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Category: Family

Short Stories: Fifteen Things I Learned as a Young Married Man

bruce polly gerencser wedding 1978
Bruce and Polly Gerencser, July 1978, with Bruce’s mom and dad

What follows are fifteen things I learned as a young married man. Polly and I married in July, 1978. We recently celebrated our forty-fifth wedding anniversary. What were some of the lessons you learned as a young married person? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

  1. Love doesn’t pay the bills.
  2. If you put gas in your car, it won’t run out.
  3. The balder the tire, the more you will need to use your car jack.
  4. A spare tire is of no use if it’s flat.
  5. You will have to teach your wife to drive a stick shift, check the oil, start the car with a screwdriver, and change a flat tire.
  6. Children change everything.
  7. If you pay the light bill, you will always have electricity.
  8. Living across the street from your in-laws is not a good idea.
  9. It is not a good idea to quit your job before you have found a new one.
  10. Having sex in a car is not as much fun as the movies say it is.
  11. Driving too fast is a sure way to get speeding tickets — lots of them.
  12. If you write a check with no money in the bank, it’s going to cost you.
  13. Guinea pigs, hamsters, and gerbils die.
  14. It’s a miracle any couple stays married.
  15. Giving substantial sums of money to the church is not a good idea when you can’t pay your bills. Contrary to what preachers say, Jesus will not provide.

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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Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

What Happened to the Churches I Pastored?

bruce gerencser 1987
Bruce Gerencser, Somerset Baptist Church, 1987

An Evangelical man emailed me and asked:

“Regarding the churches you pastored and started, do they still exist today or have they changed their names ? I could not find any of the church’s personal websites. Sorry if you feel I wasn’t trying hard enough. I don’t know what I missed as there are hundreds of ‘google’ links.”

When I get questions like this, I have to consider what is the person’s motive for asking this question. Do they really want to know or are they part of a small group of tin-hat Christians who think that my story is a lie. Yes, even after I’ve been blogging for sixteen years, there are Evangelicals who doubt that I am telling the truth. They question if I pastored when and where I said I did. One man told anyone who would listen that he knew someone who lived in northwest Ohio when I pastored two different churches, and he had never heard of me. This was PROOF, at least for this reason-challenged Christian, that I was lying. While I am well-known in this area, I am sure there are more than a few people who don’t know anything about me.

My gut told me that the aforementioned letter writer was just curious or nosy, so I decided to answer his question. He also asked a question about my mother’s suicide, an offensive question I did not answer. While I gave him a brief rundown of the churches I pastored and what happened to them, I thought I would turn my email into a blog post.

bruce and polly gerencser 1976
Freshman class, Midwestern Baptist College, Pontiac, Michigan 1976. Polly is the first person in the first row from the left. Bruce is in the third row, the eighth person from the left.

So, let’s get some facts out of the way:

  • I made a public profession of faith at Trinity Baptist Church, Findlay, Ohio in 1972 at the age of fifteen.
  • I was baptized at Trinity Baptist Church in 1972 at the age of fifteen.
  • I was called to preach at Trinity Baptist Church in 1972 at the age of fifteen.
  • I  preached my first sermon for the Trinity Baptist Church high school youth group in 1972 at the age of fifteen. Bruce Turner helped me prepare the sermon. The text I preached from was 2 Corinthians 5:20 Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.
  • In the fall of 1976, at the age of nineteen, I enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College, Pontiac, Michigan to study for the ministry. I met my wife at Midwestern. We married in July of 1978. In February 1979, unemployed and with Polly six months pregnant, we dropped out of college and moved to Bryan, Ohio.
montpelier baptist church 1979

Montpelier Baptist Church, bus promotion

Montpelier Baptist Church, Montpelier, Ohio

In February 1979, Polly and I started attending Montpelier Baptist Church. Pastored by Jay Stuckey, a Toledo Bible College graduate; the church was affiliated with the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches (GARBC).

