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I am a Publican and a Heathen — Part Two

Jose Maldonado Bruce Gerencser Pat Horner
Pastors Joe Maldonado, Bruce Gerencser, and Pat Horner, Somerset Baptist Church, Fall of 1993

Our family arrived in Elmendorf, Texas the first week of March, 1994. I had resigned from Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio, and after closing down the church and Christian school, I packed up my family and moved us to Elmendorf so I could become co-pastor of Community Baptist Church.

Community Baptist Church was a Sovereign Grace (Calvinistic) Independent Baptist church started in the 1980s by Pat Horner. The church worshiped at a ramshackle former Southern Baptist church building on Labus Road outside of Elmendorf. The church property included several acres of land that housed a double-wide mobile home in which Pat Horner and his family lived, an old mobile home where Joe Buitron, the groundskeeper/handyman, and his family lived, and a brand-new 14×70 mobile home the church purchased for my family.

This enclave of mobile homes was called The Compound. Each mobile home was close enough to the other two that the occupants could easily see what was going on at each mobile home. When we moved to Texas, we did not watch TV. I remember how judgmental I felt when I saw the glare of a TV in the bedroom window of Pat Horner’s home, late on almost every Saturday night. I thought then, why is he watching TV? Shouldn’t he be praying and preparing for the Lord’s Day as I am?

tim conway
Tim Conway, preaching at a nursing home. Conway is now pastor of Grace Community Church in San Antonio.

The church was quite welcoming, and we were excited to be there. Community Baptist was a vibrant congregation, filled with young adults and their children. There was an air of excitement in the church, a hunger for the preaching and teaching of God’s Word. I spent many a Sunday evening after service talking theology with the men of the church. They had questions, and I was delighted to dispense to them what knowledge I had about the Calvinistic interpretation of the Bible.

There was quite a bit of movement in and out of the church membership. Not long before I became co-pastor of the church, two men from Kalamazoo, Michigan moved to Elmendorf so they could be part of the church. Their names were Craig Mussulman and Tim Conway. Conway is now the Calvinistic Fundamentalist pastor of Grace Community Church in San Antonio, Texas. Mussulman is an elder at Grace Community.

larry linda johnson
Larry and Linda Johnson, a couple from Ohio that moved to Texas when we did. They still live there.

When we moved to Elmendorf, a family from Ohio moved with us. Larry and Linda Johnson were members of Somerset Baptist Church, and when we decided to move, they packed up their belongings and moved to Elmendorf a week or so later. Larry and Linda had three children and Larry was a heating and air conditioning contractor.

The Gerencsers’ first act as co-pastor and family was to officially join the Community Baptist Church. Community had strict membership requirements. The church’s Covenant had this to say about church membership:

. . . In recognizing the church’s authority to receive me into, and dismiss me from, its membership, I purpose when seeking to remove myself from her membership to seek the counsel, the approval, and the blessing of the church in seeking to join myself to another church of like faith and practice . . .

. . . If, however, the church does not agree with my reasons for leaving, I recognize that the church may release me from its membership disagreeing with me and expressing their displeasure of my actions but, at the same time, allowing me the liberty of conscience to leave . . .

. . . Finally, in the event of sin on my part with regard to any biblical matter, I recognize the church’s biblical right to take disciplinary action toward me, which seeks my restoration . . .

As I would later learn, church members were routinely disciplined for violating membership requirements.

One requirement stood out above all others. Since people had to have the church’s permission to join the church, according to Horner and church elders, they also had to have the church’s permission to leave. Members could not just leave and go somewhere else. If they did not ask for the church’s permission to leave, Horner would call a meeting and discipline the errant church member. I would suffer this same fate when I resigned and moved back to Ohio.

A week or so after we joined the church, the Johnson family arrived in Elmendorf, and as we did, they joined the church. However, before the Johnsons joined the church, Horner and I had our first conflict. Before potential members could join the church, they had to meet with Horner so he could grill them about their salvation experience and what they believed. Larry Johnson met with Horner, and afterward Horner came to me and said he doubted Larry was a “real” Christian. The reason? Larry talked too much about God and not enough about Jesus.

