Several weeks ago, someone contacted me and asked:
“Regarding the churches you pastored and started, do they still exist today or have they changed their names ? I could not find any of the church’s personal websites. Sorry if you feel I wasn’t trying hard enough. I don’t know what I missed as there are hundreds of ‘google’ links.”
When I get questions like this, I have to consider, what is the person’s motive for asking this question? Do they really want to know or are they part of a small group of tin hat Christians who think that my story is a lie. Yes, even after blogging for seven years, there are those who doubt that I am telling the truth. They question if I pastored when and where I said I did. One man told anyone who would listen that he knew someone that lived where I did at the time I lived there and they didn’t know who I was. This was PROOF, at least to this reason challenged Christian, that I was lying.
My gut told me that the aforementioned letter writer was just curious or nosy, so I decided to answer his question. He also asked a question about my mother’s suicide, a question I did not answer. While I gave him a brief rundown of the churches I pastored and what happened to them, I thought I would turn my email into a blog post.
So, let’s get some facts out of the way:
- I made a public profession of faith at Trinity Baptist Church, Findlay, Ohio in 1972 at the age of fifteen.
- I was baptized at Trinity Baptist Church in 1972 at the age of fifteen.
- I was called to preach at Trinity Baptist Church in 1972 at the age of fifteen.
- I preached my first sermon for the Trinity Baptist Church high school youth group in 1972 at the age of fifteen. Bruce Turner helped me prepare the sermon. The text I preached from was 2 Corinthians 5:20 Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.
- In the fall of 1976, at the age of nineteen, I enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College, Pontiac, Michigan to study for the ministry. I met my wife at Midwestern. We married in July of 1978. In February 1979, unemployed and Polly six months pregnant, we dropped out of college and moved to Bryan, Ohio.
Montpelier Baptist Church, Montpelier, Ohio
In March of 1979, Jay Stuckey, pastor of the church, asked me become the bus pastor. My responsibility was to build up the bus ministry which consisted of one bus. On average, the bus brought in 15 or so riders. I went to work aggressively canvassing Montpelier in search of new bus riders. Several church members helped me with this task. A few weeks later, on Easter Sunday, the bus attendance was 88. The head of junior church met me in the church parking lot and asked me what he was supposed to do with all the children. I told him, that’s your problem. I just bring ’em in.
Several months later, the church bought another bus. On the first Sunday in October, the church had a record attendance of 500. The Sunday morning service was held at the Williams County Fairgrounds. We had dinner on the grounds, a quartet provided special music, and Ron English from the Sword of the Lord was the guest speaker. Tom Malone was scheduled to be the speaker, but, at the last moment, he cancelled on us. Bus attendance was around 150.
The church started an expansion program to accommodate the growing crowds, The next week after our big Sunday, I resigned as bus pastor and Polly and I packed up our household goods and moved to Newark, Ohio. Pastor Stuckey left the church a few years later. The church hired a pastor who was a fundamentalist on steroids. Attendance began to decline, he left, and another man became pastor. About a decade after I left the church, it closed its doors, unable to meet its mortgage payment. The Montpelier First Church of the Nazarene bought the building and continue to use it to this day.
Emmanuel Baptist Church, Buckeye Lake, Ohio
In January of 1981, my father-in-law and I started Emmanuel Baptist Church in Buckeye Lake, one of the poorest communities in Ohio. I was the assistant pastor, primarily responsible for the church youth group. The church quickly grew with most of the growth coming from the burgeoning youth group. I was ordained in April of 1983, several months before Polly and I moved 20 miles south to start a new Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church, Somerset Baptist Church.
In the early 1990’s, the church closed its doors.
Somerset Baptist Church, Somerset, Ohio
In July of 1983, Somerset Baptist Church held its first service. There were 16 people in attendance. The church met in several rented buildings until it bought an abandoned Methodist church building in 1985 for $5,000. The building was built in 1831.
Over the years, church attendance rapidly grew, ebbed, and then declined after we could no longer afford to operate the bus ministry. In 1989, we started a tuition free Christian school for the children of the church. Most of the church members were quite poor, as was Perry county as a whole. Unemployment was high, and what good paying jobs there were disappeared when the mines began to lay off workers and close.
In February 1994, I resigned from the church and prepared to move to San Antonio, Texas to become the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church. Because I was a co-signer on the church mortgage and no one was willing to assume this responsibility, the church voted to close its doors. There were 54 people in attendance for our last service.
