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Dear Friend

bill beard lighthouse memorial church
Bill Beard, pastor Lighthouse Memorial Church

This is a letter I sent to a dear friend of mine, Bill Beard, pastor of Lighthouse Memorial Church in Millersport, Ohio. I was Bill’s pastor several times in the 1980’s, I baptized him, and I took part in his ordination with the Church of the Nazarene. After Bill received the letter Dear Family, Friends, and Parishioners in April 2009, he drove from is home near Lancaster, Ohio to my home here in Ney. This letter explains my understanding of our conversation and where I thought our friendship was headed. I have published this letter before. Like with the previous letters I have posted, I want this letter to be a part of the historical narrative of my life.

I saw Bill again recently at a funeral service I conducted this past summer in New Lexington, Ohio for a former friend and church member. After exchanging pleasantries, he made an offhand snide comment about his car. Evidently, he did not appreciate the one line in this letter mentioning that he drove to my house in a Lincoln. I meant nothing by it, but he must have thought I did. We chatted for a bit and then it was time for the service. I am sure he was curious about what I would say or do, and I have no doubt that the non-religious service disappointed him. This was but another reminder of how far his former friend has fallen.

Dear Friend,

You got my letter.

I am certain that my letter troubled you and caused you to wonder what in the world was going on with Bruce.

You have been my friend since 1983. When I met you for the first time I was a young man pastoring a new Church in Somerset, Ohio. I remember you and your dear wife vividly because you put a hundred-dollar bill in the offering plate. Up to that point we had never seen such a bill in the plate.

And so our friendship began. You helped us buy our first Church bus (third picture below). You helped us buy our Church building (second picture below). In later years you gave my wife and me a generous gift to buy a mobile home. It was old, but we were grateful to have our own place to live in. You were a good friend.

Yet, our common bond was the Christianity we both held dear. I doubt you would have done any of the above for the local Methodist minister, whom we both thought was an apostate.

I baptized you and was privileged to be your pastor on and off over my 11 years in Somerset. You left several times because our doctrinal beliefs conflicted, you being an Arminian and I a Calvinist.

One day you came to a place where you believed God was leading you to abandon your life work, farming, and enter the ministry. I was thrilled for you. I also said to myself, “now Bill can really  see what the ministry is all about!”

So you entered the ministry and you are now a pastor of a thriving fundamentalist Church. I am quite glad you found your place in life and are endeavoring to do what you believe is right. Of course, I would think the same of you if you were still farming.

You have often told me that much of what you know about the ministry I taught you. I suppose, to some degree or another, I must take credit for what you have become. (whether I view it as good or bad)

Yesterday, you got into your Lincoln and drove three-plus hours to see me. I wish you had called first. I had made up my mind to make up some excuse why I couldn’t see you, but since you came unannounced I had no other option but to open and the door and warmly welcome you. Just like always…

I have never wanted to hurt you or cause you to lose your faith. I would rather you not know the truth about me than to hurt you in any way.

But your visit forced the issue. I had no choice.

Why did you come to my home? I know you came as my friend, but it seemed by the time our three-hour discussion ended our friendship had died and I was someone you needed to pray for, that I might be saved. After all, in your Arminian theology there can be no question that a person with beliefs such as mine has fallen from grace.

Do you know what troubled me the most? You didn’t shake my hand as you left. For twenty-six years we shook hands as we came and went. The significance of this is overwhelming. You can no longer give me the right hand of fellowship because we no longer have a common Christian faith.

Over the course of three hours, you constantly reminded me of what I used to preach, what I used to believe. I must tell you forthrightly that that Bruce is dead. He no longer exists. That Bruce is but a distant memory. For whatever good may have been done I am grateful, but I bear the scars and memories of much evil done in the name of Jesus. Whatever my intentions, I must bear the responsibility for what I did through my preaching, ministry style, etc.

