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Bruce, Why Did You Leave the Ministry?

bruce and polly gerencser 1985
Bruce and Polly Gerencser, Sweetheart Banquet, 1985

I preached my first sermon at the age of fifteen. From that point forward, I would preach over 4,000 sermons. While many of the young men who studied for the ministry at Midwestern Baptist College had zero preaching experience prior to entering college, I was somewhat experienced. I added to that experience while at Midwestern, holding Sunday services at the SHAR House in Detroit — a drug rehab center. These early experiences prepared me well for the 25 years I would spend in the ministry.

In February 1979, I became the assistant pastor of a Baptist church in Montpelier, Ohio. From there, my ministerial travels took me to churches in Buckeye Lake, Ohio, Somerset, Ohio, Elmendorf, Texas, Fayette, Ohio, West Unity, Ohio, and Clare, Michigan.

I left the ministry in the Spring of 2005. We were living, at the time, in Newark, Ohio. I made a good faith effort to pastor yet another church, but after candidating at two churches, one in Weston, West Virginia and another in Hedgesville, West Virginia, I concluded that I no longer had the drive and passion necessary to be a pastor. Simply put, the fire had gone out.

When my Evangelical critics comb through my life looking for the slightest mistake or gaffe, they are looking for an explanation for why, exactly, a man with 25 years of pastoral experience walked away from the ministry and deconverted.

I have been accused of having secrets, the “real” reasons for why I left the ministry and later walked away from Jesus. “Surely, there must be secret sin in Bruce’s life,” Evangelical detectives say. Yet, try as they might, they have been unable to ferret out any “sin.” No criminal behavior. No financial impropriety. No sexual peccadilloes. None of the things that typically drive men from the ministry. I was far from perfect, but people will search in vain to find evidence for the behaviors mentioned above.

I left the ministry because I no longer thought that what I did mattered. I was tired of Sunday morning Christianity. The passivity and indifference found in the lives of most congregants forced me to ask, “why bother?” I realized that no matter how hard I worked, people were people. I suspect I had expectations that were too high. So, after I made a halfhearted effort to pastor again, I decided, I am done. Time to use my talents elsewhere.

Several dear pastor friends tried to bait me with job offers, financial aid, etc., hoping the fiery preacher Bruce Gerencser would spring back to life. My refusal to accept their offers left them befuddled. “What has happened to Bruce?” People continue to ask this question today.

Former colleagues in the ministry and church members forgot one important thing: Polly. You see, I was “done, ” but Polly was really, really, really done. For twenty-five years, she had lived with a husband who was never home. She was mother to six children, and was her preacher husband’s go-fer. When I told her that I was done pastoring churches, she let out a sigh of relief.

Polly’s church experiences were far different from mine. While I was praised and showered with adoration, she labored in the background, little more an appendage to her husband’s career. When I said, “I quit,” she quickly ran out to the driveway, started the car, and said, “let’s go.” Not literally of course, but Polly was ready for a new chapter of life. Neither of us knew that three years later we would lose our faith, but we knew that our wading through the trenches of the ministry were over.

While I miss certain aspects of the ministry: being the center of attention, teaching/preaching, helping others — Polly misses nothing. Polly played the piano during the 25 years we spent in the ministry. After we exited stage left, Polly was no longer interested in playing the piano. In fact, we no longer own one. The piano, I believe, was Polly’s way of saying, “I’m done!”

Forty plus years ago a bold, on-fire young preacher and his wife went out into the world to evangelize the lost and teach Christians the Bible. Today, that couple, now aged and with thirteen children, are on to another chapter in their life. Several of our older grandchildren have asked, “Grandpa, were you a preacher?” You see, the Bruce Gerencser they know isn’t a pastor or a religious man. Hopefully, they will one day read my book and learn about the Grandpa and Nana they never knew.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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7 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Karen the rock whisperer

    I’m so glad that the Bruce I know through your writing emerged like a phoenix from the ashes of the incinerated Preacher Bruce. I like this Bruce, even if I don’t agree with him sometimes, because he’s living an authentic life apart from rules for living imposed by a holy book that no one must question. I’m so glad he started that conflagration before his poor wife was completely burned out.

    Living life thoughtfully is hard work sometimes. It’s scary, too, because not all the fact-driven realizations of our lives are pleasant ones. And yet, it seems to me, a reader, that the life you’re living now, the life of who you really are, is finally one worth living. At least, that’s the message I get from your words.

    Live long and prosper, in heart if not in body.

  2. Avatar
    BJW

    I went on a journey, a leisurely one out of Christianity. Your blog helped clarify some stuff. Will I end up agnostic or atheist? Who knows? But you helped me to realize that I didn’t need to believe what I believed and stay in the Christian church.