I was able to convince Horner that Larry was a “real” Christian and he permitted the Johnsons to join the church. I was quite sad when the Johnson family, convinced by Horner that I was a bad man filled with pride, later turned against me.

Every year, in March, Community Baptist Church held a week-long Bible conference. I preached several times during the 1993 conference and I was scheduled to preach several times during the 1994 conference.

The conferences were housed in a large tent that held several hundred people. Calvinistic Baptist pastors from around the state of Texas would come to the Bible conference, and pastors from as far away as Ohio and Louisiana would preach. The women of the church would provide meals each day for everyone in attendance. The food, music, and preaching were outstanding.

The 1994 conference took place a week or so after we moved to Elmendorf. After we settled into our new mobile home, I began helping with conference preparations. Along with John Sytsma, a wealthy owner of a nearby ostrich farm, I set up the sound system for the conference. Our “work” would fuel the second conflict I had with Pat Horner.

On the first morning of the conference, the sound kept cutting in and out. John and I could not figure out why this was happening. During lunch, Horner angrily lit into me about the sound problem, and he let me know that I better get it fixed. I had never seen the angry side of Horner before, but I would see a lot more of it before I left the church. Horner must have realized that his angry display was inappropriate because he came to me later in the day and apologized. This would be the first and last time Horner apologized to me for anything. John Sytsma later left the church and is now an elder at Tim Conway’s congregation, Grace Community Church in San Antonio.

Over the next seven months, Pat Horner and I would have skirmishes that became increasingly combative and angry. I do not blame Horner for this. Each of us was temperamental and we both had aggressive type-A personalities. We were both in charge of the same real estate, and this led to frequent conflict. Sometimes, I would win these battles, but most of the time Horner was the victor.

We argued about everything from my dog getting under the church and chewing the phone line to whether or not it was okay to shoot the neighbor’s feral pig. Horner threatened to shoot my dog if it ever did any like that again, and he wanted to shoot the pig, but I was able to convince him that it was wrong to do so.

We argued over the church budget and the church bulletin. I was of the opinion that the church needed to know everything about its finances. Horner took the position, How much do they need to know? I won this battle, and the congregation was provided with a complete statement of income and expenses every month. This exposed the slush fund Horner had used for years to give money to preachers and families in the church. I am in no way suggesting he was dishonest. Our disagreement was over whether the church should know about the fund.

Since I was quite proficient when it came to computers and desktop publishing, I took on the responsibility of the church bulletin. Horner was a micro-manager, and he refused to let me print the bulletin until he reviewed it first. Every week, I would get the bulletin back with things circled he felt needed to be corrected. His micromanaging quickly got under my skin, even though, in retrospect, some of his corrections were justified,

Our conflict over the bulletin turned into open warfare, and it took an English major in the church to settle it. Horner was a Texan and I hailed from the rural Midwest. Our speech and writing patterns were very different from each other. Let me give you an example: I would say “the barn needs to be painted.” Horner would object and say, no, “the barn needs painting.” We frequently butted heads over things such as this. Finally, Rhonda Galaviz, wife of Mexican missionary Andres Galaviz, told Horner and me that my usage was technically correct and it was considered a colloquialism from the Midwest. While this settled the proper English debate, Horner would continue to have a problem with the way I did the bulletin. Not long after that incident, I gave the bulletin job to someone else.

joe buitron
Joe Buitron

Joe Buitron and his family lived on The Compound directly across the gravel road from our mobile home. Joe took care of the grounds and fixed whatever needed fixing. He was a jack-of-all-trades. There was nothing Joe couldn’t fix or repair. Joe worked long hours, especially when we began building a new church facility. The church paid him $200 a week and allowed him and his family to live in a small mobile home on church property. Joe was grossly underpaid, and making ends meet was a constant struggle. I finally brought his financial struggles to Horner and the elders, and after a bit of shaming, they gave Joe a pay raise.

