, and, as reported in Time Magazine, had always felt a sense of calling to the Church. As a Boomer growing up in the 50s and 60s, the thought of a woman becoming an Episcopal priest must have seemed to Fike as completely out of the realm of possibility. It was only after the Church changed course and began ordaining women in 1976 (when Fike was already grown up and working at age 29), that the dream could then become a reality.
So it is no surprise that Fike would jump at the chance to re-focus her life in this direction once she had retired. While the tuition for the three-year program at GTS was steep ($100,000), Fike was driven by an inner commitment to being of service, which is not an uncommon path for many Boomers who are contemplating how to spend the last decades of their lives in meaningful pursuits.
Boomers are indeed the fastest-growing demographic at U.S. divinity schools, per theAssociation of Theological Schools (ATS), an organization of more than 250 theological graduate schools in the U.S. and Canada. The 50-or-older group has grown from 12% of students in 1995 to 22% in 2013. As reported in the Time article, Fike discovered that a number of her classmates at the Seminary were older: “It felt good to see so much gray hair there!” Her day-to-day at the seminary was a far cry from the way she used to live: a small studio residence in dormitory housing. It also likely reflected the simpler lifestyle that she would continue to adopt as a priest. But I expect that there is an inverse relationship between the value of meaning vs. the value of material things once one has embraced the value of service in one’s life. For the rest of us — perhaps not as spiritually called as Fike — we are beginning to appreciate the lure of a simpler life, where we get to clean out the stuff that is only tying us down (a big house, e.g., and all the trappings of the lives that we built over the years).
Fiske’s story represents a different kind of freedom, and a different kind of accountability. In learning about the ways in which other Boomers have re-created their lives as they transition into their “third act,” I am struck by how many people adopt an openness and acceptance of the future — and of the unknown. Yes, Fiske is following a fairly proscribed path in becoming a priest, but her daily world is vastly different from the way it was before, and while she was certainly responsible to her patients and to her supervisors working in healthcare, she is now going to be entering into much deeper personal and spiritual relationships with people, helping them sort through life’s most existential questions. This is not a career path for the faint of heart!
Fike’s successfully graduated with her GTS class in 2013. (See the accompanying graduation class photo.)