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Life in the Ministry: Fifteen Years of Marriage and Not One ‘Just the Two of Us’ Date

bruce and polly gerencser 1985
Bruce and Polly Gerencser, Sweetheart Banquet, 1985

A few months after our first wedding anniversary, Polly and I packed up all of our worldly goods into a late-60s Chey Impala and an AMC Gremlin that was missing its right front fender and moved three hours south to Newark, Ohio. We later moved to Buckeye Lake and then to the Southeast Ohio communities of New Lexington, Glenford, New Lexington (again), Somerset, Junction City, and Mount Perry. All told, we lived in Central and Southeast Ohio for fifteen years. During this time, I pastored churches in Somerset/Mount Perry and Buckeye Lake, Ohio. A consummate Type A workaholic and perfectionist, I neglected my wife and children. Thinking that all that mattered was serving Jesus, winning souls, and building churches, I worked day and night, rarely taking a day off. Work for the night is coming when no man can work, the Bible says. Jesus could return at any moment, I thought at the time. I want to be found busily laboring in God’s vineyard when Jesus splits the Eastern sky! Jesus said in Luke 18:8, when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth? When Jesus returned to earth, I wanted him to find me working hard at keeping the faith.

My children can testify to what I have written above. They watched their father walk out of the house in the morning, returning home later in the day, only to shower, change clothes, and head out the door once again, often not returning until they were in bed. For years, I worked a full-time secular job while also pastoring a church full-time. Even after I stopped working secular jobs and devoted all of my time to the work of the ministry, I still worked sixty-plus hours a week.

Fifteen years of busting-my-ass for Jesus. Fifteen years of sacrificing family and body. Fifteen years, one vacation — a preaching engagement in Braintree, Massachusetts. Fifteen years, and not ONE, just the two of us date with my wife. Let that sink in for a moment. Not ONE date. Polly and I have spent a good bit of time combing through our shared experiences. We couldn’t come up with ONE instance of the two of us — sans children — going out on a date during the first fifteen years we were married. Oh, we went to scores of special church events, Valentine’s banquets, and the like, but we never, not ONE time, got in the car, just the two of us, and went somewhere to spend an evening enjoying each other’s company.

I told Polly that it is a wonder that our marriage survived. While I was busy winning souls, studying for sermons, and building churches, Polly invested her time in keeping our home and raising our children. Now, I don’t want to paint a misleading picture. When I had time, I spent it with my family. We spent many a summer Saturday evening watching races at local dirt tracks in Zanesville, Crooksville, and other communities. We also— in the early 1990s — took numerous day trips to West Virginia, Kentucky, Maryland, and sundry other points in Ohio. Our older children have fond memories of crazy family road trips along the forgotten back — often unpaved — roads of Southeast Ohio and neighboring West Virginia. That said, what time I had for doing these kinds of things was limited. Jesus ALWAYS came first.

While these memories remind me of the fact that I did spend (some) time with my beautiful wife and children, I find myself saddened by the fact that I should have spent a lot more time with them, but didn’t. Southeast Ohio is a place of beauty, yet I rarely took the time to enjoy the scenery. Enjoying life was for those who didn’t take seriously the commands of Jesus. As the Apostle Paul said centuries before, I wanted my life to be a testimony of single-minded devotion to Jesus. Better to burn out than rust out, I thought at the time. Some day, I will enjoy the scenery of God’s eternal kingdom! Did not the Bible say, prepare to meet the Lord thy God? There will be plenty time later to relax and fish along the banks of the River of Life.

My children and Polly have long since forgiven me for not giving them the time they deserved. They understand why I worked as I did, but I have a hard time forgiving myself for putting God, Jesus, the church, preaching, and winning souls before my family. No matter how often I talk about this with my counselor, the guilt and sense of loss remain. I suspect other super-Christians-turned-atheists have similar stories to tell. We sacrificed the temporal for the eternal. Now that we understand the temporal is all we have, it is hard not to look at the past with regret. Particularly for those of us with chronic illnesses and pain, it is hard not to lament offering the best years of our lives on the altar of a non-existent God.

