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Why I Don’t Tell People I Was a Pastor

somerset baptist church 1985
Somerset Baptist Church, Mt Perry, Ohio, Bruce and Polly Gerencser and kids, 1985

I have worked many different jobs over the years; everything from selling vacuüm cleaners and life insurance to pumping gas and working as an auto mechanic. I worked more factory jobs than I can count. Well, I can count them, but I prefer not to bring up memories of mindless drudgery. Factory jobs paid good wages, but I couldn’t stand the repetitiveness of the work. Two years into our marriage, I applied for a restaurant management position with Arthur Treacher’s. Starting salary? $155 with flex overtime for every hour over forty-five. I instantly fell in love with the restaurant business, and six months after starting with Arthur Treacher’s I was promoted to general manager and transferred to the Reynoldsburg, Ohio store.

While I worked numerous and varied jobs over the years, I considered them a means to an end: making money and providing for my family. My true calling and ambition in life was to be a pastor. Over the course of twenty-five years in the ministry, I pastored churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. For the most part, I loved being a pastor. I enjoyed preaching and working with people. I suspect that in another life I might have been a college professor or a social worker.

Early on, I noticed that many pastors used their position for material gain and upward social status. One of Polly’s young preacher cousins provides a good example of this. One day I called my in-laws and he answered the phone. This is Reverend James Overton. How may I help you? I snickered to myself, and said, Hey Jamie, this is Bruce. Is Mom or Dad there? I thought, Reverend James Overton? Really? I never played the Reverend game. I was comfortable with congregants calling me Bruce or Preacher. I also never asked for the “preacher discount” or special treatment. I had no regard for pastors who weren’t shy about announcing their clerical status, hoping that they would be granted discounts, free meals, or other special considerations.

I never told people out of hand that I was a pastor. Granted, a lot of people knew I was a preacher, but I never told strangers what I did for a living. I wanted to be considered an everyday guy.  The reason for this was simple. As soon as I told someone I was a pastor, a snap judgment was made about me. After I stopped pastoring churches in 2005, we looked for a church we could call home. All told, we visited over one hundred churches. (Please see But Our Church is DIFFERENT!) At virtually every church, the first or second question I was asked was “what do you do for a living?” Early on, I would tell people I was a pastor, but I noticed that people treated me differently if I did: reverently, respectfully, with careful distance. One Sunday after visiting yet another new church, I told Polly, I am sick of being asked what I do for a living. I think the next time someone asks me I am going to say, I’m sorry, but I don’t have sex on the first date!  Of course, I never did. I was too polite to ever say such a thing.

These days, I NEVER tell someone who doesn’t know me that I was a pastor. I don’t want to have to explain why I am no longer in the ministry. Yes, if someone does a web search on my name he or she will quickly find out I was once a pastor. However, I am not going to volunteer that information. I am not ashamed or embarrassed by my former life as a pastor. I have many fond memories of the years I spent in the ministry, along with a boat load of dark, harmful experiences too. What I want to avoid is being judged by people who don’t know me. Last night, I had a delightful discussion with the local high school principal. I don’t think he knows I was a pastor. We were talking about leadership and being visionary. I shared several stories from my ministerial past, but I did so without saying I was a pastor.

I just want to be an everyday country bumpkin. If I dare mention I was a pastor, well, people act differently. Like it or not, people see ministers as God’s representatives. People might use swear words, but let a pastor be nearby, all of a sudden the cursing stops — God is present! Same goes for racy or colorful stories. Even if I tell people I am an ex-preacher, they tend to act differently from the way they would if I were a farmer or factory worker. Of course, the same goes for telling people I am an atheist. My atheism is well-known, but I never tell anyone that I am an unbeliever. I prefer to live my life without being judged by my labels. I am being naïve, to be sure, but my life is much more than my labels: atheist, humanist, democratic socialist, etc. How about you? Are you more than your labels? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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  1. Avatar
    Justine Valinotti

    Most of the time, I am not noticed when I go about my day-to-day life. If I am noticed, I’m usually seen as a “woman of a certain age”. I like it that way.

    Thus, I don’t reveal the fact that I lived the first forty-five years of my life as male. Even those who don’t express hatred against me will, sometimes make unwarranted assumptions about me. The so-called educated people are as likely as anyone else to do this.

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    MJ Lisbeth

    People’s assumptions are the reason why I’ve used a pseudonym when writing about having been sexually abused by a priest. Some people believe that those of us who were so victimized brought it on ourselves, while others can treat us only with pity—which, as often as not, is for themselves.

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    I think about this, in relation to clergy garb. Once, a few years ago, DD and I were on our way to a coffee stall when it started raining suddenly. We, and others ran for shelter under its awning. The others had to push their way in, no one already there moved for them, but they parted for us to get under it – as she was wearing her dog-collar. She said that happened not infrequently when entering a crowded London bus or Tube train. I notice older clergy like the status, one commented to me that he offered to pray over someone who’d collapsed in the street, but the ambulance crew politely told him to go away. He was shocked by the lack of ‘Respect’ he thought he was entitled to, as ‘a man of the cloth.’ I think now, that modern brits will see a person wearing a clerical collar and hold their child’s hand more tightly and think ‘abuser’.
    Vicar-friend who liked to forget his job sometimes, joined a sports club and told them for months he was a ‘white-collar worker’.

