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Short Stories: The Night I Set My Life on Fire

our father's house west unity ohio
Bryan Times Advertisement for Our Father’s House, West Unity, Ohio

Family and close friends know that I can be temperamental and impetuous. I am quick to make decisions, and doing so has, for the most part, served me well. There are those times, though, when making snap decisions has resulted in me doing things that I later regret. The story that follows is one such instance.

I have not written much about my time as pastor of Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio. After resigning from Olive Branch Christian Union Church in Fayette, Ohio, I took the Bruce Gerencser Traveling Preacher Show five miles south to West Unity, a small community south of the Ohio Turnpike, and started a church. I spent seven years pastoring Our Father’s House. We bought the old West Unity library and began holding services in September of 1995. At its inception, the church was called Grace Baptist Church. After conflict over the use of praise and worship music and non-cessationism (the belief that charismatic spiritual gifts are valid today) resulted in five families leaving the church, we decided to rename the church Our Father’s House. By this time, I had theologically made a move to the left. I wanted the church’s name to reflect our belief that sectarianism was contrary to the teachings of Jesus. After the name change, we had the front door lettered with the slogan: “The Church Where the Only Label That Matters is Christian.”

During the last three years of my time at Our Father’s House, I became increasingly disenchanted with Evangelical Christianity. Deeply influenced by authors such as Thomas MertonWendell Berry, and John Howard Yoder, I fully embraced pacifism and changed my political affiliation from Republican to Democrat. I now see that the seeds of my unbelief were planted during this period of time.

One night, after a long, depressing self-reflection on Evangelicalism and my part in harming others in the name of God, I gathered up all the ministry mementos I had collected over the years, piled them in the yard, doused them with gasoline, and set them on fire. In a few minutes, 20 years of sermons notes, recorded sermons, letters, and church advertisements went up in smoke. At the time, I found the consuming fire to be quite cathartic. This was my way of breaking with my past. Little did I know that eight years later I would torch the rest of my ministerial and Christian past and embrace atheism.

Today, I sure wish I still had the things I turned into a pile of ashes in the back yard. I have no doubt my sermon notes and recorded messages would provide information and context about the decades I spent as an Evangelical pastor.

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 contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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5 Comments

  1. Avatar
    August Rode

    It used to be the case that wildfires in national parks were stopped as quickly as was humanly possible. Over time, they came to realize that a good burn every once in a while removes the dead wood which would only have served to make future burns all that much worse, and returns some elements to the soil, encouraging new, healthier growth. Looks like your burns might have accomplished something similar, Bruce.

    I understand the regret. For better or worse, it is our past experiences that largely define who we are today. You may be able to burn the relics of those experiences but the experiences themselves and their effects on us can never be eradicated. Nor should they be.

  2. Avatar
    Steve

    I did the same thing once, a few months before moving to Texas & pledging my allegiance to Satan, I mean Gray. And I’ve regretted it ever since ?

  3. Avatar
    Brian Vanderlip

    Steeped in fundagelical zeal, one is apt to leap to extremes… isn’t that the point? And to regret it later?
    All you need to do is attend church, ask for forgiveness for being you and then donate a bit to the plate and carry on (to the gas station). 😉

  4. Avatar
    glenn wood

    In the days of my youth and stupidity, in my mid twenties I joined the Watchman Nee/Witness Lee Local Church cult and burned a beautiful suede jacket, a wonderful pair of boots, and my note-filled Bible. They emphasized cutting our ties with the past. How I wish I had not done that.

  5. Avatar
    Yulya Sevelova

    Ooofff ! These cults ! I’m sorry you lost those things, Glenn. I heard about the Watchman Nee cult. I wonder if your pastors during the time you were there had to burn THEIR stuff ? Bit wouldn’it be surprising to find they kept their sentimental possessions. Reading about Bruce’s self – reflection over his role in harmful Evangelical behaviors is both touching and inspiring, and I for one wish more of these preachers had this perceptivity. Churches would be healthier if this happened more often, lol. These days, I ponder my pre- Christian Life, when I was a Tengerist. Focr thmost part Tengerist people are mellow and peaceful, yet make great fighters. I have my regrets as to my involvement in these crazy Fundie churches that altered the course of my life. I let people into my life who had no business being in it. I dropped my guard once I was programmed not to think and rely on gut instinct. Ignored my natural caution, as I ” stepped out in faith”, and, and OH ! How I paid for that !! People are being given horrible advice by these dense, nutty pastors. Among the worst advice is premature reconciliation, or forced versions of that. The victim has no rights, remaining a perpetual victim instead of a survivor. Anyone reading this, if you’re trapped in a ” God sanctioned relationship” with abusive parents or relatives, go -no contact if this describes you. Don’t wait until you’re too old or burdened in some other way that keeps you weak.

Want to Respond to Bruce? Fire Away!

Bruce Gerencser