There is nothing I can do about the past. It is what it is, as I am fond of saying. All I can do is make the most of what life I have left. Fortunately, my six children and thirteen grandchildren live less than twenty minutes away from our home. Given an opportunity to do things differently, I do my best to spend time with them. Many days, it is difficult to do so. To quote a well-worn cliché, my spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. I know there will come a day when I will permanently be in a wheelchair. It has been two years since I have driven a car. Forced to rely on others to haul my ass (and the rest of my body) around, I am unable to do all that I want to do. I do what I can, forcing myself — at times — to do things that I probably shouldn’t be doing. I know that this life is all that I have. As a Christian, I said, Only one life t’will soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last. As an atheist, I see things differently. Only one life t’will soon be past, and then I’ll be dead. End of story. All that will remain are the memories I made with my family while I was alive.

And as far as the no date thing? I think Polly can attest to the fact that I have acquitted myself quite nicely. We now take short vacations, road trips, and go on frequent just the two of us dates. Are we making up for lost time? I think so. Polly has become my best friend. I genuinely enjoy her company, even when her driving puts me in fear of my life. 🙂 We have a bucket list of places we would like to visit. Will we successfully check off everything on the list? Probably not. As we wander together through life, we continue to find places we want to check out. So much to see, do, and experience. Funny what you find when you take your eyes off the heavens and look at what is right in front of you.


Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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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    Guilt is instructive.
    And it sounds like you listened to your guilt and have used those instructions to make improvements and enjoy the person you married and build the life you have together.

    I don’t think a person should ignore guilt and ‘get over it’ either. As you said, it is what it is. We all just do the best we can based on the facts and circumstances as we go. No one is born with their shit together, ya know??

    I wish I’d done things differently now and then in my 35 year marriage, too. I married an amazing person, full of kindness, integrity and love for his family.

    Surprisingly, he has guilt as well, although I can’t imagine what he should or could have done differently.

    You’re a good guy, Bruce, aside from your propensity to fry cats and sacrifice things to your dark atheist god. 🙂

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    You gave your youth to self-destruction. My dad did the same, serving Christ faithfully for his whole adult life but he never came-to and called it what it is, self-destruction. He never could face having a deep human relationship with somebody close because he came from a family of isolates… His decision to serve God was a decision to turn away from his family to a higher (sic) calling and bring the lost to Christ. My father never learned how to be more fully human, to be intimate with his kin. He was distant, not at all a talker until he could grab the sides of the pulpit.
    Christianity serves those who need denial in their lives. It offers a structure for lifelong self-harm. It enjoys the support of society and being a preacher means social status of a sort. Bruce, I admire that you have followed your human heart and told the truth about Christian ministry. It does my heart good to hear my own experience as a preacher’s son confirmed by a preacher dad. Thank-you for having the heart to share openly, to admit what bullshit you embraced and how your family suffered your loss.
    How wonderful it makes me feel to know that you have apologized and been forgiven by your wife and children! It opens the door to a full humanity, a fuller love that is fully human. You are my hero in this, a brave man willing to tell the truth as it is for you.
    As for your guilt, do the dance of the guilty as you need to, when you need to, and weep out your sorrows about lost-days and months and years. Feel the misery of it and then because you have, let it be and let it go. Your family loves you and you love them too. That is about as ultimate as human can be, a true glory. Thank-you, dear man, for sharing….
    (Oh and STOP frying furry felines! Just get over the sacrifice stuff!)

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    MJ Lisbeth

    Here is something I never understood: Why do Christian* churches, with the notable exception of the Catholic**, encourage their clergy members to get married if they believe that “Jesus comes first?” Why do some even go as far as to endorse Paul’s misogyny?

    *–I am using “Christian” in the commonly-understood sense of the term. Having been a Roman Catholic and an Evangelical, I know that the moment you say some church is “Christian,” a member of another church will insist that it isn’t.

    **–As I understand, Orthodox priests can be married when they’re ordained but can’t marry or remarry once they’re ordained. And only a celibate priest can become a bishop.

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      MJ, I haven’t thought about it a lot but as a cursory thought, the Catholic Church provides a whole system to care for their unmarried clergy. Protestant ministers, however, typically have to provide their own “helpmeet”. And until recent decades, women haven’t had equal say in the matter.

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    Barbara L. Jackson

    Much of the culture of the USA is set up for working hard now and maybe someday getting rewards. Children go to school so they can get into college. Students in college try to work hard so they can get into graduate school or get a good job. Medical Doctors do not usually get into their “real” job until about age 30. Engineers and computer programmers often work about 60 hours a week at computer companies.

    I was lucky I did not get fired for some “reason” when I got epilepsy at age 30 and then carpal tunnel later (which makes it hard to use your hands) when I worked as a programmer.

    We need to change our view of ourselves in the USA.

    Thank you
    Barbara L. Jackson

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Bruce Gerencser