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I Am a Publican and a Heathen — Part Five

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

Twenty-seven years have passed since I loaded up my wife and six children and moved us to San Antonio, Texas, so that I could become the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church. While I only pastored the church for seven months, I was deeply affected by what took place during this time.

After we returned to Ohio in the fall of 1994, we purchased a fairly new mobile home in the small community of Frazeysburg. I took a job as the general manager of a Charley’s Steakery restaurant at Colony Square Mall in Zanesville. We spent six months in Frazeysburg, six painful months of trying to put our life back together. In March of 1995, we returned to rural northwest Ohio to assume the pastorate of Olive Branch Christian Church in Fayette.

The time between leaving Community and returning to northwest Ohio was filled with struggle and darkness. Resigning as co-pastor of Community didn’t put an end to the conflict between Part Horner and me. I was forced to repeatedly answer for what happened by ministerial colleagues and friends. Larry and Linda Johnson, a couple who moved to Texas with us and who remained behind after we left, demanded that I account for my actions. Wanting to openly and honestly respond to them, I gave them a first-person written account of what happened between their pastors. (The Johnson’s are still members of Community.)

Several weeks after sending my letter to Larry and Linda, I received a response. Not really a response, but more of a scathing attack on my character. The Johnson’s had taken my letter to Horner, and after he read it, he took out a red pencil and circled all the times I used the word “I” in the letter. According to the Johnson’s, this was proof that I was prideful. Instead of trying to understand their friend and former pastor, the Johnson’s (up to that point, a thoughtful, kind couple) decided to judge me. Horner had convinced them that I was the problem, that I was filled with pride, that I needed to grovel before him and repent, taking all the blame for what happened between us. That, of course, I was unwilling to do.

It is generally believed at Community that I am a prideful man. And what I write below will likely only reinforce that belief. I concluded a long time ago that Pat Horner poisoned the well when it came to how church members viewed me. He controlled the narrative, and since I was not there to defend myself, he was free to lie about me and distort what really happened between us. I can only imagine what he has said behind closed doors about me. The fact that I am an atheist only reinforces his opinions about me; that the church was justified in excommunicating me; that I never was a True Christian®.

In 2018, Pastor Kyle White and Community published a book titled, A Stone of Remembrance: The 35th Anniversary of Community Baptist Church. Edited by Lynn Tagawa, the book tells a triumphal and sanitized version of the church’s history. I am mentioned one time in the book, albeit my last name is misspelled. What I find interesting is the other places the editor, and by extension Pastor White, refuse to mention me by name or downright distort (lie about) the work I did while I was there.

Did you notice all the first-person pronouns I used in the previous paragraph? I know, I know, I am such a prideful man. Or perhaps I am telling a story from my perspective — you know, a FIRST PERSON account.

On page 20, the book states:

A time of grief was shared in 1994 as the newly called co-pastor determined he could no longer labor among us and suddenly and un-biblically returned to his home in another state. This event left a scar on the ministry but God was gracious to heal the church.

This account, of course, fails to mention who the co-pastor was and why exactly he returned to Ohio. It fails to mention any of what has been detailed in the previous four parts of this series.

The book mentions several ministries that were started in 1994, but fails to mention that I was the driving force behind them. On page 24, the book, for the first and only time, mentions me by name (Bruce Gerenscer), saying that I was one of the principals of the church’s Christian school. This statement is patently false. One of the reasons for my hiring was to help get the school up and running. I had experience operating a private school, so it fell on me to do the things necessary to ready the school for the fifty students it would have that fall. Once everything was in place, I moved on to other projects — mainly evangelistic. At no time was a principal. I provided help and counsel when needed, but the church hired one of its members, Vic Koger, to be the school’s principal.

As I mentioned previously, I started two new churches while I was co-pastor of Community Baptist. In Part Three of this series, I wrote:

I gathered up a few willing church members and we started new Sovereign Grace Baptist churches in Floresville and Stockdale. Every Sunday morning, we would hold a service at Floresville and then drive 20 miles to Stockdale and hold another service. We would then eat lunch together, then hold an evening service at the Floresville church. During the week, I would take groups from Community down to Floresville and Stockdale, knock on doors, evangelize, and invite people to church. While we worked hard to get the churches established, neither church did well attendance-wise.

Having started several churches in Ohio, I was a seasoned church planter. Again, one of the reasons the church hired me was for my church planting skills. Three families, along with Polly and our children, helped me plant these churches. None of the families from Community: Wayne Hendricks, Robert and Vivian Box, and Tim and Ruby Conway, had church planting experience. To put it bluntly, I was the job boss. I organized the services, did most of the preaching, and spent several days every week knocking on doors in Stockdale and Floresville, trying to evangelize sinners and find prospective members. On occasion, members of Community helped with these endeavors. I am not suggesting that starting these churches was a one-man show, but I was the primary mover.

Imagine my surprise, then, to read on page 28:

In 1994, Robert Box was sent with one family to start Stockdale Baptist Church in Stockdale, Texas.