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    After I moved to New Jersey about 25 years ago, I didn’t volunteer that I was originally from the South because I learned that when I did, people automatically assumed I was an unintelligent, ignorant racist.

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    Unlike you, Bruce, my DH ministerial years were short. At this time they are so far away that they are almost meaningless. And since we are church goers of any kind, revealing this would probably upset my hubby.

    And yet, they aren’t meaningless. Being treated badly by the people in power at the church is a factor for why my husband isn’t a Christian and is an atheist. And seeing all the bad behavior from Christians in general caused us to change. I am fortunate to have some minister friends and they are Christian, no doubt. But believing that the Bible is literal means they have to hew to harmful beliefs, like the LGBTQ community is evil.

    And if I was talking just about me I would sign my name. But I don’t have a right to expose DH to unfortunate speculation.

  6. Avatar

    I was a missionary fro 15 years, with some of that time spent in a really dangerous country (it still is dangerous there). I found it better if I told people that didn’t know me well that I was a teacher working overseas. They didn’t jump to conclusions about imperialistic Americans, or think that I was a Mormon. In-country, it also kept me safer than saying I was a religious worker. Fellow Christians figured it out right away, but it game me a bit of protection as well as less awkwardness when talking to people. Now I teach here in the States, and I give the same answer about what I used to do, but I always say it was faith-based, which allows people to ask more questions, or arrive at their own conclusions.

    I don’t like the “deference” that comes from people when they find out you were a missionary (which is also why I’m fluent in another language), or the questions they ask about why I left (which are still deeply personal and painful after being back for 25 years). There are some people I can share with, but they ask more open-ended questions and don’t make assumptions that can be hurtful.

  7. Avatar
    Melissa Montana

    Glad to see you back!

    On your post, I admit I am reluctant to tell people I am an atheist. I don’t like getting “the lecture” from Christians who think it’s okay to demand I explain and defend my choice. Nowadays, I’m also scared to admit I’m a Chicano, but that’s another story…

  8. Avatar
    Wayne Beamer

    Bruce: I wonder if you would have felt differently had you lived in much larger cities like San Antonio for longer periods of time. I say this because my favorite Lutheran pastor I admired for a long time, had an affair, got a divorce, married his parisher and moved to a small town. Living in a metro area of Houston approaching more than 2 million, it’s easier to hide in plain sight than ever before.

    I don’t blame you one little bit for wanting to be treated like anyone else. Good column, sir.

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    Calvin Everly

    I was recently visiting with my first cousin n in the thumb of Michigan. I had spent two wonderful days sharing memories and being treated wonderfully.
    I do want to mention that this cousin was more like a sister than my first cousin. We’ve stayed in touch over the years and have loved each other as brother and sister.
    On the third day of my visit we planned to go to a fish fry. We had pick up one of her best friends to go with us. We ate a great meal and started for home. As we traveled back toward home my cousin started with a tirade about how I didn’t believe in Jesus. She was screaming at me for about fifteen minutes.
    I was experiencing anger, sadness, and fear.
    I too am an atheist but not so much a humanist. I do care for my other humans but am critical of the way most humans on the planet really don’t care about the state of the place that they live. I am very concerned with the remaining Floria and Fauna both locally and women he planet world wide. I se the whole planet as interconnected of all living and non living things planet wide. My beliefs include human.
    Calvin Everly

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    I spent from birth to young adulthood in the church. My parents were hardcore evangelical ministers, so keeping quiet about being a Christian wasn’t an option. There was very little “normal” interaction—zero in fact. People (I’m talking Christians here) either presented a false front or verbally attacked.

    Later I finally got a secular job and strove for recognition and acceptance. Titles especially meant a lot. It’s hard to drop the performance-based ideology of the church.

    Now I’m finally in a place where I just want to be a good person, work hard, and enjoy life. Maybe for me it’s just maturity. I don’t know. I just know if feels good just to be myself and allow space for self love. My love and respect for others has grown in the process.

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    mary g

    pastors kid here. we had no normal interactions w/others. they were projects for jesus. had to learn how to interact w/others after I left home. dh came along and we quickly married. lucky he is a good guy. he has taught me more about how to act w/others in the world then my parents did. he introduced me to the concept of travel for pleasure instead of for ministry,family obligation etc. my parents still refuse to travel for pleasure or allow themselves any pleasure besides food. they even say we spend more on food but we are still spending less that all of you people traveling and creating comfortable homes. their lives are still based on performing for others and using said performance to manipulate others into believing. I now am more at ease w/others than I ever was in the ministry years. I see people as trying their best just like me and i can just enjoy being w/others rather than trying to get them to believe a certain way. thanks for addressing this side of the so called ministry.

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