You seem to think that if I just got back in the ministry everything would be fine. Evidently, I can not make you understand that the ministry is the problem. Even if I had any desire to re-enter the ministry, where would I go? What sect would take someone with such beliefs as mine?  I ask you to come to terms with the fact that I will never be a pastor again. Does not the Bible teach that if a man desires the office of a bishop (pastor) he desires a good work? I have no desire for such an office. Whatever desire I had died in the rubble of my 25-plus-year ministry.

We talked about many things, didn’t we? But I wonder if you really heard me?

I told you my view on abortion, Barack Obama, the Bible, and the exclusivity of salvation in Jesus Christ.

You told me that a Christian couldn’t hold such views. According to your worldview that is indeed true. I have stopped using the Christian label. I am content to be a seeker of truth, a man on a quest for answers. I now know I never will have all the answers. I am now content to live in the shadows of ambiguity and the unknown.

What I do know tells me life does not begin at conception, that Barack Obama is a far better President than George Bush, that the Bible is not inerrant or inspired, and that Jesus is not the only way to Heaven (if there is a Heaven at all).

This does not mean that I deny the historicity of Jesus or that I believe there is no God. I am an agnostic. While I reject the God of my past, it remains uncertain that I will reject God altogether. Perhaps . . .

In recent years you have told me that my incessant reading of books is the foundation of the problems I now face. Yes, I read a lot. Reading is a joy I revel in.  I read quickly and I usually comprehend things quite easily (though I am finding science to be a much bigger challenge). Far from being the cause of my demise, books have opened up a world to me that I never knew existed. Reading has allowed me to see life in all its shades and complexities. I can no more stop reading than I can stop eating. The passion for knowledge and truth remains strong in my being. In fact, it is stronger now than it ever was in my days at Somerset Baptist Church.

I was also troubled by your suggestion that I not share my beliefs with anyone. You told me my beliefs could cause others to lose their faith! Is the Christian faith so tenuous that one man can cause others to lose their faith? Surely, the Holy Spirit is far more powerful than Bruce (even if I am Bruce Almighty).

I am aware of the fact that my apostasy has troubled some people. If Bruce can walk away from the faith . . . how can any of us stand? I have no answer for this line of thinking. I am but one man . . . shall I live in denial of what I believe? Shall I say nothing when I am asked of the hope that lies within me? Christians are implored to share their faith at all times. Are agnostics and atheists not allowed to have the same freedom?

I suspect the time has come that we part as friends. The glue that held us together is gone. We no longer have a common foundation for a mutual relationship. I can accept you as you are, but I know you can’t do the same for me. I MUST be reclaimed. I MUST be prayed for. The bloodhound of heaven MUST be unleashed on my soul.

Knowing all this, it is better for us to part company.  I have many fond memories of the years we spent together. Let’s mutually remember the good times of the past and each continue down the path we have chosen.

Rarer than an Ivory-billed woodpecker is a friendship that lasts a lifetime. Twenty-six years is a good run.

Thanks for the memories.


somerset baptist church 1983
Somerset Baptist Church, Landmark Building 1983

This is the place where I first met Bill and Peggie Beard.

somerset baptist church 1985
Somerset Baptist Church, 1985

Bill and Peggie Beard gave us 5,000.00 to buy this building.

somerset baptist church 1985-2
Somerset Baptist Church, First Church Bus, 1985

Bill and Peggie Beard helped us buy our first church bus.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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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  1. Avatar

    Each time I have read this letter I think how much I appreciate your tone with your former friend. It was his last attempt. He had to come. He had to go. The coming? The going? None of it easy. Thank you for sharing this. It may be a helpful template for some of us out here who will need to write a similar letter.