In March, Stuckey asked me to become the church’s bus pastor — an unpaid position. My responsibility was to build up the bus ministry which consisted, at the time of one bus. On average, the bus brought in 15 or so riders. I went to work aggressively canvassing Montpelier in search of new bus riders. Several church members helped me with this task. A few weeks later, on Easter Sunday, the bus attendance was 88. The head of the junior church program met me in the church parking lot and asked me what he was supposed to do with all the children. I told him, that’s your problem. I just bring ’em in.

Several months later, the church bought another bus. On the first Sunday in October, the church had a record attendance of 500. Bus attendance was around 150. The Sunday morning service was held at the Williams County Fairgrounds. We had dinner on the grounds, a quartet provided special music, and Ron English from the Sword of the Lord was the guest speaker. Tom Malone was scheduled to speak, but, at the last moment, he canceled.

The church started an expansion program to accommodate the growing crowds. The next week after our big Sunday, I resigned as bus pastor, and Polly and I packed up our household goods and moved to Newark, Ohio. Pastor Stuckey left the church a few years later. The church hired a pastor who was a Fundamentalist on steroids. Attendance began to decline, he left, and another man became pastor. About a decade after I left the church, it closed its doors, unable to meet its mortgage payment. The Montpelier First Church of the Nazarene bought the building and continues to use it to this day.

emmanuel baptist church 1983
Emmanuel Baptist Church, Buckeye Lake, Ohio, Bruce Gerencser’s ordination, 1983

Emmanuel Baptist Church, Buckeye Lake, Ohio

In January of 1981, my father-in-law and I started Emmanuel Baptist Church in Buckeye Lake, one of the poorest communities in Ohio. I was the assistant pastor, primarily responsible for the church youth group. The church quickly grew with most of the growth coming from the burgeoning youth group. On any given Sunday, over half of the people in attendance were under the age of 18. I was ordained in April of 1983, several months before Polly and I moved 20 miles south to start a new Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church, Somerset Baptist Church.

In the early 1990s, the church closed its doors.

somerset baptist church 1985
Somerset Baptist Church, Mt Perry, Ohio, Bruce and Polly Gerencser and kids, 1985

Somerset Baptist Church, Somerset, Ohio

In July of 1983, Somerset Baptist Church held its first service. There were 16 people in attendance. The church met in several rented buildings until it bought an abandoned Methodist church building in 1985 for $5,000. The building was built in 1831.

Over the years, church attendance rapidly grew — reaching 200 — ebbed, and then declined after we could no longer afford to operate the bus ministry. In 1989, we started a tuition-free Christian school for the children of the church. Most church members were quite poor, as was Perry County as a whole. Unemployment was high, and what good paying jobs there were disappeared when the mines began to lay off workers and close.

In February 1994, I resigned from the church and prepared to move to San Antonio, Texas to become the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church. Because I was a co-signer on the church mortgage and no one was willing to assume this responsibility, the church voted to close its doors. There were 54 people in attendance for our last service.

Jose Maldonado Bruce Gerencser Pat Horner
Pastors Joe Maldonado, Bruce Gerencser, and Pat Horner, Somerset Baptist Church, Fall of 1993

Community Baptist Church, Elmendorf, Texas

In March 1994, I began working as the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church, a Sovereign Grace (Calvinistic) Baptist church. My fellow pastor, Pat Horner, had started the church in the 1980s. The church ran about 150-200 in attendance. (I am uncertain as to the exact number since attendance records were not kept). Horner and I alternated preaching, with me doing most of the preaching on Sunday nights. While I was there, I helped the church start a Christian school and plant two churches, one in Stockdale, the other in Floresville. I also helped the church start a street preaching ministry and nursing home ministry.

This post is not the place to detail the various reasons why I left the church seven months later. Please read the I am a Publican and a Heathen — Part One series for a fuller explanation about why I left.

Several years after I left, Horner also left the church. The church is currently pastored by Kyle White. You can peruse the church’s website here. Horner is no longer a pastor.