The Buitrons were in need of a washer (and maybe a dryer). This need was brought before the church so they could “pray” about it. The praying went on for weeks, yet God had not yet directed the church to buy this hardworking family of six a washer. Finally, I had enough of all the praying, and I bought a washer for the Buitrons. I never understood the whole praying thing when it was in my power or the church’s power to take care of a need. To this day, I wonder if some church members thought I played “God.”

In my next post in this series, I will discuss how my conflicts with Horner came to a head, and why left Community Baptist Church.

Part OnePart TwoPart ThreePart FourPart Five

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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    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      I want to believe that he has matured over the years, like most people do. Has he? There’s no way of knowing. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. I changed, so can they. But, unless he has changed his beliefs, it is doubtful he has changed much.

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        Belief in the woo-woo encourages, cajoles, demands obedience and further and further rigidity. Without being willing to question, one loses one’s ability to choose what is better or worse…. God decides via local pastor interpretation of black book sayings. Giving the benefit of the doubt is generous of you…. I would probably give them the bum’s rush…..

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    “Finally, I had enough of all the praying and I bought a washer for the Buitrons. I never understood the whole praying thing when it was in my power or the church’s power to take care of a need.”

    Well, the Bible does talk about giving from your material possessions to a brother in need. I don’t think further prayer is needed.

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    They called it “The Compound!” Omg! Lol. How very apropos!

    This is a scary post. Again clearly depicting the step-at-a-time descent into misguided loyalty to not only the doctrine, but also to the the group.

    This paragraph, to me, felt like one of the scariest:
    “The church was quite welcoming and we were excited to be there. Community Baptist Church was a vibrant church, filled with young adults and their children. There was an air of excitement in the church, a hunger for the preaching and teaching of God’s Word. I spent many a Sunday evening after church talking theology with the men of the church. They had questions and I was delighted to dispense to them what knowledge I had about the Calvinistic interpretation of the Bible.”

    The bait. That’s what I think of. Not that the people were not sincere; they were! Which is also scary. Their loyalty and indoctrination blinded them. Just like it does to many a true believer.

    When your story switches to your confrontations with Horner, I felt a dread of what lies ahead.
    But I also felt a surge of energy and hope as you expressed and argued your objections. There are cracks in the system, and thus the doctrine too(?)…that’s kind of what I think lingers in the back of the mind when the doubts start chipping, though not fully conscious and at the very least rationalized. And those cracks are cause for hope. 🙂

    And good on you for buying that washer! What a bunch of hogwash!

    I also like how you give the benefit of the doubt. I endeavor to do the same, though quite a bit more cautiously now.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      He is. Conway is still an elder @Grace Community. I suspect he will be back. 😂 Tim is following in the steps of Pat Horner, missionary-wise. I don’t know the state of the Conway-Horner relationship these days. I know at least three of the elders at Grace formerly attended Community Baptist. Most of the people who attended Community when I was there, no longer do so. Based on photos I’ve seen, the congregation is much older age-wise than it was in the 90s. Why this is so? Can’t say for sure. I suspect Horner leaving and Kyle White taking his place played a part. Like it or not, Evangelical churches are driven by personalities.

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    You and Horner were both Type A, perfectionist personalities? Yikes!. That’s pretty much guaranteed to be a match made in hell. I’m glad you made it out alive.

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    Oh for goodness sake. Manchester?? I live not too far that city, have friends in fundy churches there…what kind of evangelism is he doing then? We’re in lockdown and, unlike what I read about in the USA, the vast majority of churches have either remained voluntarily closed, or meet masked with distancing or digitally….and the last thing still fiercely sectarian Ireland needs is another church. I’m willing to bet Conway’s sending home prayer/money requests about the deeply dark satanic city of Manchester, plus the shedloads of converts he’s got there….and all those other churches – some made big, strong and more vibrant by a huge international university student population – are not the Right Sort – only his one has correct doctrine.

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    Charles S. Oaxpatu

    You really don’t have to write the second part article, unless you just want to for fun. We get the message:

    “Working for and with shitheads is no fun, so Elvis is leaving the building.”

    I would have done the same thing in response to the same bad working environment. Have a happy day Bruce.

