Tales From the Appalachian Foothills: The Church Christmas Tree

somerset baptist church 1989

In July, 1983, I started a new Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church in Somerset, Ohio. I would remain the pastor of Somerset Baptist Church until March 1994. Somerset was a community of 1,400 people located in Perry County — the northernmost county in the Appalachian region. It was here that I learned what it meant to be a pastor; to truly involve yourself in the lives of others.

The membership of Somerset Baptist was primarily made up of poor working-class people. Most church families received some form of government assistance — mostly food stamps and Medicaid. In many ways, these were my kind of people. Having grown up poor myself, I knew a good bit about their struggles. I deeply loved them, and they, in return, bestowed their love on me.

From time to time, I want to share a few short stories from the eleven years I spent pastoring Somerset Baptist. I hope you’ll enjoy them. Today’s story is titled, The Church Christmas Tree.

In 1985, the congregation bought an abandoned Methodist church building five miles east of Somerset on top of Sego Hill. After months of remodeling, the sanctuary was ready to use. Built in the 1830s, the church had oak floors, colored glass windows, and a 25-foot vaulted ceiling. The building was classic for its era, one of the oldest church buildings in the county. Purchased for $5,000, the sanctuary and annex required $15,000 in improvements, including two gas furnaces to replace the coal-converted-to-propane monster in the basement. We would later install a wood/coal furnace after propane costs skyrocketed one year.

December, 1985, was our first Christmas in the new building. I decided that we would purchase a Christmas tree and put it in the back of the sanctuary. After discussing with several congregants whether to get an artificial or real tree, one man spoke up and said, “preacher, I can get us a real Christmas tree and it won’t cost us anything.” I replied, “that would be great.”

A few days later, the man showed up at the church with a huge Christmas tree in the back of his 1960s Ford pickup. The man unloaded the tree, carried it into the church, and propped up in the back corner. Proudly, he asked, “preacher, what do you think?” I looked at scrawny pine tree — 12 feet in height. I thought, “man, this tree sure is scrawny. I wonder where he bought it?” I told the man, “looks great! — a lie to be sure, but better than wounding the man’s spirit. He was so proud of doing this for me that I didn’t want to discourage him. It’s just a tree, I told myself. No big deal. “Where did you get this tree?” I asked. The man replied, “oh I went up on Route 13 and cut down one of the trees growing along the highway.” You WHAT? I alarmingly replied. “You do know that those trees are government property?” The man genuinely seemed clueless about the ownership question.  And then, without missing a beat, he replied, “well, preacher, those trees belong to God!”

This tree would be the first and last Christmas tree in the sanctuary. Two years later, I came out against Christmas and its excesses, putting an end to any sort of tree or decorations in the sanctuary. In their place, the sanctuary rang with sermons against Christmas and the excesses of the season. I am sure, compared to my guilt-inducing sermons, congregants missed the scrawny Christmas tree, regardless of its provenance.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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Abortion and the Religious Right

abortion right wing

The above comic, drawn by Don Addis, was recently featured on the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s website. I thought it nicely summed up attempts to outlaw abortion by Evangelicals and conservative Roman Catholics. These zygote worshiping zealots will not rest until abortion (and birth control) is outlawed and criminalized.

Are you a member of the Freedom of Religion Foundation? If not, I encourage you join with over 30,000 other freethinkers as they support and defend the separation of church and state.  For more membership information, please go here.

Black Collar Crime: Zachary Wachholz Facing Allegations of Inappropriate Behavior With Minors

zachary wachholz

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Zachary Wachholz, a middle school/high school ministry volunteer at Community Bible Church in San Antonio, Texas, stands accused of inappropriate behavior with numerous church teens. Ed Newton, pastor of Community Bible, released the following statement:

In recent days, my heart was broken when I was informed that a part-time employee admitted to our executive pastor that the employee had engaged in inappropriate behavior with several minors in our youth ministry. We believe that this was limited to less than 10 victims, but clearly, even one victim is too many.

Our thoughts and prayers are with all involved in this tragedy.

We immediately notified law enforcement authorities, and the detectives limited what we can say at this time due to their ongoing investigation.

However, what I can share is that the acts involving all but one of the reported victims involved inappropriate electronic communication on electronic devices through social media platforms. One victim who was identified in the employee’s confession involved more than electronic communication. But whether it is inappropriate electronic communication or inappropriate physical contact, it is wrong and illegal and will not be tolerated at all!

Our primary concern right now is for all victims and families. They have all been contacted by our pastoral staff for the purpose of coming alongside them with love, support, counseling and prayer. Please pray for them.