Olive Branch Christian Union Church, Fayette, Ohio

In March 1995, a few weeks before my grandmother died, I assumed the pastorate of Olive Branch Christian Union Church in Fayette Ohio, a rural church 23 miles northeast of where I now live. Olive Branch was a dying, inward-grown church in need of CPR. Over the course of the next few months, I set about getting the church on the right track. The church was over 125 years old. I had never pastored an old, established church, but how hard could it be, right? Seven months later, I resigned from the church. Despite the best attendance numbers in decades, the church was increasingly upset with my brash style. It all came to a head one Sunday when one of the elders found out I had moved a table (a cheap Sauder Woodworking ready-to-assemble end table) off the platform to a storage closet. He confronted me just before Sunday morning service, demanding that I put the table back. I looked at him, said NO, and walked away. Three weeks later, I resigned, and Polly and I moved our mobile home off church property to a lot 1/2 mile north of the church. We sold the trailer in 2007 to the brother of a friend of ours.

Joe Redmond took over the church after I left. He has since died. I do not know who is presently pastoring Olive Branch. The church does not have a website. The church is located at the corner of Williams County Road P and US Highway 127.

polly gerencser late 1990's
Polly Gerencser late 1990s, none of this would have been possible without her.

Grace Baptist Church/Our Father’s House, West Unity, Ohio

In September 1995, two weeks after I had resigned from Olive Branch, I started a new Sovereign Grace Baptist church in nearby West Unity, Ohio. The church was called Grace Baptist Church. I would remain pastor of this church until July 2002.

We bought the old West Unity library building to use as our meeting place. None of the families from Olive Branch came with me when I left the church, but over time three families left Olive Branch and joined Grace Baptist.  In the late 1990s, we had a church conflict over contemporary music and spiritual gifts. Three families left the church. A few weeks later, we changed the name of the church to Our Father’s House, a nondenominational church.

It was during this time that I began to have serious health problems. In July 2002, for a variety of reasons, I resigned from the church. The church body decided that they didn’t want to continue on as a congregation, so they voted to close the doors and sell the building.

If I had to pick one church that had the nicest, most loving people, it would be this church. After the three families left, things were quite peaceful. This is the only church where Polly and I have the same opinion about the church. Great people, a pleasure to be around

Victory Baptist Church, Clare Michigan

In March of 2003, I assumed the pastorate of Victory Baptist Church, a small, dying Southern Baptist church in Clare, Michigan.

There is little good I can say about this church. I worked my ass off, while the church body, for the most part, was quite passive, In October of 2003, I resigned from the church. I never should have become its pastor. It needed to die a quick death. I don’t mean to say that members were bad people. For the most part, they were typical Southern Baptists. Good people, entrenched in the ways of the past, and unable to see their way clear to the future. The church and I were a wrong fit.

After we left, so did a few other families, moving on to nearby Southern Baptist churches. A year later, the church closed its door.

From October 2003 to April 2005, I had numerous opportunities to pastor churches or start new works. In the end, Polly and I decided we no longer wanted to be in the ministry. All told, we spent 25 years in the ministry.

I know by writing this post, I will open myself up to criticism from people who go through my writing with a nit comb, hoping to amass evidence that will justify their dismissal of my story. There’s nothing I can do that will satisfy people intent on marginalizing and discrediting me.

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.

Connect with me on social media:

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

2023: A Few Family Photos From an Atheist and His Heathen Wife Who Have No Meaning and Purpose in Their Lives

Our children and their girlfriends and spouses, along with our thirteen grandchildren, were over to celebrate Father’s Day on Sunday. We had a delightful time. On Monday we drove to Cincinnati to watch the Reds play the Colorado Rockies.

bruce gerencser 2023

Bruce Gerencser at Great American Ballpark, June 19, 2023

bruce and polly gerencser 2023

Polly and Bruce Gerencser, Father’s Day 2023.