    So due to coming in contact with and having loved ones as atheists, I went on a journey to understand them. After reading various atheist blogs, I came to the conclusion that most atheists are sincere, honest people who couldn’t talk themselves into believing the fantastical. Instead, they want to grapple with reality as it is, and help people now instead of preaching pie in the sky. I actually feel much more comfortable with atheists and agnostics, as facts, science and reality should be the basis for life’s decisions.

    Anyway, I second that atheists who left Christianity aren’t angry at Christ. (Atheists don’t believe he exists!) Nor does one need a major disappointment in church. I do think said disappointment may make it easier for one’s eyes to be opened.

  3. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    Bruce, it is so interesting that once you said that you were done with being a preacher that Polly could show you how she really felt! That must have been one of the best days of her life, to finally be free of being the behind the scenes engine of the churches where you pastored.

    Most people in churches are there because it’s the comfortable place where they “should” be. They go because it’s been culturally expected to do so, and they probably for the most part derive community, comfort, and rituals from church. Most aren’t there to save the world or blow up their community. They may volunteer from time to time, but most are nesting in the comfort of a socially approved community that makes them feel like they’re trying to be a good person. You, on the other hand, were the one trying to save ALL THE SOULS. You were driven, a revolutionary, and tried to blow s#$% up. No wonder your parishioners frustrated you – you were from 2 different planets!

  4. Avatar
    Yulya Sevelova

    Hello, Bruce. I expect that you are on bed rest, doctor’s orders. Just checking in, I hope you are on the mend from the procedure you had last week. So take it easy and rest up, but know we so miss your daily comments. In reading your accounts of your earlier years, I can see how these things you went through and endured had to take a toll. All that emotion will go somewhere. I read a book, ” Scared Sick,” a library book. It went into what babies and kids do as they undergo stress. How this affects their health years down the road. I saw that book as a manual for ” bad people gotta go “. Sooner rather than later. But, most of us put up with too much and wait too, too long. That’s when the damage really starts. The churches drop the ball when advising people oppressed by family members to stay in that situation. Stress is toxic ! Never forget. I should have read that book more closely. But for genetic woes, my conditions are stress related. Great posts here today. Had to smile. Speedy recovery wishes for you Bruce. And greetings, Polly.I know it’s tough facing these things.

  5. Avatar
    Jimmy T

    I walked away from the church in 1980, and never looked back. It was the beginning of the Reagan era, and the beginning of the OCA (Oregon Christian Alliance), where amongst many things fingers were pointed in the direction of Tay Gays, for recruiting children from school yards. It was a pernicious lie of course, but one where the “christians” could focus their hatred and violence on their fellow humans. Seemed very unchristian to me, and completely counter to the teachings of Jesus. In the Greater America, Aids was referred to as the Gay plague, and research into causes and treatment was not a concern. I am not a gay man, but at the time I worked into a hospital laboratory, and knew and worked with a number of gay and lesbian staff members, a few of which had contracted and died from the Aids virus…

    Far from being a Gay plague, Aids spread amongst the general population. I remember a young lawyer couple who contracted Aids. She had recently divorced her first husband, found then married the love of her life. Turned out her first husband was an IV drug user, got Aids, and then gave it to her. She passed it on to her new husband. They died in the hospital a week apart. The country had the ability, but not the will, to invent life saving treatments. So much for christian compassion…

  6. Avatar
    davedubya

    Evolution is an individual process as well as it is for a species. It is not natural selection but a volitional growth of conscience and consciousness. Rational and compassionate people may evolve through their religion. Others desire only the comfort of conformity within a like-minded community. They leave the thinking to their clergy.

    Now they are in a cult. These are the more authoritarian personalities.

    When their church leaders decide Republicans are a “Christian Party” and the US is a “Christian nation” the danger grows. Fanatics then decide Democrats and others are agents of the devil. Never minding the fact they have become politically allied with the very “servants of mammon”, liars and deceivers they were warned about in scripture.

    Without conscience and consciousness, faith becomes a dark path, enabling authoritarian leaders and even suicide cults. They become dupes of the most greedy and vile leaders within business and government.

    “By their fruits ye shall know them.” The fetid fruit of American evangelical fundamentalism is ignorance, bigotry and Trumpism.

  7. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    If your writings are any indication, Bruce, your grandchildren know a smart and loving grandfather. If they learn about your pastoral work, I hope that it helps them to see you as a role model: From your example, they can learn that no experience is wasted or futile if we learn and grow from it.

    Hey, I lived as a boy and man, and don’t regret it!

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Bruce Gerencser