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Why I Kept the Church Open When I Shouldn’t Have

pile of money

Thanks to various state governors, including Mike Dewine, the Republican governor of Ohio, houses of worship are exempt from gathering bans. While thousands of thoughtful, caring churches canceled services, more than a few Evangelical churches dug in their heels and kept their doors open. Whether out of the belief that the Coronavirus pandemic is a government attempt to take away civil liberties, an attempt by Democrats to take down President Donald Trump and spoil his reelection bid, or out of some sort of loyalty to Jesus and the Bible, none of these supposed defenders of God, freedom, and coffee after church are telling the real reason for carry on as normal.

I pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years. I hated to cancel services for any reason. “Sundays are meant for worship, bless God, and regardless of whether there are two feet of snow on the ground, the true Christians at _____________ (fill in the blank with name of church I was pastoring) are going to gather at their appointed times. Can I get an A-MEN? AMEN!” (Though I suspect more than a few members were thinking, FUCK YOU, PREACHER!)

Of course, people who cared about their personal safety and that of their family stayed home, but I could always count on some faithful souls showing up to worship the one true God. Rarely were these services memorable. Why? Because everyone there wanted to be somewhere else, myself included. “Then why have the services?” you might be thinking. Simple. Are you ready for the answer? I am going to blow your mind with my answer. The reason I was Heaven-bent on holding services regardless of the weather was because of money. Churches require money to operate. Most Evangelical churches don’t have large sums on deposit or investment accounts. Most churches rely solely on the tithes and offerings of attendees to operate. Without weekly offerings, churches quickly get into financial trouble. Churches are, in many ways, financially no different from the families they minister to. Living from offering to offering, many churches face employees not getting paid, utilities getting shut off, and mortgage payments going unpaid when services are canceled. It is for this very earthly reason many churches refuse to shut their doors during the current pandemic. Oh, they will put a shiny, pretty coat of paint on the situation and make all sorts of excuses, but the fact remains: it’s all about money. It is ALWAYS about the money (as it is for all of us).

“Bruce, surely congregants pay extra tithes and offerings to cover the services they missed?” While that is certainly a nice sentiment, far too many church members have a “no show, no money” approach to giving. Their thinking goes something like this: “If there are no services at church, why should I pay for sermons, sacraments, music, and fellowship not received?” I could count on offerings dropping fifty percent or more on weeks when services were canceled. Such income loss often meant that I didn’t get paid. Better to keep the lights on and propane in the tank than Pastor Bruce get paid. I know, what a guy, right? In retrospect, such thinking was stupid. It unfairly made me bear all the burden for decreased income. Instead of being honest with the churches I pastored about this, I, instead, bullied them into being present and accounted for on Sundays when ninety-nine percent of county churches were closed.

The good news is that by the time I started Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio in 1997, I had things figured out. Well, I had the offering issue figured out, anyway. I was no longer going to carry the load when church services were canceled and income was lost. I was first in line when it came to getting paid. I spent way too many years being the last person in line; often finding out that all that was left was a few widow’s mites, food stamps (yes, I preached that poor people should tithe their food stamps), and a cold half-eaten Big Mac.

While I certainly understand the financial pressures pastors and church leaders face when church doors are closed, they have a moral and ethical responsibility to act in the best interest of not only their congregants but the unsaved world they say they love and are trying to reach with the gospel of Christ. Want to model love, mercy, and responsibility, preacher? Shut the damn doors of your church until local, state, and federal officials say it is okay for people to safely gather in groups again. People will remember the pastors and churches who didn’t care about the health and welfare of others. They will also remember who put their lives before theology, politics, and money. How you respond during this crisis says a lot about you as a person, preacher and the church you pastor. Your “testimony” is speaking loud and clear.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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12 Comments

  1. Avatar
    TLC

    I have been under the impression that these churches have stayed open to prove that if anyone gets sick, Jesus will heal them. Jesus will protect his faithful followers if they gather in His Name. And on and on…

  2. Avatar
    BJW

    I otherwise approve of Gov DeWine’s actions, although I deplore the churches being open. But I suppose the governor can’t anger some of his biggest supporters.

  3. Avatar
    Bob

    Agree or disagree, unless it is a law mandate, we live in a free country and people are free to do as they please. If you are going to talk about how “bad” people can be, you dont have to look any further than the local stores and some of the fights that have broken out over toilet paper. Are we to assume what kind of faith these people had and make a general assumption? I know churches that decided to follow the guidelines and some that didn’t.

    While I don”t know what are the real reasons were that they chose to remain open and unless you know every pastor and his reasons, no one can assume it was because of money, nothing can harm me or people wanted to be around others of like faith for reassurance. Could be a mixture of all, but you do not know for sure. In the end it is only your opinion, which we are still all entitled to have so far.

    For someone who claims to have seen the light in the other direction, you don’t seem to have very much room for how others choose to live their lives. Just like as a preacher you told everyone that they were wrong if they didn’t follow the Bible, you still now seem now to tell everyone how wrong on how they live and what they believe.