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Polly and Bruce Gerencser, Great American Ballpark, June 19, 2023

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Our children, ages thirty to forty-four, Father’s Day 2023

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Our grandchildren, ages three to twenty-two, Father’s Day, 2023

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Our grandchildren, ages three to twenty-two, Father’s Day, 2023

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Our older grandchildren, ages fifteen, seventeen, seventeen, and twenty-two, Father’s Day, 2023

As you can see, the Gerencser family lives empty, purposeless lives. While some of us are religious, most of us are not. None of us are Evangelical, nor are we fans of much of what we see in organized religion. Thank God, the curse has been broken.

The next time an Evangelical tells me my life is worthless without Jesus, I will point them to these pictures and say, “Sure buddy, keep telling yourself that.” I live a happy, fulfilling life, one filled with love, all without Jesus and the church. Impossible, you say? The evidence is right in front of you, much like Jesus when he said “here are the nail prints in my hands. Will you not believe?” Or do you have an agenda; a strawman you must maintain at all costs?

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.

Connect with me on social media:

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

What is Life?

life

I will soon celebrate my sixty-sixth birthday. In July, Polly and I will celebrate our forty-fifth wedding anniversary. We now have thirteen grandchildren. Two of our granddaughters will start their senior year of high school in the fall. Both are straight-A students, and both have boyfriends! OMG, where had the time gone? I am now, without question, an old man, a cranky curmudgeon. I have seen a few things and experienced a lot of this thing we humans call life. As I comb through my past, I have come to the conclusion that life is the sum of our choices (and, at times, the choices of others), held together by the mortar of luck and circumstance. As I carefully examine my life, I can see how certain decisions I made in the past materially affect my life today. For example, as a married, full-of-life, physically fit young preacher, I decided to opt out of Social Security. For the next seventeen years, I paid no social security/Medicare taxes on my ministry-related income. I leveraged the clergy housing allowance and other legal tax avoidance schemes in such a way that I often ended up showing no personal income on my tax return and paid zero taxes for the year. This went on for years. Not bad, right? My motivation was simple: as a die-hard right-wing Republican, I believed that the government didn’t deserve my money. In my mind, the less money local, state, and federal agencies had, the better. I thought, at the time, “Why should I pay real estate taxes? My children attend a private Christian school or are homeschooled. Why should I pay for the world’s children to be educated in government schools?” When I bought automobiles, I purchased them through the church, thus avoiding paying sales tax. I expensed everything I could, with the goal in mind that I was economically starving the government.

In the late 1990s, I had an epiphany of sorts. I realized, for the first time, that I was one day going to be where I am now, and that I would need some sort of retirement income. I also started having niggling health problems, and in 1997, after months and months of unexplained fatigue and pain, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. At that moment, Bruce-with-a-big-S-on-his-chest learned that he was not invincible; that life was a kryptonite of sorts that will, in the end, lead to my demise.

I opted back into Social Security and started paying taxes again, but this was too little too late. Fortunately, over the course of my work career — from age fourteen to today — I worked numerous “secular” jobs:

janitor, gas station attendant, short order cook, newspaper motor route, life insurance salesman, sweeper salesman, restaurant general manager, network manager, durable medical equipment supply office manager, dairy department manager, grocery stock clerk, workfare/court offender program manager, litter control manager/officer, building code enforcement officer, grant manager, real estate updater for an auditor’s office, farm worker, auto mechanic, cable box repairman, shipping and receiving, turret lathe operator, and numerous general laborer jobs in factories

These jobs provided enough work quarters for me to qualify for a nominal monthly social security payment of about $800. While this is not a large amount of money, retirement-wise, it makes a meaningful difference for us. Neither of my parents lived long enough to collect social security, so I have outlived them and will win the prize. Woo-hoo! However, I can’t help but think about how much better off I would be as a disabled retired man had I paid social security/Medicare taxes on my ministerial income. The difference would be significant, but due to a singular decision made long before I ever had a thought about getting old, I am forced to live with the consequences of that decision.

