The Night I Set My Life on Fire

our father's house west unity ohio

Bryan Times Advertisement for Our Father’s House, West Unity, Ohio

Family and close friends know that I can be temperamental and impetuous. I am quick to make decisions, and doing so has, for the most part, served me well. There are those times, though, when making snap decisions has resulted in me doing things that I later regret. The story that follows is one such instance.

I have not written much about my time as pastor of Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio. I plan to devote a chapter in my book to this church. After resigning from Olive Branch Christian Union Church in Fayette, Ohio, I took the Bruce Gerencser Traveling Preacher Show five miles south to West Unity, a small community south of the Ohio Turnpike, and started a church. I spent seven years pastoring Our Father’s House. We bought the old West Unity library and began holding services in September of 1995. At its inception, the church was called Grace Baptist Church. After conflict over the use of praise and worship music and non-cessationism (the belief that charismatic spiritual gifts are valid today) resulted in five families leaving the church, we decided to rename the church Our Father’s House. By this time, I had theologically made a move to the left. I wanted the church’s name to reflect our belief that sectarianism was contrary to the teachings of Jesus. After the name change, we had the front door lettered with “The Church Where the Only Label That Matters is Christian.”

During the last three years of my time at Our Father’s House, I became increasingly disenchanted with Evangelical Christianity. Deeply influenced by authors such as Thomas MertonWendell Berry, and John Howard Yoder, I embraced pacifism and changed my political affiliation from Republican to Democrat. I now see know that the seeds of my unbelief were planted during this period of time.

One night, after a long, depressing self-reflection on Evangelicalism and my part in harming others in the name of God, I gathered up all the ministry mementos I had collected over the years, piled them in the yard, doused them with gasoline, and set them on fire. In a few minutes, 20 years of sermons notes, recorded sermons, letters, and church advertisements went up in smoke. At the time, I found the consuming fire to be quite cathartic. This was my way of breaking with my past. Little did I know that 8 years later I would torch the rest of my ministerial and Christian past and embrace atheism.

Today, I sure wish I still had the things I turned into a pile of ashes in the backyard. I have no doubt my sermon notes and recorded messages would provide information and context about the decades I spent as an Evangelical pastor.

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2 Comments

  1. August Rode

    It used to be the case that wildfires in national parks were stopped as quickly as was humanly possible. Over time, they came to realize that a good burn every once in a while removes the dead wood which would only have served to make future burns all that much worse, and returns some elements to the soil, encouraging new, healthier growth. Looks like your burns might have accomplished something similar, Bruce.

    I understand the regret. For better or worse, it is our past experiences that largely define who we are today. You may be able to burn the relics of those experiences but the experiences themselves and their effects on us can never be eradicated. Nor should they be.

    Reply
  2. Steve

    I did the same thing once, a few months before moving to Texas & pledging my allegiance to Satan, I mean Gray. And I’ve regretted it ever since ?

    Reply

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