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Short Stories: My First and Last All-Night Prayer Meeting

singing group trinity baptist church findlay
Singing Group Trinity Baptist Church, Findlay, Ohio. Bruce Gerencser is the last person on the right, age 15.

As a fifteen-year-old boy at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio, I attended my first all-night prayer meeting. Trinity was a fast-growing Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church, nearing 1,000 in attendance. The pastors and deacons decided that the church needed the men of the congregation to spend a night storming the throne room of Heaven. I’m not sure if there was an exact reason for the prayer meeting, but I suspect it had to do with the church’s troubled building program and the continued evangelization of the lost. At the time, Trinity met in a building on Trenton Avenue. Maxed out seating-wise, Pastor Gene Milioni and the congregation decided to build a large, round building on land donated to them by Ralph Ashcraft on County Road 236 east of Findlay. At the time, the land was farmland. Today, it is surrounded by housing and commercial businesses.

Trinity tried to fund the construction project by selling bonds to congregants. According to Peach State Financial, church bonds are:

a form of fixed-rate financing typically used to finance church expansion. What are church bonds? Church bonds are certificates of indebtedness which are sold by churches to create funds for church construction, purchase, or renovation. The church is acting as the borrower and the bond investors who are often times church members are the lenders.

The church bonds issued by the church are sold by the church broker dealer who acts as the lender who follows certain guidelines in the transaction. The church is not required to sell the bonds.


The interest rate earned on church bonds for the investor generally runs from 4.5% to 8.5%. Bank savings accounts and Certificates of Deposit pay only a fraction of this amount. A church bond program is a win-win situation for the church and it’s members.

These bonds were, in essence, loans by church members to the church, featuring handsome interest rates upon repayment. Such bond programs were common among growing IFB churches at the time. The risk, of course, was that the bonds were not insured or guaranteed. While I am not certain of the exact details, I believe Trinity’s bond program was fraught with problems, including running afoul of securities laws and late repayment. The church eventually paid off all the bonds and became debt-free.

On that night in 1972, the “need” was palpable. God was moving and working at Trinity Baptist. The buildings and buses were filled to capacity. Three pastors were on staff full-time. Virtually every Sunday, souls were being saved and members added to the membership. A few months prior, I had been saved, baptized, and called to preach. My heart burned with passion for Jesus and the salvation of sinners. Well, that and girls. Gotta keep it real . . .

At the appointed time, a handful of church men and teen boys gathered in the church auditorium for prayer. Some of the pray-ers, planned on praying all night, while others had signed up for specific times, say 1:00-3:00 AM. I, along with several of my youth group friends, planned on “praying” all night. While we intended to fervently and dutifully pray, the thought of a night away from home with friends proved to be the driving motivation for our attendance. We quickly learned that praying for any length of time was hard. Up until that night, my longest prayers were minutes, not hours long. I found myself running out of things to talk to God about. “Surely, he heard me the first time,” I thought, so it seemed to me a waste of time to keep bugging God about the same things over, and over, and over again. However, I went through the motions, kneeling at the altar with the men of the church. I am sure they thought I was quite a “spiritual” boy. Recently called to preach, I am sure they thought that great things awaited the Gerencser boy. Unfortunately, as time wore on, restless, jokester, goof-off Bruce showed up, and Ray Salisbury, a stern deacon who had a daughter I was interested in, told me that I would have to go home if I couldn’t maintain the proper decorum. All prayed out, I rode my bike home and crawled into bed in the wee hours of the morning. I am sure my pastors were disappointed with my lack of enduring spirituality. I, on the other hand, look back at this story and think, “Man, I was a restless, ornery fifteen-year-old boy. Getting me to sit still for any amount of time was a victory.”

This prayer meeting was my first and only all-night prayer meeting. Have you ever attended an all-night prayer meeting? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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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  1. Avatar

    I once commented about a young pastor who was newly installed in a fundy church. He enthused about the wonderful future he and the church would have together. Then he got a brain tumour. The church held a night of prayer. I wondered what they said to god. One simple sentence was enough surely….’Please heal Tim and help his pregnant wife.’ Aren’t we warned against ‘vain repetitions’ and god knows our needs before we ask? Someone replied that a night of prayer made god sound like he had a stopwatch and was saying, ‘Excellent my sheeple, you’ve done 7 hours…do a couple more and I might grant your plea and heal Tim…..’ (That didn’t happen of course, Tim lived just long enough to meet his new-born child but I’m sure some of the the church rejoiced – ugh – in that, as an answer to their prayers.)

  2. Avatar

    Not prayer meetings, but I have a couple of church stories that made an impression on me.
    The first, my mom took me to a meeting in a home out in the county. The leader was a friend of my mom. A bunch of kids were there, about 10 to 14 years old. I have no idea what it was about. At dusk, the leader (a lady I otherwise trusted) pulled the shades, turned out all the lights except for one yellowed lamp, and started beating a tambourine. They all started singing “They will know we are Christians by our love.”
    She was rocking with her eyes closed, beating out the rhythm. It scared the crap out of me. I didn’t sing, and I wanted to leave. It seemed more like a cult than a gathering for kids.
    The second was when my childhood church decided to hold a special Christmas Eve candle light service. The church was decorated and the preacher had on a special generic Protestant preacher gown. Candles everywhere. I was bored. At the end, the lights were turned off, and everyone’s candles were lit. Besides me having a phobia about fire, the whole scene creeped me out. Everyone stood in complete silence for like 30 minutes. I hated every minute of it. It was like a bad horror movie, and we were waiting for the virgin to be sacrificed.
    And people wonder why I have a phobia about churches.

    • Avatar
      The DutchGuy

      That was cult indoctrination defined. It’s all about subduing one’s rationality with ceremony and ritual. If they can get you to stay awake and pray all night or perform rituals until you are dizzy, disoriented, and hypnotized, well that’s what it’s all about. Bruce copped out from the all night prayer orgy because he was not a good subject and didn’t fully submit. Getting critical spoils the effect.

  3. Avatar

    I don’t remember any all-night prayer events. That seems like a ridiculous time-suck, but I guess it makes adherents feel invested, like they’re actually doing something.

    I think it’s funny how Young Bruce was so confident he could last in prayer all night, overcoming his prankster nature in order to serve Jesus……

    That makes me wonder, Bruce, did you ever harness your jokey or mischievous side as a pastor? IFB is pretty serious stuff – but you have a fun side. Did Pastor Bruce lock Fun Bruce away for years and years, or did Fun Bruce make any appearances?

  4. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    I really, really tried not to be boring. Even so, I simply couldn’t make most students pay attention for more than a few minutes at a time. So, I simply can’t imagine an all-night session with a God who doesn’t even interact.

  5. Avatar
    The DutchGuy

    All night prayer sessions are one of two things. Either motivated by a leader’s sincerely devout belief in God and prayer, or else calculated brainwashing/indoctrination strategy. I recall the first time I pulled an all-nighter with my buddies as a teen ager and I was definitely not the same person in the morning. The disrupted sleep pattern I had for 16 years, the excitement and effort to stay awake, pumped up my adrenaline and 16 year old hormones and completely subdued my rational brain. Yeah my perspective was changed and I was open to almost anything. It was like accounts of sitting hours in a sweat lodge inhaling smoke until one gets dizzy or faints. It’s not God talking, it’s the brain misfiring from exhaustion, fatigue and in the case of the sweat lodge, smoke intoxication. (With apologies to my Navajo friends in the unlikely event they happen onto this blog.)

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