I always made more money working secular jobs than I did working for God. The most I ever made income-wise as a pastor was $24,000. Most years, I made $8,000-$20,000 (including housing) pastoring churches. If it hadn’t been for secular work, government assistance, and Medicaid insurance, we would have been destitute. As it was, we were dirt poor for most of the years I spent in the ministry. It wasn’t until the late 1990s that things improved for us. Polly started working for Sauder Woodworking (she just celebrated her twentieth-seventh anniversary there) and our oldest sons started working jobs of their own.

It’s unfortunate, though, that I had decided as a young husband and father to let “God” take care of our wants and needs. As anyone who has ever done this has learned, “God” loves keeping his followers in the poor house. Why, if “God” had backed up a Brink’s truck to our home and unloaded some of the “treasure” he supposedly has, we wouldn’t have “needed” him any longer. So, “God” kept us on our knees, ever begging for divine assistance. I sincerely believed that “God” would meet our needs and even throw in a few wants from time to time, so I accepted that our poverty was God’s good, acceptable, and perfect will for our lives (Romans 12:1,2). Of course, I never asked Polly or our children what they thought of this arrangement I had with God. I was the family patriarch. End of discussion. I wonder how different our lives might have been had I put the financial and material welfare of my family first; had I built a career managing restaurants or working in government alongside my work as a pastor. Would we have been better off? Probably. But, who really knows for sure?

Have you ever thought about certain decisions you have made in your life and wondered how things might have turned out differently? I call this the what-if or would-of, could-of, should-of game. While we like to think that life would have been different if we had only made this or that decision, there are too many variables for us to know for sure how things might have turned out. For example, at age eighteen, I was madly in love with a twenty-year-old college girl named Anita Farr. (Please see 1975: Anita, My First Love.) For much of 1975, we had a torrid relationship — as no-sex-before-marriage Baptist relationships went, anyway. I was sure she was the one. However, our relationship didn’t last, and in late ’75, I packed up my meager belongings, hopped a Greyhound bus, and returned to Ohio. As I look back at this time in my life, I see two people who had similar personalities and dispositions. Both of us were quite outgoing, personable, and temperamental. I told Polly a while back, as we were talking about past choices, “If I had married Anita, one of us would have murdered the other and ended up in prison.” Our relationship was very much one of a lit match and gasoline. A year later, I enrolled in ministerial classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. My game plan, girl-wise, was to play the field. I thought at the time, “what a blessing from God, a dormitory filled with fine Baptist women!” Sure enough, I started dating a girl by the name of Peggie. After a few weeks, our casual relationship petered out and we moved on to other people. Next up for me was a seventeen-year-old dark-haired preacher’s daughter named Polly. She was (and is) a beauty, but I had no thoughts at the time that she was a woman I was ready to settle down with. It was not long, however, before Bruce, the player, was smitten and in love. On Valentine’s Day in 1976, I proposed and Polly said “yes.” So much for playing the field!

Choosing to marry Polly — a choice I would make again in a heartbeat — certainly changed the course of my life. On a hot day in July,1978, at the Newark Baptist Temple, we stood before our family and friends (and God, or so we thought at the time) and pledged our troth to one another. We were two mutually infatuated children, ill-prepared for the pressures and challenges of married life. Six weeks after we married, Polly informed me that she was pregnant. Six months after that I was laid off from my job. This forced us to leave school and move to the home of my birth, Bryan, Ohio. So much for our “plans,” or God’s, for that matter. From there, my ministerial career and our married life took a completely different path.

I have written this trip down memory lane — one that will receive the voluminous treatment it deserves in my book — to illustrate how the many choices we make, along with external influences, materially and permanently affect our lives. I don’t believe in soulmates. I don’t think for a moment that Polly is the only suitable woman on planet earth for me. She is, however, the woman I chose to love and marry, and together we have made a good life for ourselves. We have made a hell of a lot of bad decisions and wish we could have a do-over on more than a few things. But, on balance, we’ve had a good life. The sum of our choices has led to where we are today. Hopefully, we have learned a thing or two over the past forty-five years, but I am confident that we still have a few fuck-ups left in our lives. Live and learn, right? Or, well, live anyway . . .