The perpetrator has to remain nameless due to the ongoing investigation at this time. But, as I said, this person was a part-time employee. Prior to hiring this person, our church conducted a full background investigation, references were interviewed and numerous interviews of the potential employee were conducted. There was absolutely no reason to believe that this person posed a risk. Let there be no misunderstanding, this part-time employee was immediately fired from our staff upon learning of this information; this person has been issued a trespassing warrant, so as to prevent access onto our campus or attend any CBC related events.

In closing: This is a difficult time for the victims, the families and our church. Our hearts and prayers go out to the victims and their families. We will continue to fully cooperate with the authorities. We are praying and doing our best to provide compassionate support to the victims. Also, we are praying for the perpetrator. We ask to join us in prayer.

Community Bible is an Evangelical multi-campus megachurch.

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Christopher Cox Accused of Rape

pastor christopher cox

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Christopher Cox, pastor of Long Lake Church in Traverse City, Michigan, stands accused of luring two men to his office and raping them after incapacitating them with methamphetamine and GHB.

The Traverse City Record Eagle reports:

Michigan State Police investigators interviewed a 19-year-old man who claimed Cox contacted him March 12 looking for a “drug buddy,” according to court records. Cox promised the man — who was homeless at the time — drugs and women if he came back with Cox to his home, the man claimed.

Cox gave the man meth to smoke and “CBD shots,” making the man “extremely inebriated,” according to a probable cause statement. Cox raped the man numerous times over the course of several hours that night, according to the account.

The accuser said Cox dropped him off at Safe Harbor the following morning, threatening to kill him if he told anyone about the night prior.

Records show the accuser went to Munson Medical Center where a sexual assault exam revealed bruising and redness “consistent with anal trauma.”

Mike McDonald, chairman of Safe Harbor’s executive board, said homeless people are much more likely to be victimized than the average person.

“It’s appalling to me that something like this could happen to anybody under any circumstances, especially by someone who purports to be a minister,” McDonald said.

A second man told troopers that Cox gave him meth sometime in October 2018 at Cox’s office in Traverse City — Moeggenberg did not immediately know the location. Like the account given by the other man, Cox gave the man meth and waited until he was high, drunk and incapacitated before assaulting him, despite the man’s efforts to fight him off, records show.

The man told Michigan State Police troopers that Cox stopped several hours later, claiming he had to get back to his wife and child.

“Based on what I know, I would be surprised if there weren’t more victims,” Moeggenberg said.

A search of Cox’s home and office uncovered items like lubricant, male enhancement pills, a blindfold and nylon webbing police suspect was used for bondage, records show.

They also found lighters, glass pipes, single-use syringes, meth and a substance police believe was GHB, known as the “date rape drug,” according to records. Moeggenberg said investigators also seized electronic devices. MSP’s Computer Crimes Unit searched the devices recovered during the March 18 search and uncovered “additional evidence,” according to a press release.

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Anthony Brooks Indicted on Sexual Abuse Charges

pastor anthony brooks

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Anthony Brooks, pastor of Jesus House of Believers Worship Center in Florence, Kentucky, was indicted Friday on five counts of first-degree child sexual abuse.

Brooks’ church bio page states:

Pastor Anthony is the Senior Pastor of JHOB-WC Ministries located in the Cincinnati  OH / Lawrenceburg, IN. area. Pastor Anthony began ministering in the year of 1998 to lost souls in the Jackson,Ms. area.  While ministering in Mississippi, it was the year of 1999 when God gave Pastor Anthony a vision with purpose and passion. That vision is Jesus House Of Believers Ministries inc. (JHOB-WC) for a city and area that he himself had only passed though once.

God used Pastor Anthony behind the scenes to minister the restoring message of God’s love, forgiveness and grace to all man and to lead the lost to salvation though Jesus Christ. Ministering to lost souls remains the passion of Pastor Anthony today.

