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I Ran the Other Way When I Saw You

pretend like

Repost from 2015-2016. Edited, updated, and corrected.

Son number four stopped over after work and he is sleeping on the couch. He is babysitting Bethany so Polly and I can go to Grand Rapids and eat pizza at a restaurant for which we have a Groupon.

Son number three dropped off his two youngest so we could babysit them for a bit. He knows that we are going out tonight and he said he would be on time to pick them up. I thought, sure you will.  Five p.m. and son number three walks through the door. He’s early. I make a mental note to put a gold star beside his name. Maybe he has finally learned to tell time.

Polly and I both scurried around getting ready for our big night on the town. As we got ready to walk out the door I said to Polly, I am driving tonight. She said, really? I gave her THAT look and took the keys. She is likely wondering if this will be her last day on earth.

After we picked up our mail, we drove east on Route 15. As I put the turn signal on  to turn left at The Bend Road, Polly said, what are you doing? I replied, I am going up to Route 6. Polly: No we need to take old Route 24. I said, I really think we need to take Route 6. No, she was certain we needed to take old Route 24. So we took Route 24.

I was right.

And we didn’t even fight about it.

Maybe there is hope for our marriage.

The pizza joint only had one waitress on the floor and was totally unprepared for the extra customers the Groupon would bring. It took her 20 minutes to get our drinks. The owner finally came out to help her take orders and proceeded to service the three tables that were seated after us. The pizza was okay, nothing special, and I doubt that we will drive 40 minutes to eat it again.

Before going home we decided to stop at Meijer in Defiance. Polly needed a belt and I needed acetaminophen to replace the government-mandated acetaminophen reduction in my Vicodin prescription.

As we walked in the door, I looked down the long main aisle by the registers and I saw Bob, a former church member. I thought, Oh shit. I told Polly, hurry . . . there’s Bob and I don’t want him to see us.  If it  were just him, all would be well, but I knew his wife Margo would not be far away (names changed to protect the guilty),

I met Bob and Margo almost 20 years ago when I pastored Olive Branch Christian Union Church in Fayette. When I left Olive Branch and moved five miles south to West Unity to start a church, they came along with me.

Bob is a quiet man, content to sit in the background and not say a word. Margo more than makes up for him, a constant talker regardless of whether she has anything to say.

Margo’s sister attended the church when she could. She was home-bound most of the time and couldn’t drive. Countless times we picked her up for church or took her to a doctor’s visit an hour away in Toledo. Her sister? Margo couldn’t be bothered and would demand gas money for every trip she made to her sister’s house.

Bob and Margo attended the church infrequently and never could get there on time. It was not uncommon for them to arrive at the morning service 20 minutes before it was over. I often wondered why they bothered.

When we remodeled the church nursery, Margo bought some Jesus Junk® to hang on the wall. (I could write a whole post on Jesus Junk® donated to the churches I pastored over the years. Lighted velvet Jesus anyone?) She wrote her name on the back of the plaque she paid a dollar for at a garage sale and told me she wanted it back if we ever stopped using it.  When we closed the church, with great delight, I threw the plaque away.

Somewhere in the late 1990s Bob and Margo stopped attending the church. According to Margo, I committed a terrible sin by allowing the women of the church to have a rummage sale IN the church building. Bob? He never said a word and followed Margo out the door.

Good riddance.

When I saw Bob I knew we needed to run as fast as we could. If they saw us they would — well she would — want to talk to us. Then we would have to spend 20 minutes pretending that we were friends.

I didn’t like Margo when I was her pastor. She was a gossipy, self-centered narcissist. I may have had to be her pastor, but I didn’t have to be her friend. So, when I saw Bob I knew we had to practice our avoidance technique, a skill we have honed to perfection since leaving the ministry and Christianity.

We got all of our shopping done and made our way to the checkout. As I looked down the long aisle I saw that Bob was still sitting there. I thought, nothing has changed. Still waiting on her to talk her way through the store. I told Polly, we need to check out on this end. Bob is still there. She replied, are you sure it is Bob? I said, yes I am sure.  So we used the self-checkout, bagged our purchases, and started to make our way out of the store . . .