Community Baptist Church, Elmendorf, Texas
In March 1994, I began working as the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church, a Sovereign Grace (Calvinistic) Baptist church. My fellow pastor, Pat Horner, had started the church in the 1980’s. The church ran about 150-200 in attendance.(I am uncertain as to the exact number since attendance records were not kept) Horner and I alternated preaching, with me doing most of the preaching on Sunday night. While I was there, I helped the church start a Christian school and plant two churches, one in Stockdale, the other in Floresville. I also helped the church start a street preaching ministry and nursing home ministry.
This post is not the place to detail the various reasons why I left the church seven months later. Please read Taking off the Sheep Clothes, the Musings of a Wolf and Jose Maldonado Say I Never was a Christian for a fuller explanation about why I left.
Several years after I left, Horner left the church. The church is currently pastored by Kyle White. You can peruse the church’s website here. I do not think Horner is pastoring anywhere.
Olive Branch Christian Union Church, Fayette, Ohio
In March 1995, a few weeks before my grandmother died, I assumed the pastorate of Olive Branch Christian Union Church in Fayette Ohio, a rural church 23 miles northeast of where I now live. Olive Branch was a dying, inward grown church in need of CPR. Over the course of the next few months, I set about getting the church on the right track. The church was over 125 years old. I had never pastored an old, established church, but how hard could it be, right? Seven months later, I resigned from the church. Despite the best attendance numbers in decades, the church was increasingly upset with my brash, bull-headed style. It all came to a head one Sunday when one of the elders found out I had moved a table from the platform to storage. He confronted me just before Sunday morning service, demanding that I put the table back. I looked at him, said NO, and walked away. Three weeks later, I resigned, and Polly and I moved our mobile home off church property to a lot 1/2 mile north of the church. We sold the trailer in 2007 to the brother of a friends of ours.
Joe Redmond took over the church after I left. He remains the pastor to this day. The church does not have a website. The church is located at the corner of Williams County Rd P and US Hwy 127.
Grace Baptist Church/Our Father’s House, West Unity, Ohio
In September 1995, two weeks after I had resigned from Olive Branch, I started a new Sovereign Grace Baptist church in nearby West Unity, Ohio. The church was called Grace Baptist Church. I would remain pastor of this church until July of 2002.
We bought the old West Unity library building to use as our meeting place. None of the families from Olive Branch came with me when I left the church, but over time three families left Olive Branch and joined Grace Baptist. In the late 1990’s we had a church conflict over contemporary music and spiritual gifts. Five families left the church. A few weeks later, we changed the name of the church to Our Father’s House, a nondenominational church.
It was during this time that I began to have serious health problems. In July 2002, for a variety of reasons, I resigned from the church. The church body decided that they didn’t want to continue on as a church, so they voted to close the doors and sell the building.
If I had to pick one church that had the nicest, most loving people, it would be this church. After the five families left, things were quite peaceful. This is the only church where Polly and I have the same opinion about the church. Great people, a pleasure to be around
Victory Baptist Church, Clare Michigan
In March of 2003, I assumed the pastorate of Victory Baptist Church, a small, dying Southern Baptist church in Clare, Michigan.
There is little good I can say about this church. I worked my ass off, the church body, for the most part, was quite passive, and in October of 2003, I resigned from the church. I never should have become the pastor of this church. It needed to die a quick death. I don’t mean to say that the people were bad people, for the most part they were typical Southern Baptists. Good people, intrenched in the ways of the past, and unable to their way clear to the future. The church and I were a wrong fit.
After we left, so did a few other families, moving on to nearby Southern Baptist churches. A year or two later, the church closed its door.
From October of 2003 to April 2005, I had numerous opportunities to pastor churches or start new works. In the end, Polly and I decided we no longer wanted to be in the ministry. All told, we spent 25 years in the ministry.
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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Bruce, your candor makes this fascinating reading. Thanks you for telling us about all your experiences.
Thank you for the kind words.
You know, one of the minor difficulties of being your friend (and I do consider myself your friend, albeit only online) is the suspicion that if I’d met you at any time during your preaching/pastoring career, I would have disliked you intensely. It’s a difficulty, in no small part, because it’s precisely because of the reasons I enjoy knowing you now: you’re honest about your beliefs and your experiences, you don’t mind calling things out as you see them (even accepting that your perceptions might be wrong), and you sometimes enjoy prodding people who are inevitably going to disagree with you. (I was never that confrontational, and I’m still not; and as I’ve mentioned before, sometimes that helps and sometimes it’s a hindrance.)