Shortly after Pastor Anthony began ministering to lost souls in the Jackson Ms. area, God relocated Pastor Anthony to Dallas TX. to serve in the area of inner city outreach, specializing in family & Drug counseling where he still specialize. He is also specializing in intercessory prayer leadership and training, church leadership, pastoral leadership, and church planting.  He also served in many areas of ministry, such as outreach ministry , music ministry and youth ministry just to name a few. The love and passion of ministering to lost souls allowed Pastor Anthony to serve, work and learn from some awesome men of God.  From the year of 1998 to 2014 Pastor Anthony held many leadership positions in ministry while the vision of  JHOB-WC ministry was still his life purpose, passion, and promise. On Feb 9, 2010, God spoke on His promise and vision (for Pastor Anthony to write down the vision) along with a date to birth the ministry of JHOB-WC in the very city where he and his Wife Co- pastor Kimberly Brooks and three kids are ministering this very day…

According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, Brooks was released on a $5,000 cash bond. That’s right $5,000.  The judge who released Brooks on such a low bail ought to ashamed of himself. Nothing says, “we don’t take sexual abuse seriously,” as letting alleged abusers out of jail without making them post substantial bail. I suspect Brooks got the “preacher’s discount.”  Some members of law enforcement and the judiciary have a hard time believing men of God could do such things. However, as the Black Collar Crime series makes clear, clergymen can and do take sexual advantage of children and adults. They should be afforded the same harsh treatment as the rest of us when accused of serious sexual crimes against children. Brooks is certainly innocent until proven guilty, but prosecutors don’t bring such cases before grand juries without credible evidence that a crime has been committed. And if Brooks did indeed commit these crimes, it is certainly possible that this victim was not his first. And that’s why alleged abusers should be given high enough bail to keep them behind bars until law enforcement can see if there are other victims.

The Voices of Atheism: Christopher Hitchens at His Best

christopher hitchens

Christopher Hitchens

This is the ninth installment in The Voices of Atheism series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. Know of a good video that espouses atheism/agnosticism or challenges the claims of the Abrahamic religions? Please email me the name of the video or a link to it. I believe his series will be an excellent addition to The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser.

Thank you in advance for your help.

Today’s video features Christopher Hitchens. Enjoy!

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The Voices of Atheism: Christopher Hitchens on The Old Testament

christopher hitchens

Christopher Hitchens

This is the eighth installment in The Voices of Atheism series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. Know of a good video that espouses atheism/agnosticism or challenges the claims of the Abrahamic religions? Please email me the name of the video or a link to it. I believe his series will be an excellent addition to The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser.

Thank you in advance for your help.

Today’s video features Christopher Hitchens. Enjoy!

Video Link

Songs of Sacrilege: Holy Man by Shelley Segal

shelley segal

This is the two hundred and third installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please send me an email.

Today’s Song of Sacrilege is Holy Man by Shelley Segal.

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Who is the holy man and what does he believe?
That we must cover up our bodies
We must show humility
I believe my body is beautiful and it belongs to me

What makes a holy man? What does he decree?
There is an order to this place and he’s atop the hierarchy
I believe there’s no one above me and no one underneath

But I’m a sinner I’m a whore
I’m rotten to the core and you’re the holy man
It’s to you that He confides
You have god on your side
And you’re the holy man
Yeah you’re the holy man

I hear the holy man
He’s calling for our souls
That we must kneel, beg forgiveness like it’s something that we owe
I believe our only stipulation is the kindness that we show

But I’m a sinner I’m a whore
I’m rotten to the core and you’re the Holy Man
It’s to you that He confides
You have god on your side
And you’re the Holy Man
Yeah you’re the holy man

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Philip Grandine Convicted of Manslaughter

philip grandine

Philip Grandine, pastor of Ennerdale Baptist Church in Toronto, Canada, was convicted earlier this month of killing his pregnant wife. Grandine’s first conviction was overturned on a technicality. The CBC reports:

A former Toronto pastor accused of secretly sedating his pregnant wife before she drowned in the bathtub was found guilty of manslaughter Thursday, his second conviction in a case that has spanned more than seven years.

Jurors convicted Philip Grandine Thursday after deliberating for just over a day.

The man, who has been out on bail for more than six years while the case wound its way through the justice system, looked straight ahead as the verdict was read.

Prosecutors alleged Grandine drugged his wife with the anti-anxiety medication lorazepam, better known as Ativan, so she wouldn’t be as vigilant while he continued an affair with her friend.

The Crown alleged he then did not prevent Anna Karissa Grandine from getting in a bath in her incapacitated state one night in October 2011.

Anna Grandine was 20 weeks pregnant when she died. Tests later revealed she had lorazepam in her blood despite never being prescribed the drug.

Defence lawyers had argued Anna Grandine took the medication herself and either slipped in the tub, hitting her head and drowning, or took her own life.


The Crown alleged Grandine was behind the searches, noting some occurred roughly at the same time as searches for escorts and other sex-related topics. Prosecutors also said lorazepam was not a drug that should be used by pregnant women and Anna Grandine was conscientious about the health of her baby.