I looked up for a moment and there were Bob and Margo. I thought, shit. I said to Polly, there they are . . . hurry. I DON’T want to talk to them. We quickly made our way out the door and into the parking lot, avoiding having to play the Fake Friends Game® for the umpteenth time.

I used to feel guilty when I avoided former church members in the store, but I don’t anymore. Most of them aren’t like Bob and Margo, but coming face to face with them still requires us to make polite talk without mentioning the horns that are on our heads. Everyone knows that Pastor Bruce Gerencser is now an atheist. They read the letters in the paper and they have bumped into other Christians who have said, DID YOU KNOW? By now, I assume everyone knows.

So we avoid people. This is not the kind of people we are, but we hate chit-chatting and pretend-we-are-friends conversations. It is not that we hate them personally or dislike them. It’s just that we don’t have anything in common with them any more. I am sure some of them have done the same thing when they see Polly and me in the distance at one of the local stores.

How about you? How do you deal with running into people from your Christian past? Do you avoid them? Do you feel uncomfortable talking to them? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.


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 email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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  1. Avatar
    Maria Fergus

    Bruce, I know this isn’t the question you asked, but please be careful with the Acetominophen. The initial guideline was 4 grams in a 24 hour period. Some places say 3. It can cause liver failure, and liver failure is nasty. I’m an RN and I’ve seen it. I’d duck the former church members at the store, too.

  2. Avatar

    Where I come from, I am deemed an “apostate.” That pretty much prevents any interactions because they run when they see me. When I see their response to me, I am now at a place where I know that it says everything about them and who they are, and nothing about me. They do not define me, nor will they be permitted. I know what you mean about ‘fake friends’ chat. I definitely have made an attempt to avoid the parents of some of my son’s evangelically raised friends from school. There is something about their energy that is invasive and stress-inducing. When I left the JW’s, I had no idea that there was this group known as ‘evangelicals.’ In some ways, I’ve found them MORE invasive than the JWs I knew. JWs are easily terrified by those who’ve left the flock. They are scared by their organization into ‘shunning.’ Evangelicals seem to take an ‘unchurched’ person on as a personal challenge and that is something I find to be highly annoying. They don’t know when to back off. They can’t seem to take a hint. So, though I was raised JW and left it decades ago, your posts on evangelicals resonate with me because they are the religious group I most encounter surprisingly enough, through my kid’s PUBLIC school. You get to own your space though. Don’t run, just be yourself. If that means you just say Hi or nod and cut them short by saying, “excuse us, we’re not playing fake friends today,” trust me, that will shut them up and help to ‘keep it real’ in the future!

  3. Avatar
    Wayne Beamer

    Bruce: It’s funny you brought this up. At the end of my second marriage, I was still attending the evangelical church where 2X and I met, to the surprise of many who felt badly for me about the whole thing. I was really surprised by that.

    Fast forward to this decade, I gave up trying to plead, beg and argue with my sister, an evangelical Pentecostal who kept asking me on FB, “Why do you hate God so much?” when I posted something that was critical of religion. My response: Sister, I believe in God, just not yours. And that was the end of it.

    As someone who has lived mostly in urban areas, I rarely avoid people I know and dislike except when to do so would be, like you and Polly, really bad. I really dislike judgmental people, and I know a few of those too. Life’s too fucking short to waste our valuable time on them, right Bruce?

  4. Avatar
    Yulya Sevelova

    Ah, how this post takes me back… Northern California, and those hick churches that we were tricked into attending for so long ! Not until leaving there and retuning to zLos Angeles County did we escape that icky feeling of being judged for not returning to those abusive churches. Yup, running into such morons like the Fundies can ruin one’s day,lol!🤡🤡

  5. Avatar
    Karen the rock whisperer

    I’m pretty skilled with the “I’d love to chat but I’m super in a hurry today”, smile, move away as quickly as my damaged knees can manage. I have NEVER encountered anyone in a store who I actually wanted to speak with, and the folks who block the aisles chatting definitely raise my blood pressure.

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Bruce Gerencser