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1972: My First and Last All-Night Prayer Meeting

singing group trinity baptist church findlay
Singing Group Trinity Baptist Church, Findlay, Ohio. Bruce Gerencser is the last person on the right, age 15.

As a fifteen-year-old boy at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio, I attended my first all-night prayer meeting. Trinity was a fast-growing Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church, nearing 1,000 in attendance. The pastors and deacons decided that the church needed the men of the congregation to spend a night storming the throne room of Heaven. I’m not sure if there was an exact reason for the prayer meeting, but I suspect it had to do with the church’s troubled building program and the continued evangelization of the lost. At the time, Trinity met in a building on Trenton Avenue. Maxed out seating-wise, Pastor Gene Milioni and the congregation decided to build a large, round building on land donated to them by Ralph Ashcraft on County Road 236 east of Findlay. At the time, the land was farmland. Today, it is surrounded by housing and commercial businesses.

Trinity tried to fund the construction project by selling bonds to congregants. According to Peach State Financial, church bonds are

a form of fixed-rate financing typically used to finance church expansion. What are church bonds? Church bonds are certificates of indebtedness which are sold by churches to create funds for church construction, purchase, or renovation. The church is acting as the borrower and the bond investors who are often times church members are the lenders.

The church bonds issued by the church are sold by the church broker dealer who acts as the lender who follows certain guidelines in the transaction. The church is not required to sell the bonds.

….

The interest rate earned on church bonds for the investor generally runs from 4.5% to 8.5%. Bank savings accounts and Certificates of Deposit pay only a fraction of this amount. A church bond program is a win-win situation for the church and it’s members.

These bonds were, in essence, loans by church members to the church, featuring handsome interest rates upon repayment. Such bond programs were common among growing IFB churches at the time. The risk, of course, was that the bonds were not insured or guaranteed. While I am not certain of the exact details, I believe Trinity’s bond program was fraught with problems, including running afoul of securities laws and late repayment. The church eventually paid off all the bonds and became debt-free.

On that night in 1972, the “need” was palpable. God was moving and working at Trinity Baptist. The buildings and buses were filled to capacity. Three pastors were on staff full-time. Virtually every Sunday, souls were being saved and members added to the membership. A few months prior, I had been saved, baptized, and called to preach. My heart burned with passion for Jesus and the salvation of sinners. Well, that and girls. Gotta keep it real . . .

At the appointed time, a handful of church men and teen boys gathered in the church auditorium for prayer. Some of the pray-ers, planned on praying all night, while others had signed up for specific times, say 1:00-3:00 AM. I, along with several of my youth group friends, planned on “praying” all night. While we intended to fervently and dutifully pray, the thought of a night away from home with friends proved to be the driving motivation for our attendance. We quickly learned that praying for any length of time was hard. Up until that night, my longest prayers were minutes, not hours long. I found myself running out of things to talk to God about. “Surely, he heard me the first time,” I thought, so it seemed to me a waste of time to keep bugging God about the same things over, and over, and over again. However, I went through the motions, kneeling at the altar with the men of the church. I am sure they thought I was quite a “spiritual” boy. Recently called to preach, I am sure they thought that great things awaited the Gerencser boy. Unfortunately, as time wore on, restless, jokester, goof-off Bruce showed up, and Ray Salisbury, a stern deacon who had a daughter I was interested in, told me that I would have to go home if I couldn’t maintain the proper decorum. All prayed out, I rode my bike home and crawled into bed in the wee hours of the morning. I am sure my pastors were disappointed with my lack of enduring spirituality. I, on the other hand, look back at this story and think, “man, I was a restless, ornery fifteen-year-old boy. Getting me to sit still for any amount of time was a victory.”

This prayer meeting was my first and only all-night prayer meeting. Have you ever attended an all-night prayer meeting? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 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.

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13 Comments

  1. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    I can’t think of anything more boring than an all night prayer marathon.

    You would think that an omniscient, omnipotent deity would be able to figure out what its minions’ needs are and be able to meet those needs without the need for a marathon prayer session.

  2. Avatar
    Skylar

    Yes. The IFB I was going to did that. The year was 2011. That year our Pastor and his son had this “great” idea to have a soul winning marathon once a month on a Saturday( this would involve going out and knocking on doors all day long into early evening hours). On the other Saturdays we just had our regular couple hours in the morning of soul winning. Well to go along with the theme of 2011 which was to try as a church to get 2011 people “saved” that year; our Pastors son had this “great” idea of having an all night prayer meeting once every month for 2011. And as usual it was really only the core of the church (like others and myself that made up about 10 percent of the current church numbers)that would show up. Needless to say by the end of 2011 many (me included ) were having severe burn out with all this “spiritual” activity. Surprisingly though we did get to 2011 souls to do the “sinners prayer” that year. Howbeit, only a very small percentage of that number ever came to the church. And after all that “spiritual activity” you would think God would be blessing our socks off; instead our Pastor winded up getting hit over the back of the head while “soul winning” in the hood(, a rough area)right about at the end of 2011. It took him about a year and a half til he could preach again. Needless to say I am so glad to be away from all that now. And right now in my mind I’m singing the Richie Havens song from Woodstock (no unfortunately I was not there) but the song was about freedom which is what many experience upon leaving the IFB or Christianity for that matter.