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    Davie from Glasgow

    I’m glad you’re re-posting this series Bruce. I skipped through it when I first found your site and was exploring it a bit. But this is the first time I’ve read it thoughtfully. Clearly an important part of your journey/story.

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    Brian Vanderlip

    Shiver me timbers! When I read what people must sign on to when joining a virus parade like Community Baptist, it so saddens me to know that bipeds joyfully write their names in the membership book and happily expose innocent children to this sickness. I think your dog was probably the smartest being around The Compound. He/She had the very good sense to chew the telephone wires and prevent the virus from going out from the church and making others sick! Good dog!
    You know, the rather pathetic idea of the great commission and the delusionary feeling that some bully American Christian is needed by God in England or Ireland or anywhere, is gut-wrenchingly ignorant. Tim Conway really ought to consider honest work for an honest dollar, not spreading the virus.
    I read that Texas has in its blow-hard bravado has decided to open up and forget the silly pandemic. Perhaps the National Guard could gently U-turn all those Texans wanting to travel now? Texas, stay away from Canada, you dumb clucks.
    How soon do you think Covid-19 will take them down? Watch the spike. Just dumb. Just side-arm dumb…

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    Yulya Sevelova

    I read the series before some months back. I was saddened and outraged at the conduct of this Patrick Horner and later, Maldonado. They wrecked church life for you, but first wheedling at you to move down to Texas. Then, once there you were embraced by the congregation, and Horner didn’t like that. I suspect it’s because he was jealous of you, and also very controlling and autocratic. It doesn’t matter that David Leach considers Horner to be a Christian. He’s missing the point– that the image of the Jesus they claim to follow is being harmed by their negativity and demented antics. I bet you weren’t the only one harmed by them. People are fleeing church in droves, they may fear God enough not to dump him, but they can’t tolerate all these Pat Hornets running the churches, so that’s over. You were happy in Somerset and could have saved time and money staying put. I just hate how these crazy events are launched in people’s lives because kooks like Horner badger others until their lives are altered. They can ruin lives, with which I’m only too familiar ! I’d just love to deck that Texan pastor !

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    Yulya Sevelova

    I did some reading regarding these ” covenant churches ” a while back, how they won’t just allow an unhappy member to simply leave without a word. They will actually Perdue and harass people at home, or the job site, wherever they catch you. It’s a holdover from Pilgrim days,when you were forced by law to attend church . It wasn’t optional, and one could find soldiers waiting to escort them to church. It seems Southern churches really go in for this, as cultural habits go. Not just the IFB versions,lol.

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    Appalachian Agnostic

    “Horner threatened to shoot my dog if it ever did any like that again, and he wanted to shoot the pig, but I was able to convince him that it was wrong to do so.”

    What is it with Christians and shooting animals? No other group of people seems to get off on killing things like they do.

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      Bruce Gerencser

      They have in the past. Several years ago, Community made a 35th church anniversary video. They used a number of photos directly taken from this blog. 😂 The video even inadvertently has a photo of me. Astoundingly, the video uses a picture of my daughter Bethany — then 5 years old. The church also published a book about its history. I just ordered a copy of the book. I’m curious about whether I’m mentioned in the book. 😂 I plan to do a review after I’ve read it.

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    Mark Cooper

    Be careful with that “publican” thing. You only get one shot to do it well. If you have to try again you would become a re-publican and then you’d be sure of ending up in hell.

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    As far as I’m aware, “needs to be painted” is straightforward Standard American English. I’m surprised anyone would consider it a colloquialism. Of the two expressions, “needs painting” seems the more informal or colloquial, though it’s not incorrect.
    Then there’s “needs painted”, which is a regionalism generally associated with the Pittsburgh area. My father, who spent his formative years in a Pittsburgh suburb, used to use it, but mostly in jest, and I’ve heard it from other Western Pennsylvanians as well.

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    Yulya Sevelova

    I have to ask, why would the statement regarding barns needing a paint job be a sticking point with the his Patrick Horner ?? As long as the damned barn was actually painted, wasn’t that the point ? I was looking up spiritual abuse and this conduct on Horners’ part is typical !

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Bruce Gerencser