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Short Stories: The Day a Yard Sale Cost the Church a Member

jesus cleanses temple

In the fall of 1995, I started a new church in West Unity, Ohio named Grace Baptist Church. Several years later, we changed the name of the church to Our Father’s House to better reflect our non-denominational approach. Prior to starting this church, I pastored Olive Branch Christian Union Church — located five miles north of West Unity. Several families from Olive Branch joined with us in our new church endeavor. This post is about one of the families who made the move to the new church.

John and Betty (not their real names) lived in Michigan, just north of the Ohio line. Betty was quite talkative, the type of person who, if you saw her at the grocery, you headed in the opposite direction. While I certainly enjoy talking myself, Betty rarely let anyone get in a word edgewise. I am sure she meant well, but fifteen minutes of having to listen to Betty was as tiring as a strenuous workout at the gym. I listened, she talked. And when she was done telling all and more than everything she knew, she would walk away, looking for someone else to regale with her stories and world observations. I was always glad when she sought out others to talk to.

John was very different from his wife. Quiet and reserved, John was content to let his Betty do all the talking and decision-making. There was never a question about who wore the pants in the family. Even when John was specifically asked about his opinion, he would slightly tilt his head to the side and defer to his wife. I don’t remember a time when John made a decision without checking with Betty first. I suspect it was just his personality. John liked to please others and detested conflict. He was in his 40s before he married Betty. Prior to that, he lived with his parents.

Survey my children and you will learn that one of the Bruce Gerencser laws drilled into their heads had to do with being on time. I thought then, and still do today, that it is important to be punctual. If I say I am going to be somewhere at 5:00 pm, people can expect me to be there on time. And on time means at least thirty minutes early. Yes, I am one of THOSE guys. One of my sons asked me why I was so insistent about punctuality and being early if at all possible. I laughed and told him that there were two reasons why I always arrived early at scheduled events. First, when the kids were young, we drove junk cars with tires that had very little tread. These tires were more prone to flats, and I always left early so I would have enough time to change a tire and still make it to wherever I was headed without being late. I also hated walking into a place late. Despite the fact I spent most of my adult life preaching and teaching, I was quite self-conscious, and walking into a place late often made me feel like everyone was staring at me. Arriving late for a church service was even worse. Baptists are notorious for sitting at the back of the church. The front pews are rarely filled, and those arriving late often have to sit toward the front of the church. If we were late, that meant we — all eight of us — would have to traipse to the front of the church to find seats. I was quite embarrassed when this happened, and on a few occasions, I turned around and went home rather than do what I — in my mind — thought of as a perp walk. Silly, I know, but to this day I go out of my way to be early. I am too old to change.

Now I have told you this so you can better understand the next part of the story. John and Betty were notorious for being late. Sunday morning service began at 11:00 am and it was not uncommon for John and Betty to be 30 minutes to an hour late. They lived a half-hour from the church, so this meant on most Sundays they hadn’t even left home before the service started. One week, they were so late that they arrived just as we were getting ready for the benediction. Being late never seemed to bother them, but it sure as heaven bothered me. More than once I stopped preaching, hoping that my impatient pause would let them know that I was not happy with their tardiness. I think they likely thought I was just being polite, allowing them time to get settled before I preached the last ten minutes of my sermon.

One week the church decided to hold a yard sale at its building. The women of the church put tables outside of the building, stacked with clothing and knickknacks they hoped to sell. They also put items for sale inside the church. The proceeds of the sale would go towards some sort of church project. On the morning after the first day of the sale the phone rang at the church. It was Betty and she was quite upset with me for allowing the women to have a sale in God’s house. Quoting the Jesus cleansing the Temple of money changers Bible passage, Betty couldn’t believe that I would ever permit such a thing. She then informed me that she and her husband would no longer be attending the church. I made no effort to talk her out of leaving the church. Quite frankly, their entire contribution to the church was disrupting the services every time they were late. As far as I know, they never financially contributed to the church, even though both of them had full-time jobs at a nearby factory. They never volunteered to help clean the church, visit shut-ins, man the clothing room/food pantry, or any of the other opportunities they had to help others. Betty couldn’t even be bothered to help her invalid sister, who was a member of the church. Well, she would help IF her sister would pay Betty for the privilege. Of all the things Betty did, this infuriated me the most. I thought, this is your sister, and you won’t help her unless she gives you money? How Christian is that? The church, of course, stepped in and helped Betty’s sister, often taking her to doctor’s appointments in Toledo — 50 miles away. Needless to say, when Betty said they were leaving the church, I thought, good riddance!

One time, Betty made a deep financial sacrifice and bought — at Goodwill — a $2 wall plaque of Jesus for the church nursery. Several years after John and Betty left the church, I resigned and the congregation decided to disband. As we were gathering up things to donate to Goodwill and other churches, I came upon Betty’s plaque. As I turned Jesus over, I noticed that Betty had written her name and the words PLEASE RETURN on the back of the plaque. I snickered as I read it, and then, with great pleasure and delight, tossed the plaque in the trash. For the first time, I had the last word.

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.

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7 Comments

  1. Avatar
    BJW

    Great story. I’m usually early to things also.

    I like to talk but I also love to hear other people talk. I used to sell shoes in Elder Beerman from November 2007 to March 2012. If you had ever come in, I would’ve been friendly. I had a lot of people telling me their sad stories. So I guess I’m NOT as bad as Betty! But boy, she sure sounded prissy. Good riddance.

  2. Avatar
    Ben Berwick

    Sadly this type of person exists across all walks of life. Betty strikes me as the first to complain and last to help. We all know at least one of these types of people. That she wouldn’t even help her own sister unless a reward was on offer is pretty shameful.

  3. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    Great story! That “Please Return” is an O. Henry-esqe “twist.”

    It’s nice to see that you, Bruce, got a break for once!

  4. Avatar
    Trenton

    Betty sounds like a person with no self awareness and a total lack of shame. I’m surprised she didn’t take it with her on the way out.

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Bruce Gerencser