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Black Collar Crime: Southern Baptist Pastor Michael Canter Accused of Sexually Abusing Church Teenager

pastor michael canter

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Michael Canter, pastor of Valley View Baptist Church in Abingdon, Virginia, stands accused of sexually abusing a church teenager at an overnight sleepover. Valley View is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Department reports:

After receiving a report of an alleged sexual assault and after an investigation thereof, Washington County Virginia Sheriff’s Office detectives arrested Michael Canter, age 38 of Abingdon, Virginia, without incident on September 8, 2022 on multiple sexual assault charges against a juvenile female. At the time of his arrest, Michael Canter, a lifelong resident of Washington County, Virginia, was serving as the pastor at Valley View Baptist Church in Abingdon, Virginia. Canter was charged with Taking Indecent Liberties with a Child, two counts of Aggravated Sexual Battery and Attempted Object Sexual Penetration. Canter is currently being held at the Southwest Virginia Regional Jail without bond.

The Roys Report adds:

Michael Steven Canter, 38, faces charges of taking indecent liberties with a child; two charges of aggravated sexual battery; and one charge of attempted object sexual penetration, the sheriff’s office indicated in a press release.

When he was arrested, Canter was pastor of Valley View Baptist Church in Abingdon, in far west Virginia, the sheriff’s office stated. He has pastored the church since 2015, according to the church’s Facebook page.

….

A 17-year-old told sheriff’s deputies last month that Canter had groped her multiple times a few days earlier, during an overnight church event he organized, the criminal complaint stated. The reported assault traumatized the girl, who has sought counseling and medication to cope, the complaint added.

The complaint also states a second person corroborated the girl’s account.

A detective told local TV station WJHL that there could be other victims, too. They encouraged anyone with information to come forward.

Canter has been held without bond in the Abingdon Regional Jail since late September 8, according to the sheriff’s office and VINELink inmate records.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Black Collar Crime: Southern Baptist Youth Pastor Trent Ivey Arrested on Sexual Battery Charges

trent ivey

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Trent Ivey, a youth pastor at Vestal Baptist Church in South Knox, Tennessee, was arrested on sexual battery charges in 2021. Vestal Baptist is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. Ivey is currently awaiting trial.

WVLT-8 reports:

At Vestal Baptist church [sic] in South Knox, it’s a small congregation of about 50 people. Over a year ago, there were more than 100 people there before many left after an incident that Pastor Arnold Greene wished he could forget.

Youth Pastor Trent Ivey was arrested back in August of 2021 and charged with sexual battery by an authority figure, and also faced accusations of distributing inappropriate material to minors at his time at Vestal Baptist, according to the Knox County Sheriff’s Office.

“He was inappropriate with two young females from what I understand,” said Greene who claimed it was a 16 and 18-year-old in his congregation.

According to the Knox County Sheriffs Office, Ivey made bail at $40,000 the same day he was arrested and will have a court date in 2024.

The youth pastor of two years was [sic] listed in the Tennessee Sex Offender Registry.

According to Greene, he was “shocked” to learn of the allegations against Ivey, and said he had no knowledge of it. In fact, six months prior, Greene fired Ivey claiming it was due to “insubordination” and had nothing to do with the accusations of misconduct since the pastor didn’t know about it at that point.

Greene said he learned of the misconduct months later when one of the victims told somebody who then told him. A pastor of nine years who couldn’t help but feel a little guilt after serious accusations were being brought forth on one of his former employees.

“In some ways I do but you trust people until you can’t,” said Greene.

Greene said Ivey grew up in the church alongside multiple generations of his family, so he had no reason not to trust him. After his exit and subsequent arrest, Greene felt betrayed and hasn’t hired a new youth pastor more than a year later.

“It’s hard to move on it’s hard to get someone you trust,” said Greene.

….

The records of what exactly happened involving the charges are sealed because they involve minors, and therefore have not been made available, according to the Knox County Sheriff’s Office.

