Seminary dean Michael A. King chats with new student Deb Washer, pastor at West Augusta United Methodist Church, after seminary convocation.

Seminary Students Age 23 to 65

What do schoolteachers, pastors, missionaries, retirees, recent college grads and nurses have in common? They are all started classes at Eastern Mennonite Seminary (EMS) the week of Aug 29.

When the newest class at EMS gathered for orientation this week they ranged from age 23 to at least 65, or perhaps older than they’d like to admit. They are Mennonite, United Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist and whole host of other denominations.

Some, like Daniel Miller and Matt Bucher, come from terms of service. Miller served for one year in Baltimore, Md., with Mennonite Voluntary Service. Bucher served for four years with Mennonite Central Committee in Egypt.

For others, seminary is a second or third career move. Julie Nitzsche is a part-time nurse at the University of Virginia Medical Center and the director of children and youth at Stanardsville United Methodist Church. Her daughter entered kindergarten as she began seminary.

“About two years ago I found myself moving away from nursing,” said Nitzsche. “I felt like God wanted me to do something different. I loved working for the church, especially with children. I thought seminary would be a way for me to learn to do that better.”

Brittney Conley was a physical education teacher at Spotswood Elementary near Harrisonburg:”As a part of the leadership team at RISE, a local United Methodist church, I learned that the way to connect my gifts with the world’s pain was through some type of ministry. I’m not sure what that ministry is yet, but I’m exploring it in seminary.”

Dale Detweiler was a carpenter for 35 years. “Seminary was a hunger God put in my heart,” he said. “I love the Word and I love the church. I wanted to learn how to walk with people in times when things seem dark and be a peaceful presence to them.”

Mary Marshall, a retired pastor in the United Methodist Church, said finishing her MDiv was part of her bucket list, one of the things she wanted to do before she dies.

“I am about a third of the way through my degree,” said Marshall, 68, who dropped out of seminary in 2005. “I figured if I take a class or two every semester for the next couple of years I should be able to finish.”

These are just a few of the 40 new students entering Eastern Mennonite Seminary this fall. They join 114 returning students. Thirty-nine students are enrolled at the EMS Lancaster extension, 17 are enrolled in online courses and 11 are enrolled in Clinical Pastoral Education.

Seminary dean Michael A. King, PhD, said he had overheard staff this week agreeing that the variety of new students makes this an exciting incoming class.

“The first student I encountered during orientation wondered about the wisdom of starting seminary so late in life,” King said. “I gave an impassioned homily on how valuable I found it to earn my own final degree later in life, when my graduate studies could draw on decades of professional experience and bring my thinking up to date.

But King also sees the advantage of starting seminary not long after college. His younger advises seem “less laden with life baggage” and tend to “enter seminary with an extra spring in their steps, whether of body or brain.

“Put such contrasting stages, and all the phases in between, together as the incoming seminary class does and you have a fine mix.”

Eastern Mennonite Seminary is a graduate division of Eastern Mennonite University. For more information on the incoming class, or on taking classes at Eastern Mennonite Seminary, contact Laura Amstutz, admissions associate, at 540-432-4257 or email