  2. Avatar

    When I was in my early twenties, now almost half a century! ago, I ‘clearly’ saw things through the prism of my upbringing, through the home I grew up in, through the way of living and the language I learned there. From the age of 20 to 30, approximately, many of those things I knew to be true became clearly false to me, clearly in error and I changed my viewpoint, my life, to fit that understanding, (This was over at least two decades…)
    Now in my sixties, the lesson of my twenties stays with me. It humbles and informs me. I am sorry, Bruce, that your friend does not have the personal insight you do and is unable to be close to you because you are being honest and who you are. You have changed and the fact is, your friend does not support Bruce G. now that your viewpoint is quite other than his own. That he did not shake your hand is to me, a weakness of character on his part and something that I would have done myself in my twenties before I realized how much we can change from one viewpoint to another, from one truth to another.
    Finally, what is a friend but someone who stands with you in love through time and change? I have a friend like that in my life, one person who has changed with me and allowed me to say what I need to say to be honest. We have fought like bulls and cried together. It is a very human thing to build a friendship over time and something that I think is important in becoming more fully human.
    Thanks for reposting this…. it has allowed to revisit some hard and some dear times in my life.

  3. Avatar

    “I have stopped using the Christian label. I am content to be a seeker of truth, a man on a quest for answers. I now know I never will have all the answers. I am now content to live in the shadows of ambiguity and the unknown.”

    “In recent years you have told me that my incessant reading of books is the foundation of the problems I now face. Yes, I read a lot. Reading is a joy I revel in. I read quickly and I usually comprehend things quite easily. (though I am finding Science to be a much bigger challenge) Far from being the cause of my demise, books have opened up a world to me that I never knew existed. Reading has allowed me to see life in all its shades and complexities. I can no more stop reading than I can stop eating. The passion for knowledge and truth remain strong in my being. In fact it is stronger now than it ever was in my days at Somerset Baptist Church.”

    Amen to that brother!

    I too have lost some good friends through my journey and even regained one as he caught up with me!

  4. Avatar
    Cheryl Coder

    I read several of your posts with interest. I especially appreciated the piece about the “saved” attempting to evangelize their relatives at Christmas family gatherings. Well written. I scrolled down to your photo. Your face looks sad to me. When I covered the lower half of your face with my hand, so I could only see your eyes, they looked like you were crying. I love your open and frank style of writing, and wish to send my thanks to you for your sincere sharing of your journey. I send you love, and wish you well.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      What you see is physical pain. Lots of physical pain. I am quite happy, especially with our family Christmas fast approaching. That said, eighteen years of chronic illness and pain does show on my face. That’s life. I embrace life as it is, and do what I can to enjoy each and every day.

  5. Avatar
    John Malcolm

    Thank you so much for your blog and sharing your journey. I left Christianity in November of 2017. I also had a very close friend of 22 years. Our friendship was built around our faith. I drove to Georgia this past March to visit him and to explain my faith journey. He did not take it well. He was quite defensive and mildly insulting. Was the most nauseating weekend I have had in years. A few weeks later he called me. Same response but with more aggression. Was hard to get a word in. At the end of the phone call, I mentioned that our differing beliefs meant nothing to me as far as friendship was concerned. I would love for him to come down again and go fishing as we use to for years. His response, “I will have to pray about that.” Funny how Jesus ate with publicans and sinners, but Christians cannot do the same. So be it.

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    Yulya Sevelova

    Just reading this account of your former friend, and it’s his loss to just cut you off, not caring that you are a good and faithful friend, regardless of the change in belief systems. It was a sad read in this respect, especially as people get older ! No doubt church culture is the driving force at work there.

  7. Avatar

    I have learned to not chase my pain and beg it to stay. I walked away from a marriage to a pastors daughter (in that church for nearly 30 years.) I could still be married to her had I decided to be subservient to her father and her family. The thing that totally turned me off was although he didn’t believe in divorce even for adultery, not one time did he reach out to me and my wife to try to get us to reconcile. The last two years we were married he and I had exactly one conversation. He did make it a point to call my dad. He obviously did not care about my then two year old son in keeping his mommy and daddy together. She left and I didn’t chase her and beg her to come back. Sadly even though I am married to a wonderful woman now, I am still haunted by that. I don’t know if the pain will ever go away.

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Bruce Gerencser