Pastor Greene is a Southern Baptist. Surely he knows that his chosen denomination has a huge sexual abuse problem; a scandal of epic proportions. Thus, I am somewhat perplexed by his naivety. As he has now learned, ANYONE in his church can be a sexual predator. Naively trusting people because they are saved, or regularly attend church, or you have known them for years is an abrogation of your responsibility to provide a safe environment for church children. I wonder if Vestal Baptist requires annual state and federal background checks for anyone who works with children or is in a position of authority? What procedures are in place to protect children from predators? Of course, it is uncertain whether the alleged crimes took place at the church or involved church children. We shall await further disclosures.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Black Collar Crime: Christ of Christ Pastor Roberson Douge Accused of Sex Crimes with Teen Girls

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Roberson Douge pastor of Apostolic Church of Christ in Palm Bay, Florida, has been charged with 10 counts of lewd and lascivious battery and 10 counts of unlawful sexual activity with certain minors.

Florida Today reports:

Roberson Douge, 42, the pastor of the Apostolic Church of Christ, 1402 Norman St. NE in Palm Bay, was charged with 10 counts of lewd and lascivious battery and 10 counts of unlawful sexual activity with certain minors following an investigation into suspected, inappropriate behavior, police reports show.

Detectives said there may be other potential victims, and have asked anyone with information on the case to come forward.

“We really don’t know if there are other victims. We are not sure. That’s why we put the plea out there,” said Lt. Mike Rogers, spokesperson for the Palm Bay Police Department.

Douge, arrested at his home in Palm Bay Wednesday by Palm Bay police, is also the owner and operator of Tiger Claw Kung Fu, a martial arts training facility in the city.

The investigation began Monday after someone came forward to tell Palm Bay detectives that two girls were in illicit relationships with the preacher. 

One of the teens had reached out to a friend to tell her she was struggling with personal issues, when both realized they were involved with inappropriate sexual relations with Douge.

The girls told police they attended the church. One girl said the pastor would drive her home, touch her, and later engage in sex in the vehicle, according to an affidavit. 

The other girl told investigators the pastor would drive her to empty lots for sexual contact outside of the church. The pastorl also engaged in sexual encounters with the teens in the church bathroom, the church van and his office, according to police. 

Detectives arranged to record a phone call between one of the girls and the pastor.

The pastor, who spoke in Creole and English during the recorded call, begged the girl not to reveal their relationship, fearing the disclosure would ruin his family and devastate his children, police reports show. Douge also apologized. 

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Updated: Black Collar Crime: Youth Pastor Jesse Vargas Sentenced to Prison for Sexually Abusing Teen Girl

pastor jesse vargas

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Jesse Vargas, a youth pastor who worked at The Incredible Journey to Christianity retreat in Michigan, was accused of sexually assaulting a teen girl.

In March 2021, the St. Louis Dispatch reported:

A New York youth pastor charged with the sexual assault of a teenage girl in Hazelwood met the teen at a Christian retreat in Michigan before he was invited to stay with the girl’s family, Hazelwood police said Tuesday.

Jesse Vargas, 37, of Nassau County, New York, was a youth pastor who worked at The Incredible Journey to Christianity retreat in Michigan where he met the teen, Hazelwood police Capt. Mark McKeon said. Hazelwood police began investigating reports in December that Vargas repeatedly sexually assaulted the girl in January 2013 while he was staying with her family.

Vargas was charged in St. Louis County in February with five counts of statutory sodomy. He was arrested in New York on Friday where he is also facing charges that include sexual abuse and endangering the welfare of a child. He’s accused of sexually assaulting a teen girl at his home there. Police would not say if it was the same teen who reported the assault in Hazelwood.

In November 2021, Fox-2 reported:

Explicit text messages from an old iPhone show the lengths to which a youth pastor allegedly groomed a juvenile for years before he allegedly sexually assaulted her, Hazelwood Police said. That pastor now faces several state and federal charges and authorities believe there could be more victims.