In 1996, Wayne Hendricks was sent with two families to start Grace Baptist Church in Floresville, Texas.

Neither of these claims is true.

Community also produced a video to highlight their 35th anniversary. Some photos were taken from this blog to use in its production, including one of our daughter with Down syndrome, Bethany. Surprisingly, I appear in one photo taken at a nursing home service (another ministry I started). I suspect, however, the photo was used not because I was in it, but because Tim Conway was in the frame.

Video Link

This concludes the I Am a Publican and a Heathen Series. There are many things that happened while I was co-pastor of Community Baptist Church that I have refrained from sharing; personal stories that would cast a negative light on some church members or cause harm. I remain, at heart, a pastor, and these secrets will remain untold (even though telling them would cast me in a better light or provide more context for readers). The overarching story here is the conflict between Pastor Pat Horner and Pastor Bruce Gerencser. I have tried my best to be forthright and honest. I hope this series helps readers understand my life in a fuller way.

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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    Thank you for your post. As you may or may not remember, my atheist husband and I were religious and in the ministry decades ago in Minnesota. It didn’t work out, and the rumors that apparently sprung up after we left were unfortunate. But we were already heading out of our denomination and so that didn’t hurt much. We made mistakes and were human. There is some value in being largely unknown in this area too. No one really knows us, so we do escape being attacked for being godless socialist commie liberals.

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    If one is telling a story providing a personal perspective then inevitably the pronoun ‘I’ will feature greatly. I remember attending many management training courses, back in the days before I retired, and one of the things hammered home was avoiding use of the passive tense in our work, and taking responsibility. So instead of saying that the ‘cup broke’, one was expected to say ‘I broke the cup’ (assuming that was correct). If others have different recollections then they can provide them via their own perspectives. Third person narratives work only if they are based on independent sources, with lots of citations, and will inevitably include many first person accounts of others.

    It sounds as though the church history to which you refer would have been much better served had it acknowledged your role and, if it felt there was negativity to it, address it with a proper evidence based narrative detailing its point of view. As it is it sounds as though it’s propaganda posing as history.

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    Davie from Glasgow

    Well, it’s often said that history is written by the ‘winners’. Though I’m not sure there were any real winners in this story. Thanks again for reposting it though.

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    Yulya Sevelova

    Well Bruce, this account of your painful sojourn in Texas just confirms the fact quitting church is a needed decision. For many people. What you described going on among the church goers at Community sound like a very fractious group, thanks to this Horner. They are like a microcosm of what is wrong with most churches, a red flag to those who refuse to return to church again. The people in churches are not ” safe people” as awhile. Negative experiences accumulate. In pondering your misadventures down there, I truly believe it could have triggered your fibromyalgia later in life, because moving from a place that you were happy in and established in Ohio, it was a real sacrifice to pull up stakes and move to such a different state. You didn’t have to do it, that mo- fo Patrick Horner pleaded with you to make that trip, right ? He ought to of left you alone. In time you’d have left church life anyway, without that nightmarish experience with those fanatical a- holes in Elmendorf. I have fibromyalgia myself, and I know that events in my life were so severe that it kicked off my immune system. And in your case, you and your family had to cope with this kook who owned a gun and was happy to find opportunity to use it. That’s what I see here. A very disruptive event, to be sure. Moving cross- country is no piece of cake. You were better for that congregation than Horner. He makes enemies wherever he goes. I can just imagine the kind of missionary he is ! That’s a story for another day.

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    thanks for writing this series. it’s just so true about the so called ministry. dad spent all my growing up years doing ministry. it was a very poor choice financially and otherwise. the fighting and power plays are so familiar. sis and i cannot stand church today. i just spent part of this morning w/an evangelical christian who spent most of the time talking about how she feels guilty about not caring more and sacrificing more for the church. i left feeling very unsettled and sad. she is a sweet however misguided person and won’t change. i saw firsthand how harmful it all is and this article just helped me deal with the feelings i’d been having. thanks for being willing to put yourself out there to help the rest of us bruce.

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    Karen the rock whisperer

    The pain this experience has caused you just drips from the bytes, even now. I appreciate that it hurts to have people–who you thought were basically good people–erase you from the narrative, or take a pain-filled correspondence to your attacker, or generally behave as though, in a clash of personalities, there must be a Hero and a Villain. The Evangelical outlook on life seems to be short on nuance. The insistence that we are all depraved sinners denies us the reality that most of us are stumbling through life, trying our best, and need to be cut a bit of slack.

    Thank you for writing this story. I think it’s extremely helpful for all of us, whether questioning, newly escaped from religious shackles, or solidly non-religious. It reminds us of how doctrine and dogma in any group’s belief system (not necessarily religious) undermines the acceptance and celebration of individual humanity. As humans, when we gather in groups, this is what we tend to do. When you add a rigid belief system to the mix, it makes the problem orders of magnitude worse.

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    amy b

    Ooooh, comments to that video on YouTube are turned off. What a shame, I was going to mention that I found it through this blog!

    Wonderful series. Thanks for writing it!

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Bruce Gerencser