In September 1971, I began my ninth grade year at Central Junior High School in Findlay, Ohio. At home, my parents argued constantly, and seven months later they divorced. A few months after that, Mom married her first cousin — a recent Texas prison parolee — and Dad married a 19-year-old woman he met at the local dirt race track. She brought a toddler girl into our new “blended” family.
Needless to say, life at home was anything but love, peace, and harmony. I hated my parents for getting divorced. I hated my Dad for marrying a girl who was only four years older than I.
I stayed away from home as much as I could. Dad was busy with his “new” family, so my siblings and I were left to our own devices. I spent a lot of time at the local YMCA. I didn’t have the money for a membership, so I learned the fine art of sneaking into the Y. The Y became my home away from home.
Dad started G and B Train Shop with Gary Zissler, a fellow deacon at the church. The store mainly sold Lionel, American Flyer, Marx, and HO trains. I worked at the store in the evenings. Dad paid me twenty-five cents an hour, minus the cost of the pop I drank. Since we rarely had pop at home, I became a pop-a-holic while at the train shop. I also spent a lot of money buying comic books at the next-door drug store. I quickly learned how to sort the till to fund my habits.
Our family attended Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio. Trinity was a large Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church pastored by Gene Milioni. Ron Johnson was the assistant pastor and Bruce Turner (please see Dear Bruce Turner) was the youth pastor.
After Pastor Milioni married my dad and his second wife, Dad and my siblings stopped going to church. I, however, immersed myself in the church, attending every time the doors were opened.
The church became my family. Most of my close friends attended Trinity, and the church provided me with everything I found lacking in my home life. Even though I am now an atheist, I will forever be grateful for the support and social connection the church provided for me.
In the fall of 1972, my tenth-grade year at Findlay High School, Al Lacy held a revival at Trinity Baptist. One night, I came under great conviction and I went down to the altar, confessed my sins, and asked Jesus to save me. A week later I was baptized, and not too long after that, I publicly confessed before the church that I believed God was calling me into the ministry. I was fifteen.
My life changed dramatically after I got saved. I started carrying my Bible to school, and I regularly witnessed to my non-Christian friends. My non-Christian friends, those I played sports with, thought I had lost my mind, and some of my Christian friends did too.
I have always been an all-in kind of person. I don’t do half-way very well, so when it came to being a Christian, I was 100% committed to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I took seriously what I heard the pastors preach. In my young mind, I saw the pastors as speaking for God. After all, everything they preached about came straight out of the Bible, God’s inspired, inerrant, infallible Word — KJV-1611.
Trinity was an IFB church, affiliated with the Baptist Bible Fellowship. The pastors preached against rock music, premarital sex, mixed swimming, going to movies, short skirts and pants on women, and long hair on men. Remember, it was the early 1970s, and mini-skirts and maxi-dresses were popular and men wore their hair long. The pastors at Trinity were anti-culture, believing the love and peace generation was destroying America.
Like a good Baptist boy, I tried to follow the rules to the letter. God (or the pastor) said it, I believed it, and that settled it for me. One sin the pastors were against was any kind of dancing. Not just some types of dancing, they were against ALL dancing.
I vividly remember ninth-grade year at Central Jr High. The Phys Ed teacher decided to teach square dancing. I was all for learning to square dance. This would be my only opportunity to touch the cheerleaders. Unfortunately, Pastor Milioni put an end to my carnal desires. He came to school and made a fuss about the square-dancing class. Next thing I know, I am being forced to sit with the fags (talking as we did in the 1970s — I do not use such language today) who refused to take Phys Ed. This was a punishment worse than death. Pastor Milioni would later come to my school to complain about the choir singing Jesus Christ Superstar. I had to quit choir.
Both my junior high and high school held dances, social events that everyone attended — well everyone but this good Baptist boy. I went through a period of time when I was really upset about all the rules and restrictions, so I would stay overnight with non-Christian friends so I could go to the dances with them. I did this numerous times. I don’t know if my parents ever caught on. If they did, they never said a word.
I came through the 1970s with my Baptisthood intact. I never smoked cigarettes, drank, or toked marijuana. I didn’t listen to rock music, I kept my hair cut short, and I successfully made it through high school as a virgin. Not that I didn’t want to have sex — I did — but I was afraid of what might happen if I did, and I didn’t think any of the church girls I dated were “willing.” I found out a few years ago, after talking to some of the girls I went to church with, that they were more “willing” than this naïve Baptist boy thought they were.
The first time I danced was at the wedding of one of my children. This was the first time for my wife too. My daughters-in-law cajoled us into dancing. Oh, what a sight we were. We may have been years away from our Fundamentalist youth, but it was quite evident that we didn’t know the first thing about dancing.
How about you? If you were raised in a Fundamentalist Christian home and attended public school, how did that affect your ability to be a normal student? Please share your experiences in the comment section.
Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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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