“No matter how careful the parents are – the kids need to be educated on the types of techniques used by the predators,” Hazelwood Police DARE Officer Ed Novak said.

The alleged victim, who is now an adult, said she met youth pastor Jesse Vargas at a church retreat in Michigan. Vargas had lived in Long Island, New York.

She was 11 at the time. He was 25.

“He was actually the one at the registration table, the very first day that I went in. So I was 11, and I was in this new place full of strangers,” she said. “He was the first person to give me my nametag and make me feel comfortable. He was one of the spiritual leaders of the entire camp.”

FOX 2 is not naming the woman to protect her identity.

The woman, who is now 25, grew up in Hazelwood. She said she visited the camp twice a year. It was when she turned 13 that she said Vargas initiated more direct contact.

“After camp in 2011, he asked for my phone number and asked to take a photo of me. And he took that, and immediately started a friendly conversation,” she said.

She said the friendly conversations over texts were innocuous at first. Vargas, she said, insisted that he help guide her on her spiritual journey.

He began to text her, send her seemingly innocent tokens of affection, including a mix CD, a journal, and other items. Vargas’ wife had even sewn a dress for her.

But the subtle messages began to build into something dangerous over time, she said.

“He would talk to me about his work concerns, his marital concerns, his personal history, and also go on and on how well he wanted to treat me, and how he wanted to come there and buy me my favorite snacks,” she said. “And he wanted to transfer to St. Louis so he could take me out to lunch once I went to high school.”

The two became closer and while the alleged victim had concerns, she said she would ultimately trust Vargas, an authority figure.

Vargas, she said, even earned the trust of her family, even visiting and staying with them on more than one occasion.

Her first sexual contact with him happened when she was 15, she said.

“Inappropriate touching. Sexual stimulation. Oral sex, in my parents’ basement. He would come and stay with my family, he had earned their trust as well. But in the middle of the night, in my parent’s house, is where this would occur,” she said.

The methodically placed gifts, affection, and abuse continued. The alleged victim’s said her family was unaware of what was happening and that her parents allowed her to visit Vargas and his wife in New York.

The woman said she eventually broke off contact and lived with the secrets for years. It wasn’t until 2020—seven years after the initial relationship—that she came forward. She said a family member of Vargas—someone who she had never met—messaged her, saying she learned of what had been happened. She said the family member apologized to her for what Vargas had done.

That was when the woman, now 25, said she wanted to break her silence.

“I contacted Hazelwood Police,” she said.

She was aware that her case would be hard to prove, given that the alleged incidents took place seven years after the fact.

But two pieces of evidence helped bring charges against Vargas: an old iMac and an iPhone 5.

She still had possession of the old iPhone, which had the social app Kik on it. Vargas had instructed her to use the encrypted messaging system to communicate during the relationship.

“Even though it was encrypted and isn’t hosted online, it was still sitting there on my phone. The pages of conversation that we had had were right there waiting for the phone to turn on,” she said.

Hazelwood Police and the FBI were able to recover the texts. There were dozens of pages of evidence, revealing Vargas’ years-long efforts to groom his victim, police said.

“There were able to pull my phone backups off of that. Even though pretty early on in the grooming, he had instructed me to stop backing up my phone to that computer…we still had everything up to that point,” the woman said.

Vargas pleaded guilty in March 2022. Yesterday, he was sentenced to 13 years in prison for his crimes.

The United States Department of Justice reports:

U.S. District Judge Ronnie L. White on Thursday sentenced a former youth pastor from New York to 13 years and four months in prison for the sexual abuse of a Missouri 15-year-old in 2013.

Judge White also ordered Jesse E. Vargas, 38, to pay $146,594 in restitution to his victim.

Vargas originally met the then 11-year-old girl at a religious camp in Michigan where he worked.