But for whatever it’s worth, I’ve never had any trouble believing that you history as a preacher was essentially what you said it was.
A slight defense of the old Bruce. I was generally a nice guy,likeable, quite polite. I played basketball and softball with people I would have described then as heathen. They knew I was a preacher and I knew they were hell bound sinners. I never tried to evangelize them. As I look back on this now, I tend to think that this was the 3-5 hours a week when I could just be Bruce. Throw, hit, run, shoot, sweat. No thoughts of souls, sermons, church problems, or finances.
That said, I had no time for heretics or those who dared to challenge my authority, at least until the last two churches I pastored. By then, I was a very, very different man. Still bullheaded, but much more ecumenical and accepting.
My counselor had told me once that he thinks I still love the fight and that my health problems frustrate me because I can’t wage war like I used to. No matter how I try to hide it or beat it down, there’s still Bruce, the fighter, the defender of truth. Hopefully, I expend my energy on fights that matter. 🙂
There are times I wish I could be like Polly and there’s times she wishes she could be like me. We are very different from one another. I’m the go to guy when some wrong needs avenged. Polly? She’s the only reason people like me haven’t burned down the world. 🙂
As I look at my work history, I see that I was naturally drawn to management jobs or jobs that gave me a great deal of autonomy. That’s why I excelled at planting churches but not at nurturing and maintaining churches. There was always something new to do, some new goal to meet. Without this, boredom set in. Again, this was less so in the last two churches. I doubt Bruce of 1985 would have liked Bruce of 2000.
I appreciate your friendship Michael. I know you’ve been on my crazy train for a long time.
Thank you for your honesty. It’s refreshing to see, and I enjoy hearing about your experiences and what you have learned in life.
Bruce, this was a well written overview of you time in the ministry. I can believe your history, because I have been in the inside of many of the same types of churches.
Strong pastors build big churches. Strong deacons/elders keep people in line. I have seen the two groups fight more than once. Usually, though, the pastor is like an Alpha dog. He just beats people up until they follow him. After defeating the deacons, everyone else will fall into line.
I had wondered about your problems or chirches, too. Just out of idle curiosity. Every once in a while, I Google stalk my old churches, just to see what is happening with them.
You mentioned the starting of christian schools. I attended temple christian in dallas, tx from the late eighties to the mid ninties. It was a poorly run school that was unaccedited by the state. They used abeka and aces curriculum. Only a few teachers at this school had degrees and those that did came from places like Pensacola christian college. At this school there was no library, or science lab. Other IFB churches started up small schools and I think that many parents assumed that they would be getting a better education. But really the education was quite sub par at best. Can you talk a little about the educational standards in these IFB private schools? sorry to go off topic. Thanks.
I thoroughly enjoyed your brief rundown of your church ministry history. I chuckled when you mentioned Buckeye Lake, as I have been to Buckeye Lake many times, but not for church! It’s a great site for weekend concerts of the heathen variety!
Your history within the ministry hints that you are a passionate and unyielding soul. No surprises.
Anyhow, your exuberance for the truth shines brighter than ever, My Friend.
If you have a copy of the sermon The Signs of Dead Church preached at the Emmanuel Baptist church in Pontiac, Michigan 1963. It be great if you could email a copy to me. Thank You Earl Young
“…challenge my authority, at least until the last two churches I pastored. By then, I was a very, very different man. Still bullheaded, but much more ecumenical and accepting …There was always something new to do, some new goal to meet. Without this, boredom set in. Again, this was less so in the last two churches. I doubt Bruce of 1985 would have liked Bruce of 2000.” What happened over the decades to change you, make you more accepting? I mean, besides health concerns. I wish I could ask these questions of myself.
A church without a website?! I found this online: “The Shocking Percentage of Churches That Still Don’t Have Websites… 57% in 2012.” Even a static placeholder at least shows that the church exists! (I used to attend, as a friend, a Quaker Meeting with fewer than 10 members in the early 2000s. I don’t recall that it had “even a static placeholder.” I eventually switched to a Unitarian Universalist church because it was larger.)