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It’s Been Fifteen Years Since I Preached My Last Sermon

It’s been fifteen years since I preached my last sermon. Well, according to my counselor, it’s been fifteen years since I preached my last CHRISTIAN sermon. He thinks I am still very much a preacher and a pastor. I’m playing for the other team, but I’m still playing the game. While I certainly continue to preach the good news of reason, secularism, godlessness, and scientific inquiry, I am no longer driven to make converts lest they die in their sins and go to Hell. I wish more Americans would heed my preaching, but I know they won’t until there is some sort of crisis of faith. So, I preach, but I no longer concern myself with the outcome. To use parable of the sower, all I can do is sow the seed. Most of the seed will fall on barren ground, but some will fall on fertile ground, and up will sprout a person of reason, skepticism, and science.

In the fall of 2003, I resigned as pastor of Victory Baptist Church in Clare, Michigan. Victory Baptist was a dysfunctional, dying Southern Baptist church — the perfect church for Bruce Almighty to work a miracle. When I took the church, I told the congregation that I was not a fighter, and I would resign if there was any substantial conflict. Twenty-three years of pastoring churches had taken the fight out of me. All I wanted to do was preach three times a week, visit the sick, marry the young, bury the dead, and help the church grow and mature. Unfortunately, conflict came anyway, and true to my word I resigned. Two years later, the church closed its door.

We moved back to Ohio and rented a house in Stryker. We lived in Stryker for about six months. In February of 2004, my sister, who lived in Yuma at the time, offered to move us to Arizona. She thought the weather would be physically good for me. So, we packed up our household goods and moved 2,000 miles to what many consider the armpit of the southwest. My sister and her cardiologist husband bought a beautiful house for us to live in and we quickly settled into our new life in the desert. It was a fun time for us, but the pull of family became such that we moved back to Ohio in late September. We decided to relocate in Newark so we could be near Polly’s parents. It was during this time that Polly’s sister Kathy was killed in a tragic motorcycle accident.

In the spring of 2005, I got the hankering to once again pastor a church. I sent my résumé to several Southern Baptist area missionaries and it wasn’t long before my phone was ringing off the hook. It was a repeat of what I went through in 2003. Once churches knew I was available, I was quickly inundated with inquiries. At this juncture, Polly and I decided that we were no longer willing to pastor a church that couldn’t pay me a fair salary, complete with benefits. This requirement quickly winnowed the field since most of the churches were small and unable or unwilling to pay a pastor a living wage.

I did candidate at two churches, Hedgesville Baptist Church and New Life Southern Baptist Church, both in West Virginia. While both churches were interested in me being their pastor, I decided not to proceed. A month or so later, a pastor friend of mine tried to entice me to start a Christian Union church in Zanesville, Ohio, but I decided I no longer wanted to go through the rigors necessary to plant a new church.  I came to conclusion that the fire had died and I no longer wanted to pastor a church.

My sermon at Hedgesville Baptist was the last time I stood before a group of people, opened up the Bible, and preached to them the unsearchable riches of Christ. For the three years that followed, Polly and I tried to find a church to call home. (Please see But, Our Church is Different!) We moved from Newark back to northwest Ohio so we could live near our children and grandchildren. We diligently continued to seek a church that took seriously the teachings of Christ. Alas, our search was in vain. As we became more disenchanted with Christianity, our doubts and questions grew. Long-held beliefs were challenged as we attempted to determine what we really believed. In the end, we concluded that the claims of Christianity could no longer withstand rational inquiry and investigation. We attended church, Ney United Methodist Church, for the last time in November of 2008. From that point forward we no longer considered ourselves Christians.

I preached my first sermon at the age of 15, and I was 48 when I preached my last. I entered the ministry as a fire-breathing, sin-hating, soulwinning Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB). I left the ministry as a Progressive Christian who was sympathetic towards the Red-Letter Christian and Emerging church movements. When I started preaching, I subscribed to Christianity Today, The Biblical Evangelist, and the Sword of the Lord. When I stopped preaching I subscribed to Sojourners and Mother Jones. In the late 1970s, my library consisted of books by John R. Rice, Jack Hyles, Harry Ironside, and other Fundamentalist writers. Twenty-five years later, the Fundamentalist books of my youth had been donated to charity and in their place stood books by Wendell Berry, Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, and Dorothy Day. In between, hundreds of  Calvinistic, Mennonite, Baptist, and Reformed tomes came and went, offered up to Christians on eBay. Time and experience had fundamentally changed me. I have no doubt that I would not be the man I am today without experiencing the joys and heartaches of the ministry.

I miss preaching and teaching. I wish I had been younger and in better health when I deconverted. I could have gone back to college and gotten a degree so I could teach at the college level. I think I have the requisite skills necessary to do so, but without a degree there’s no hope of me teaching. I’d love to teach a World Religions class at the nearby community college. Since that path is no longer open to me, I content myself to write for this blog, hoping that I can, in some small way, be a help to others. Perhaps, my counselor is right: Always a preacher, always a pastor.