“Over the course of the next four years Jesse played with my family and I like frogs in a pot,” the victim said in court during Thursday’s hearing. “Slowly increasing the temperature of his manipulation until we each were unaware of the water we had been submerged in, let alone its suddenly scalding temperature. By age thirteen I abandoned most of my spiritual leaders and friendships at his suggestion. By fourteen he even guided me to push away my two closest friends,” she said.

In January of 2013, Vargas traveled from New York to the St. Louis area home of the teen. He stayed in her family’s house and preached a sermon at her church. During the visit, he also sexually abused her.

“I was assured by him throughout my formative young teenage years that ‘The World’ wouldn’t understand the illicit affair of ours he was suggesting, but God had provided us a path that we should follow together in secret. Tell no one. Trust no one else,” the victim said.

He returned in March of 2013 and abused her again. In June of that year, he arranged for her to travel to New York, where he abused her again. He exchanged images and videos containing nude images with the teen via social media apps and text messages.

The victim also spoke about the effects of Vargas’ abuse, including PTSD.  “As a lifelong honors student with high career hopes entering high school, I instead dropped out because I was simply too exhausted to care about anything.”

Vargas, of Nassau County, pleaded guilty March 22 to two felony counts: travel with the intent to engage in illicit sexual contact and coercion and enticement of a minor.

The case was investigated by the FBI and the Hazelwood Police Department.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Jillian Anderson prosecuted the case.

“The way Jesse Vargas used the guise of spiritual instruction is repugnant. He manipulated not only his victim, but the adults who tried to protect her,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge Mark Dargis of the FBI St. Louis Division. “I commend the victim’s bravery for coming forward, in spite of having to relive her trauma, to prevent others from becoming a victim.”  

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Satan is Turning Christian Women into Feminists

lori alexander feminism

Satan works subtly. First, women give announcements in the churches. Then they read Scripture and become worship leaders with mini-sermons in between songs. They give their testimonies with some preaching added in. They give sermons when they pray. Finally, they preach behind the pulpits as pastors. This exact thing happened in our old church. It is an unbiblical church.

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Women, feminism has so infiltrated the churches that they are far from what we are taught in Scripture. Be in the Word. Believe it as written. Don’t listen to those who twist it to their own destruction. Men are God ordained to be all of the leaders in all of the churches. His will is good. Stop fighting Him and trust Him. Now, go find a biblical church where there are no women in leadership positions.

— Lori Alexander, The Transformed Wife, Satan Works Subtly, September 28, 2022

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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A Christian-Turned-Atheist Teen Asks, How Do I Forgive Myself for My Past Beliefs and the Harm I Caused to Other People?

forgiving yourself

Last month — I am thirty days behind on answering my email — I received a thoughtful email from an atheist teenager who attends a Christian school. At the time he started attending this school, he was a believer. Eventually, he began to doubt, and now he is an atheist. The school used him as a shining advertisement for what a good Christian should be. This young man is having a hard time forgiving himself for being deceived by such a dangerous, harmful theology; for being anti-LGBTQ. He asked me if I had any advice for him that would help him forgive himself.

I have struggled with this question myself over the years. I was an Evangelical pastor for twenty-five years. I directly affected thousands of people with my teaching, preaching, and expectations. I taught people all sorts of harmful beliefs. Worse yet, I modeled behaviors and practices that negatively affected both church members and my family. I was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher for many years, especially during the early years of my marriage to Polly and the formative years of our six children.

Polly and I had a patriarchal, complementarian marriage. These beliefs materially harmed Polly, for which she carries psychological scars to this day. The same can be said for our children. Our beliefs about family and discipline harmed our children. I was the primary disciplinarian in our family, using the rod of correction to beat our three sons into submission. Fortunately, I came to see that such discipline was child abuse, so our youngest son and two daughters were spared the ass-whippings.

