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Short Stories: Tar and Feather the Bus Pastor

montpelier baptist church 1979
Montpelier Baptist Church bus, Montpelier, Ohio

In February of 1979, Polly and I moved from Pontiac, Michigan to Bryan, Ohio. Polly was six months pregnant. For a short time, we lived with my sister. Once I found suitable employment, we rented a place of our own. Bryan is the city of my birth. When I moved away in 1976 to study for the ministry at Midwestern Baptist College, I planned to never return to Bryan. However, marriage, an unexpected pregnancy, and job loss turned my “never” on its head. Over the years, we have lived in or near Bryan several times, and in 2007 we bought our current home in Ney, a small village five miles south of Bryan. Try as I might to get away from Bryan and the flat lands of rural northwest Ohio, I keep returning home. I have now resigned myself to the fact that this where I will live out my life.

Not long after we first moved to Bryan, Polly and I began attending my sister’s church, Montpelier Baptist Church in Montpelier, a community ten minutes north of Bryan. Jay Stuckey was the pastor, and after a few weeks Jay asked if I would be interested in becoming the church’s assistant pastor (an unpaid position). I quickly told Jay yes! In a post titled, Bruce, Were You Happy in the Ministry? Part One, I detailed our time at Montpelier Baptist Church:

In February of 1979, we moved to Bryan, Ohio, the place of my birth and the home of my sister Robin. After living with my sister for a short while, we found a house to rent on Hamilton Street. I began working at ARO, a large local manufacturer of pumps and air tools. ARO paid well, but I still desired to be a pastor. As with every job, I viewed secular work as just a means to an end — me pastoring a church. My sister attended the Montpelier Baptist Church in Montpelier, Ohio. When we first moved to Bryan, we thought that we would attend First Baptist Church, the church I had attended before enrolling at Midwestern. Though I knew everyone at First Baptist, we decided to go to Montpelier Baptist, a young, growing GARBC church pastored by Jay Stuckey. This decision did not sit well with the people at First Baptist. One of the matriarchs of the church told me, “Bruce you know you belong at First Baptist!”  At the time, First Baptist was pastored by Jack Bennett. Jack was married to my uncle’s sister Creta.

I had previously preached at Montpelier Baptist, so I knew a bit about Stuckey and his ministry philosophy. Stuckey was a graduate of Toledo Bible College, which later moved to Newburgh, Indiana and became Trinity Theological Seminary.  After we attended the church for a few weeks, Stuckey asked me to help him at the church by becoming the bus pastor and helping with church visitation.

The church had one bus route. It brought in a handful of children every week and little was being done to increase ridership numbers. Enter hot-shot, get–it-done, Bruce Gerencser. In less than a month, on Easter Sunday, the bus was jammed with eighty-eight riders. I vividly remember arriving at the church with all these kids and the junior church director running out to the bus and frantically asking me what I expected him to do with all the children. I replied, that’s your problem, I just bring them in. Needless to say, this man was never very fond of me.

A short time later, the church bought a second bus. I recruited bus workers to run the new route and before long this bus was also filled with riders. On the first Sunday in October, 1979, Montpelier Baptist held its morning service at the Williams County Fairground. A quartet provided special music and Ron English from the Sword of Lord preached the sermon. Five hundred people attended this service and about 150 of them had come in on the buses. Less than two weeks later, I was gone. Polly and I, along with our newborn son Jason, packed up our meager household goods and moved to Newark, Ohio.

As mentioned in the above excerpt, I quickly went to work building up the church’s bus ministry. Using the skills and gimmicks I had learned while working in the bus ministry as a teenager and at college, I rapidly grew the bus ministry, and bus ridership numbers exploded. Key to increased ridership numbers was a system of regular bus promotions. Every Saturday, bus workers would meet at the church and I would motivate them to, as Luke 14:23 says: go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. Like the Apostle Paul who said, I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some, I was willing to use whatever means necessary to entice children to ride our buses. The goal, of course, was for them to hear the gospel and be saved.