    Which Bruce are we to believe now?

    • Avatar
      BJW

      We’re in a pandemic. The whole point of not assembling is to keep the medical institutions from being overwhelmed. So churches getting together make them vectors of disease. It would be ironic and sad if people who believe God heals them got sick and died. Especially since there are more much older people in churches, the very people most likely to get sick and die.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      People are free to live however they want to live. However, how people live can and does affect other people. Having church during a pandemic is callous indifference towards people both inside and outside of the church. It is irresponsible, childish behavior. And it could be criminal behavior.

      As far as knowing motivations, I wrote his post as an insider. I knew scores of pastors/churches over the years. Money was always a problem, even in the best times. Canceling 2-6 weeks or more services would cripple most churches.

      If you don’t like hearing my take on religious issues, you might want to stop reading now. ?

    • Avatar
      Brian Vanderlip

      As Bob so correctly points out (as I read it) the good ol’ USA is the land of the free to harm. The Church has long been ingrained as a foundation for harm and keeping the churches open now is foolishly bragging just how harmful the Church insists on being. This is a very good in the trrenches example of the relationship between Christianity and the general public: They just love us to death!

  4. Avatar
    Bob

    I never said I dont like hearing you take on religious topics, I just gave my opinion, just as you give yours. I could almost take your invitation to stop reading your posts as you really may not want me commenting, but that is just a gut guess.

    I’m not sure its criminal unless there is a law being broken, from.what I understand on how the justice system works here. Asking and recommending people to do things is not law. And I’m not saying dont follow recommendations. Just there are always two sides and the two sides seems to work when its fighting religious side.

    I would also be curious as to feedback on my other statement that you told people who didn’t believe in the Bible that they were wrong and you seem to still do that on the other side now on many of your posts.

    So which Bruce do we believe now?

    And I really am just trying to have open conversation without any attitude. In case you are thinking otherwise.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      The former Bruce believed he spoke for God, under his authority. People were expected believe an obey because s was “God” speaking.

      The present Bruce is just one man with a story to tell; one man with an informed, educated opinion. People can accept and embrace what I say or not, no skin off my back either way.

      Deliberately infecting someone with a disease is criminal, or at the very least leaves someone open to lawsuit — as in the case of my in-laws’ glad-handing, fuck the government pastor. If my in-laws come down with COVID-19, it’s likely they contracted it at church. I’ll have more to say on this later.

    • Avatar
      Brian Vanderlip

      Bob said: “…! would also be curious as to feedback on my other statement that you told people who didn’t believe in the Bible that they were wrong and you seem to still do that on the other side now on many of your posts. So which Bruce do we believe now?”

      I just want to pont out to those who have skimmed and perhaps missed this very important position taken by Bob, that it is typical Christian hatred blinding him here. He states that he is aware of Bruce saying one thing at one time and then later saying another. He is hatefully equating a change of stance brought about by honest living and human reason. Bob wants to suggest that we are hopelessly evil and contradictory and Jesus etc. What blinded Bob denies is that Gerencser is being honest and stating his case as he sees it now. Bob does not feel able to do that and cannot because his slavery to the Bible means he cannot think for himself but must obey the preacher, so to speak. It might piss Bob off a bit that Bruce was the preacher but now look at him, a fallen man actually doubting and talking with non-believers.
      Yes, yes Bob, you should be allowed to harm others because that is what Christianity has carved out in the laws of the land of the free, the home of the slaves. Even if Science shows exactly what happens when stupid people act stupidly in a pandemic, you should blow hard about your rights to assemble as the Bible commanded.
      You choose to be a slave, denigrate yourself with the embrace of original sin and harm others for ever and ever until you are called home. You have a real real ATTITUDE Bob but I am thankful that you are as you say, trying to be without one. Spend a day outside the harm home, Bob. Really listen to what is observed about belief systems and their result in our world. Buy a 5 gallon pail of Jim Bakker’s pasta goop and hold up, self-isolate and read a bit of the writings of someone other than delusional St. Paul who talks with God on the road. We have attitudes, Bob.
      And Bob, if you have kids, let them play sports on Sunday, okay? (I know nothing at all about you, Bob but reading just a few posts, this is my take. I have an ATTITUDE too.)

  5. Avatar
    DougK

    I think this is one reason why, in the early book-of-Acts days, believers met in homes–there was no such thing as paid clergy or church buildings. When that began, pastors were condemned to forever have to keep one eye on their finances. And, when the money gets tight, having to do or say whatever is necessary to get those donations flowing.

    There was a time when I attended a home fellowship every week, but not church services. One person didn’t get it. I thought I had a solid case: when that verse in Hebrews was written, everyone met in homes and there was no such thing yet as church, so I was actually doing it the original way. Well, this person couldn’t seem to comprehend it, and kept on arguing. It has to be in an actual church, under a paid pastor, or it doesn’t count! Well, could someone explain to me why?

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