We, of course, modeled to church members what we believed and practiced in our home. It’s not that I was deliberately abusive as much as it was that I believed the Bible taught a certain way of family structure and discipline; the same structure and discipline that was modeled to me by my parents, pastors, and the churches I attended. Attending an IFB college only reinforced these beliefs, convincing me they were right. Until I became persuaded that I was wrong, I continued to practice the “Biblical” way of family life, marriage, and discipline. How could I have ever done otherwise? Everything around me screamed that I was right. My literalist interpretation of the Bible said I was right. It would take me thirty years to reach a place where I could admit that I was wrong.

This young man talks about forgiving himself. While I was a true-blue believer a lot longer than he was, I do understand the struggle over trying to figure out how I could ever have believed what I did. It seems clear to me now that I had bat-shit crazy beliefs; that those beliefs materially harmed not only myself but also other people. I was fifty years old before I walked away from Christianity. Why didn’t I come to the light sooner? Indoctrination and social conditioning play a big part in training generation after generation about the faith once delivered to the saints — the Evangelical, IFB version of it, anyway. How could I have believed otherwise? The church was my life. I was largely insulated from the world, outside of playing sports and my work for various secular companies and government entities. There was nothing in my world that said to me that I was wrong. In fact, every preacher I heard preach and every book I read reminded me that I was right; that my beliefs and practices were in line with the Bible.

The best advice I can give to the letter writer is this: carefully, honestly, and openly examine your life and the experiences that led to your decision to believe in Jesus Christ and attend a Christian school. Look at these things from a sociological perspective. Self-examination and self-reflection are essential in understanding your motivations and desires. Once you have done this, forgive yourself, and determine that you will think differently going forward; that your life will be governed by reason, skepticism, and common sense. As I look at my life as a Christian, I see that I was not skeptical; I valued faith over reason, and this led to me having irrational beliefs and practices.

I have found it to be much harder to forgive myself for what I did to my wife, children, and church members. My beliefs caused them harm, both psychologically and physically. With these people, restitution is required before forgiveness can be given. So, over the past fifteen years, I have tried to make things right with Polly and our grown children and people who once called me preacher. When given an opportunity, I have apologized for the harm I caused them. The good news is that to a person they have forgiven me. They have shown me grace and forgiveness, understanding that I was a product of my environment; that I ignorantly taught and modeled the beliefs that were taught and modeled to me.

The letter writer is in a somewhat different position from the one I was in. He is a minor and lives at home. I don’t know how religious his parents are, what sect they are a part of, and how open they will be if he honestly shares with them his feelings. This is why he must tread carefully, lest he finds himself in trouble with his parents, or worse yet, thrown out of the home. I have advised some atheist minors in similar circumstances, to fake it until they make it; wait to fully share their lack of belief until they are out of the house and on their own.

The goal for this young man should be making restitution to people he feels he has wronged with his past religious beliefs. However, even here he must be careful. What will the administration of his school say when they learn he is an atheist; that he is apologizing for his past beliefs? I’m inclined to think that this will not go over very well with them, and could lead to discipline or expulsion. Making things right may mean waiting until after graduation to do so.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Crazy Stories from the Church House: Lettering the Church Bus

montpelier baptist church 1979
Montpelier Baptist Church bus, Montpelier, Ohio

In February of 1979, Polly and I moved from Pontiac, Michigan to Bryan, Ohio. When I moved away in 1976 to study for the ministry at Midwestern Baptist College, I planned to never return to Bryan. However, marriage, an unexpected pregnancy, and job loss turned my “never” on its head.

Not long after we first moved to Bryan, Polly and I began attending my sister’s church, Montpelier Baptist Church in Montpelier, a community ten minutes north of Bryan. Jay Stuckey, a graduate of Toledo Bible College, was the pastor, and after a few weeks, Jay asked if I would be interested in becoming the church’s bus pastor (an unpaid position). I quickly told Jay yes!

The church had one bus route. It brought in a handful of children every week and little was being done to increase ridership numbers. Enter hot-shot, get–it-done, Bruce Gerencser. In less than a month, on Easter Sunday, the bus was jammed with eighty-eight riders.

A short time later, the church bought a second bus. I recruited bus workers to run the new route and before long this bus was also filled with riders.