One such promotion was Tar and Feather Pastor Bruce. I told the bus workers that if the total bus attendance was such and such a number, I would let bus riders cover me with Karo syrup and goose feathers. Sure enough, bus workers scoured the area looking for new riders, and in a few weeks, they exceeded the attendance goal.

Here’s what happened the following Sunday after the morning service:

montpelier baptist church 1979

Yep, that is me. Stupid, stupid me. It took me an hour, in a steaming hot shower, to get all the syrup and feathers off my skin. Needless to say, I never did this promotion again!

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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6 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Scott

    Bruce,
    Your note about the time to clean up reminds me of comments LeVar Burton had for Jonathan Frakes when they were filming “Skin of Evil” during Next Gen’s first season. LeVar had questioned Frake’s wisdom at volunteering to be “absorbed by Armus”, which was a black pool of dark ink and Metamucil. After he did the stunt, LeVar said. “Frakes oh Frakes that’s why I’d never do anything like that.”

    I think that’s why we’ve not made any comments on this one. And the fact we’ve all had days of horribly stupid judgment on things that are deeply embarrassing but more humorous as time goes by.

    Scott

  2. Avatar
    Carla

    You stated that you have lived in or near Bryan many times and you have resigned yourself that this is where you will spend the rest of your life. I’m wondering if you had a do over, where you would rather have lived?

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      Living in rural Northwest Ohio is fine. It’s home. My children and grandchildren all live nearby. That said, my political and religious views are different from most locals. I often feel like a stranger.

      If I could choose, I would live in a small fishing community on the shores of the Atlantic.

  3. Avatar
    Brian Vanderlip

    When one is distant from the delusion of being ‘saved’, looking at the tar and feathering incident is, well, laced with oddity. How weird is it that your crew bought into this ‘prize’, the public shaming-for-fun? To be the recipient of this kind of punishment in the past meant to receive torture illegally and was often a vengeful act against an individual.
    Nice choice for the Baptist crowd, I guess. And I wonder how hard you pushed your minions to excite them so much at the prospect of messing you up!
    Man oh man, church is so weird.

  4. Avatar
    Davie from Glasgow

    I don’t think you can blame the church too much for that one at least. I’ve seen school fund-raisers where hitting a certain target allows the kids to seemingly humiliate the head teacher or some other authority figure in some way. Kids – people – just love that sort of thing.

    The “all things to all men so by all means I can save some” quote spoke to me a bit though. I manage a team at work where, to create circumstances whereby I can get all of my staff to give of their best, I have to treat them, and BE with them, in different and unique ways every one.

    Looks like those Bronze Age farmers were at least beginning to work out psychology if nothing else.

    Oh… hang on… now I remember that the Ancient Greeks came up with the “Know Thyself” philosophy (i.e. before you try to know others and what drives them) – upon which pretty much all modern counselling/therapy is based – in about 500BC.

    Ah – why could we not have had a bible with more of that kind and wise stuff in it driving Western history for the next 2500 years? Just bad luck?

  5. Avatar
    Yulya Sevelova

    I had to laugh at your photo up there in your post. I kinda thought you looked cute doing that. Lots of people wouldn’t take it that far, silly though it was, it takes some derring- do to submit to that process. Only for the youths, I’d venture. It looks so uncomfortable ! Just watching the behavior of those who harass you now, like those Texan pastors, it sure looked like being in your pastor vocation down there, you really cared about people down there. You were sincere, and you meant it– not like those drawling idiots with crosses up their nuts, while they oppress the congregants. You were good to them. Those guys just want to rule them. Man! I’ve seen those stereotypes before, over and over. They just don’t give a ####. Because you were invested in doing a good job with the people, the lowlifes were able to wound you deeply. I must admit, I always wanted to get physical with these kinds of people.

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