The defence argued it was Anna Grandine who looked up lorazepam, suggesting she sought to self-medicate in light of the recent upheaval in her life.

Court heard Philip Grandine stepped down as pastor after it came to light that he was having an affair with a parishioner, who was also his wife’s friend. The congregation, to which Anna Grandine belonged, was also told of the affair, court heard.

Another pastor agreed to give them marriage counselling if Philip Grandine stopped cheating and gave up pornography, conditions the couple accepted, court heard.

But Grandine quickly resumed the affair and over time, his wife became suspicious, even challenging him on the issue in an early October counselling session, court heard.

Then, in mid-October, Anna Grandine suddenly experienced dizziness, fatigue and other symptoms, prompting her husband to take her to hospital, court heard. Her sister said Anna Grandine was afraid; her mother testified the 29-year-old asked her husband if he had given her a pill, which he denied.

Three days later, Anna Grandine drowned in the bathtub. Court heard toxicology tests detected Ativan in her system and then checked the samples taken during her hospital visit, where they also found the drug.


Christians Says the Darnedest Things: Democrats Hate God

ten commandments

While their animosity [Democrats] toward God is easily demonstrable (who doesn’t know that Democrats typically hate Him?), it’s the Democratic Party’s platform contrast with the Second Table that might need closer inspection.

Consider the 6th Commandment: “You shall not murder. (Exodus 20:13)This seems simple enough, yes? The Hebrew word is רָצַח (ratsach) and means, “the unjust taking of innocent human life.”

And yet, the Democratic Party platform promotes . . .  Abortion on demand, murdering babies for the sake of convenience.

Consider the Seventh Commandment: “You shall not commit adultery (Exodus 20:14)

Jesus interpreted this command for us in the Sermon on the Mount, in which he equated any kind of sexual impurity as a Seventh Commandment violation (Matthew 5:28). Any of the Bible’s lists of sexual sins – including the desire itself, acted upon or not – fit under the condemnation of the Seventh Commandment.

And yet, the Democratic Party promotes: The special protected status and special rights (including marriage) for homosexuals and others with perverse sexual desires.


Consider the 9th Commandment: You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor (Exodus 20:16)
We are not supposed to lie. A “lie” is something that is demonstrably untrue. God is truth. To not speak truth is to misrepresent God as his image-bearers.

The Democratic Party platform promotes: Reinforcement of the idea that it’s possible to transition gender, and that a man can be a woman, and a woman can be man.


After comparing the Democratic platform to the Second Table of God’s Law it becomes apparent that it’s not so much a platform as just a list of things that God hates.

While the Democratic Party may try to convince the public that they are the compassionate party of love and kindness, in reality it’s God’s Second Table of law that tells us how to love our neighbor. And if that’s the case, the Democratic Party breaks each and every command that teaches us how to love our neighbor.

Being a Republican does not make you a Christian, but being a Democrat probably means you aren’t.

— Unnamed Author, Pulpit & Pen, Love Thy Neighbor: How the Democratic Party Platform Breaks God’s Laws, March 22, 2019

The Sounds of Fundamentalism: Pennsylvania Rep. Stephanie Borowicz, Christian Bigot

stephanie borowicz

This is the one hundred and ninety-fifth installment in The Sounds of Fundamentalism series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a video clip that shows the crazy, cantankerous, or contradictory side of Evangelical Christianity, please send me an email with the name or link to the video. Please do not leave suggestions in the comment section.  Let’s have some fun!

Today’s Sound of Fundamentalism is a video clip of a prayer uttered by Pennsylvania Rep. Stephanie Borowicz before  Movita Johnson-Harrell,  a Muslim Representative from Philadelphia, was sworn into office. Borowicz’s husband, Jason, is an associate pastor at Crossroads Community Church in Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania.

The York Daily Record reports:

Now normally, the opening prayer is not a big deal, just some words intended to inspire our elected officials to grasp for the higher angels of their nature – which, considering the results, often doesn’t seem to take.

But Borowicz’s prayer was seen as being political, coming just moments after the House swore in its first Muslim member, Movita Johnson-Harrell, a Philadelphia Democrat who took the oath of office while resting her left hand on the Quran.

At one point, House Speaker Mike Turzai, an Allegheny County Republican, reached over and touched Borowicz’s arm, cutting her off in mid-prayer.

The prayer, some representatives said, was divisive and was seemingly intended, as House Minority Whip Jordan Harris, a Philadelphia Democrat, said, to weaponize her religion and “intimidate, demean and degrade” Johnson-Harrell.

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