The second bus we purchased is the blue bus shown in the picture above. A man in the church painted the bus, complete with a blue stripe on the side. I purchased stencils from a local office supply store so we could put the name of the church on the side of the bus. I asked for a volunteer to letter the bus, and a seventeen-year-old girl volunteered to do work.

On the appointed day, I drove the bus down to the home of the girl’s parents, and then walked back to the church, two blocks away. Later in the day, I decided to check on how the work was going. At first, I didn’t see the girl, but as I drove past the far side of the bus, I saw her standing on a ladder, busily painting the letters on the side of the bus. Imagine my shock and surprise to see that the girl was wearing a skimpy bikini! I quickly kept driving, pondering what I should do. I decided to do nothing. As a good Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB), it bothered me that a fine, upstanding family in the church would allow their daughter to dress immodestly. That said, I concluded that this was Pastor Stuckey’s “problem,” not mine.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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Crazy Stories from the Church House: Tarring and Feathering the Bus Pastor

montpelier baptist church 1979
Montpelier Baptist Church bus, Montpelier, Ohio

In February of 1979, Polly and I moved from Pontiac, Michigan to Bryan, Ohio. When I moved away in 1976 to study for the ministry at Midwestern Baptist College, I planned to never return to Bryan. However, marriage, an unexpected pregnancy, and job loss turned my “never” on its head.

Not long after we first moved to Bryan, Polly and I began attending my sister’s church, Montpelier Baptist Church in Montpelier, a community ten minutes north of Bryan. Jay Stuckey, a graduate of Toledo Bible College, was the pastor, and after a few weeks, Jay asked if I would be interested in becoming the church’s bus pastor (an unpaid position). I quickly told Jay yes!

The church had one bus route. It brought in a handful of children every week and little was being done to increase ridership numbers. Enter hot-shot, get–it-done, Bruce Gerencser. In less than a month, on Easter Sunday, the bus was jammed with eighty-eight riders.

A short time later, the church bought a second bus. I recruited bus workers to run the new route and before long this bus was also filled with riders. On the first Sunday in October, 1979, Montpelier Baptist held its morning service at the Williams County Fairground. A quartet provided special music and Ron English from the Sword of Lord preached the sermon. Five hundred people attended this service and about 150 of them had come in on the buses. Less than two weeks later, I was gone. Polly and I, along with our newborn son Jason, packed up our meager household goods and moved to Newark, Ohio.

What follows is the first story of several that I want to share with readers from the seven months I spent at Montpelier Baptist Church.

I quickly went to work building up the church’s bus ministry. Using the skills and gimmicks I had learned while working in the bus ministry as a teenager and at college, I rapidly grew the bus ministry, and bus ridership numbers exploded. Key to increased ridership numbers was a system of regular bus promotions. Every Saturday, bus workers would meet at the church and I would motivate them to, as Luke 14:23 says: go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. Like the Apostle Paul who said, I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some, I was willing to use whatever means necessary to entice children to ride our buses. The goal, of course, was for them to hear the gospel and be saved.

One such promotion was Tar and Feather Pastor Bruce. I told the bus workers that if the total bus attendance was such and such a number, I would let bus riders cover me with Karo syrup and goose feathers. Sure enough, bus workers scoured the area looking for new riders, and in a few weeks, they exceeded the attendance goal.

Here’s what happened the following Sunday after the morning service:

montpelier baptist church 1979
montpelier baptist church 1979

I did it all for Jesus!

Jay Stuckey left Montpelier Baptist two years after I did. Two more pastors would come after him, each more extreme. The church would later implode, eventually leading to its demise. The Nazarene Church bought the building and still meets there today. Earlier this year I attended the funeral of a Christian friend of mine who died from COVID. As Polly and I walked into the building, our minds were flooded with memories from the seven months we spent at Montpelier Baptist — fond memories of a time when we were part of a growing, exciting church.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Bruce Gerencser