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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  1. Avatar
    Karen the rock whisperer

    Two totally unrelated comments:

    One, Based on your blog and your Facebook postings, I think you would indeed make a good teacher. Alas, life has decided not to give you the opportunity to do it in a more formal environment. That’s sad.

    Two, Darwinism… DARWINISM??? You’re making this scientist cringe. I assume you mean you accept and promote knowledge of the basic principles of modern biology, paleontology, and other disciplines regarding the history of our planet and its life… which is a good thing! But the expression “Darwinism” is pejorative, invented by creationists to belittle this whole area of the sciences as nothing more than some crank’s idea. There’s gotta be a better term.

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    Evangelical Christianity is a fast high poison but recovery takes years. It is important as a feeling, thinking biped to talk it out and continue to talk it out until some natural completion puts and end to it. I don’t see you preaching at all, only sometimes being called on to witness for yourself, to exchange and clarify ideas. You never tell people they will suffer punishment for choosing to believe in woo-woo.
    So, tell your therapist that they have not quite understood the difference between blogging as you do and proselytizing, threatening, promising, cajoling and harmfully doing away with decent human boundaries that allow our social interactions to be respectful and open.
    Preaching the evangelical hatred that is called love is so far from sharing as you do here, it could easily be mistaken as working the room the same way you used to…. I feel you have a very balanced expression of your feelings here, far far beyond my own abilities… I have been an atheist for far longer than you but I still get hooked by judgers and believers who punish so that I quickly lash out. I admire your restrained honesty.

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    1) Keep on preaching. I know FOR A FACT, that you are helping people in the same way when you were a pastor. But this time, you are REALLY preaching the way, the truth, and the life!

    2) I always look forward to your posts. I read them “religiously” like my own “daily devotion”. The gospel according to Bruce is much easier to read, understand, and has very little need for interpretation. Do you prefer the “King Bruce” version, the “New International Bruce” version, or the “Gerencser Study” version?

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    Bruce, however you came by it, you have a way of expressing yourself, and educating, while being a safe space to agree or disagree.I am a daughter of a college professor. He taught hundreds of students to speak Spanish and broaden their minds. With your blog you are reaching far more people than a degree would allow. Education rarely happens in classrooms any more, far more experiencial learning opportunities can happen, and teach more thoroughly. Keep sharing, and eventually evangelicals might just stop to listen. If not, don’t cast pearls before swine.

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    MJ Lisbeth

    Bruce, if you don’t mind, I’ll play armchair psychiatrist for a moment. I think that you lost your desire to pastor a church because you are, at heart, a preacher. As you say, what you preach today is different, and your pulpit, if you will, is different. But you are a preacher at heart. I just wish you could put that talent to work as a teacher: I’d love to be in a class led by you.

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    Thank you for your preaching. I don’t consider myself an atheist, more like a believing agnostic Universalist. (I hope there’s a God of love, but don’t believe in the Christian god. And that was a little hard to type even though it’s true.) I wish we had something like a UU church nearby, since they are about spiritual steps and you don’t really have to be religious. So anyway, that’s a roundabout way of pointing out that reading your blog for almost 9 years has helped clarify my beliefs.

    I still think we should be kind to one another! Also, after we (cross fingers) get vaccinated, we 4 need to go out! After 1 1/2 years of surgeries and then this stupid pandemic, I’m more willing to exhaust myself if fun or friendship is involved. (It’s hard though, I have so little energy.)

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    You’re still preaching and teaching, but with a different audience. We aren’t a cohesive group with the same beliefs, but we do share some in common. It’s interesting to read about how your style and focus changed from the fire and brimstone save souls from hell IFB preacher to a teaching Calvinist preacher.

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    I agree with your therapist, Bruce. You’re a preacher of the best kind: not the fire-and-brimstone, sin-hating, god-imploring, guilt-inducing kind, but a teacher whose words are based on your own life and knowledge. I have admired your writing skill, enjoyed your stories, and learned a great deal since I started reading your blog, and I thank you. I’ll be reading for as long as you’re willing to write.

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    Davie from Glasgow

    I agree with many of the commenters. As I’ve said on here before – I’m not really the target audience, but I really do enjoy Bruce’s writing and the discussions it generates.

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    I advise a club at my high school that is intended to teach curious students about all aspects of life in order to give the teenagers who participate the opportunity to learn about many different kinds of people and their roles in the world. The kids attend a series of seminars every two weeks at a nearby university (This year we are doing everything via Zoom because of Covid.) There is a speaker or a panel of speakers who present many different topics : religions of the world, criminology, the Innocences Project, historical topics, political science, the arts – anything you can imagine. The presenters are ordinary people telling their stories. Sometimes they are college professors, and sometimes they are people who live quiet lives but who have interesting stories to tell. Our most popular speaker last year was a woman in her late 80’s who was Holocaust survivor who had been a young Jewish child in hiding during the war. The kids (all 250 of them) have a chance to ask questions and then they break into groups to process what they’ve learned. If you lived near me I would beg you to come and talk to this group. There is a small honorarium for presenting, but it’s really anopportunity to connect with the next generation and encourage them through personal stories. I wonder if there’s a high school near you or a university with a similar program for teenagers? I assure you you would find it worthwhile.

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