  3. Avatar
    Matilda

    I never quite understood the whole day or night of prayer thing. We were told not to pray with ‘vain repetitions as the gentiles do’…but when the request was obvious and simple – like when we had a night of prayer for a young pastor, newly diagnosed with terminal cancer – how many times can you ask for his healing, for strength for his pregnant wife and for medical staff treating him – without repetition and more repetition? God was supposed to know our needs before we asked him anyway….if we’d had 2 nights, or 7 nights of prayer for the man…would that have made god heal our friend? How cruel to raise our hopes that our sacrificial (I hate not getting a good night’s sleep) praying would do any good.

  4. Avatar
    Ian for a long time

    We never did an all-nighter, but we did have Saturday night prayers. Someone came up with the great idea to meet at the church and pray for services the next day.

    Like all things, it started out with 15, or so, people. By the time it ended, a couple of years later, it was only an old man named Mr. Becker, our family and one other man; the pastor didn’t even show up on a regular basis. For our family, we had to drive for 45 minutes, each way, to get to church. Dad was very serious about his spiritual life and the life of the church. Being 15, I hated being forced to kneel at an altar for up to an hour. This was close to 3 hrs of my night gone.

    It was during this time that I realized how many filler words were used during prayer:
    “Father, we just humbly come to you tonight, God, and we just want to ask for your blessing, Father. God, just, just bless us, Father. Just, Father, bless our service, Father God. Just, please, Father, release your spirit, God,”, and on and on. I literally had to bite my hand to keep from screaming, sometimes.

    • Avatar
      Karen the rock whisperer

      Raised Catholic, I was quite comfortable with scripted prayers; it was other theology that chased me out of the Catholic Church. However, for personal praying I approached God with some thanks for all the good things in my life, followed by a list of issues I wanted heavenly help with. There were no filler words. I wouldn’t waste my own time with filler words, why waste God’s time?

      Then, in my early 20s, I got involved for a few years in a nondenominational Christian church. When I’d go to a Bible study or some such gathering, the person tasked to say an opening prayer would go on and on for several minutes, and every phrase contained the word ‘just’.j “Father, we humbly ask you to just ___, and we just want to praise you and appreciate the great things you’ve done with our lives. We just ask you to ____, and just wish to pray for [person], who is suffering right now, and we just…”

      It took me a long time, after I left Christianity, to be able to use that actually useful little word in appropriate ways again. I’d banished it from my vocabulary for at least a decade.

  5. Avatar
    Skylar

    The IFB churches circles that I was a part of really revered ” men of God” like Adonirim Johnson and Robert Sheffy. Men that would start their every day at like 4 in the morning and pray for hours. And traveling evangelists like Dennis Corle, Benny Beckam, and others had thick books on the subject of prayer. And when I was into it I thought it was really awesome to think that the God of all the universe would want to hear from little old me. Yes prayer could be difficult. Often I would start out ok only to get bogged down into the rut of repeating the same words and phrases. However I do remember often having a sence of peace afterwards. The mantra was to “pray without ceasing”. It was said that we should be in the spirit of prayer all day long. It may look good on paper but it is hard often to talk a one sided conversation.

    • Avatar
      Brian Vanderlip

      Especially if the one-sided talk is full of your admission of neeeeeed!
      I’m bad, real bad, so bad, bad bad etc. Help! It gets boring to harm yourself in such a slow, steady way, Better to use a hair-shirt or slap yourself up the side of the head…

  6. Avatar
    Karen the rock whisperer

    I remember reading about a group of monks in one of the classically Catholic Mediterranean countries, who had a lovely ancient monastery on a remote island. Being in need of some income to put food on the table, the monks had taken to allowing male tourists only to boat over in groups and take group tours of the public buildings. Of course, the monks were under fire for not allowing women. A writer had a long and interesting interview with one of the monks. Apparently, they endeavor to pray constantly, and claim to be able to pray while doing almost anything. The monk who was interviewed claimed to be using part of his brain to pray while doing the interview! About the only thing that would through a real wrench in all of this praying would be the distraction of the presence of women, hence the ban.

    I found the whole “pray constantly” endeavor rather interesting, even if they weren’t being as successful as the monk claimed. Maybe you have to be a monk in a far-off monastery to even approach that goal.

    • Avatar
      Brian Vanderlip

      Hi Karen, I think a greater goal than to pray constantly might be to be human constantly, to live in a mantra of reminder that we are people. Silent repetition is a wonderful companion: Be kind, be kind, be kind.
      I think it genuinely helps me manage more human kindness. Be good, be good, be good says something quite different to me, something less possible perhaps? Be Jesus bejesus bejesus just makes me coo-coo.
      I don’t have much patience for men, monks or mechanics who suggest that they cannot maintain themselves when women are present. Bullshit. Excess leads to all kinds of mediocrity and very often targets of that excess are women and children et al.

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