Do you ponder the decisions you have made in your life and how things have turned out for you? Do you wonder about how different life might have been for you had you made different decisions? Do you have a simple philosophy by which you govern your life? Please share your erudite thoughts 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.

Connect with me on social media:

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Contentment

contentment

“Bruce, your problem is that you lack contentment.” I was stunned when my counselor told me this in 2019. I had been seeing him for years. I wondered if it is time for a change. (I changed therapists in 2021.) His words seemed sharp and judgmental. I felt as if he was ignoring me as a person and making a character judgment instead. Weeks later, I was still talking about whether this judgment was correct. Polly would say, I’m sure, if asked, “Bruce, you are discontented over contentment.” 🙂 Maybe.

In November 2019, I wrote a post titled, Living with Unrelenting Chronic Pain: Just Another Day in Paradise. I intended to write about contentment then, but the post, as is often the case, went in a different direction from that which I had intended. As that Spirit moves, right? It’s impossible to determine if I am content without first understanding the primary issues that drive my life: chronic illness, chronic pain, loss of career, loss of faith, OCPD, and past emotional trauma. Pulling a singular event out of my life and rendering judgment based on that alone is sure to lead to a faulty conclusion. Think of all the clichés we use about understanding people: walk a mile in their shoes, see things through their eyes, judge not, lest you be judged. If we truly want to understand someone, we must take the time to see, listen, and observe — not something we do much of these days. We live in the social media era, a time when instant judgments are the norm. As a writer, I find it frustrating (and irritating) when people read a post or two and then sit in judgment of my life. In 2,000 or fewer words, I have, supposedly, told them all they need to know about Bruce Gerencser. Of course, I have done no such thing. Want to really get to know me? Sit down, pull up a chair, and let’s break bread together and talk. Truly understanding someone requires time, commitment, and effort. I have been married for forty-five years. It took years for Polly and me to really get to know each other. And even today, I wonder, do I really know all there is to know about my lover and friend? I doubt it.

Contentment. What does the word even mean? Happy? Satisfied? Complacent? How do I determine if I am content? Do I even want to be content? Is contentment a desirable human trait? What would the world look like if everyone were content? The Apostle Paul wrote spoke of contentment several times:

  • I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. (Philippians 4:11)
  • But godliness with contentment is great gain. (1 Timothy 6:6)
  • And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. (1 Timothy 6:8)
  • Be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave theeá, nor forsake thee. (Hebrews 13:5)

“Bruce, you are an atheist. What the Bible says is irrelevant.” Tell my mind that. These verses were pounded into my head by my pastors and Sunday school teachers, and then, as a pastor, I pounded them into the heads of congregants. Just because I say, “I’m an atheist,” doesn’t mean that decades of indoctrination and conditioning magically disappear. I spent most of my adult life trying to be the model of a “contented” Christian. Try as I might, I came up short.

My father was the epitome of “contentment.” Dad lived by the maxim qué será será (whatever will be, will be). He was passive and indifferent toward virtually everything. Dad and I were never close. It’s not that we had a bad relationship; it’s just that he treated his relationship with me the way he treated everything else.

I was much more like my mom. Passionate. Contrary. Opinionated. Everything mattered. It comes as no surprise that I am a perfectionist; that I struggle with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder; that I have high (and often unreasonable) expectations not only for myself, but for others. Ask my children about what they “fondly” call the Gerencser Work Ethic. Oh, the stories they could share. I am sure a few of you are thinking, “are you not admitting here that you are discontented?” Maybe, but I am not convinced that it’s as simple as that — as I shared with my counselor.

You see, I have always been a restless person. Does this mean that I am discontented? Or, perhaps, I am someone who needs a steady diet of new experiences. I bore easily. In my younger years, this resulted in me working a number of different jobs. My resume is quite diverse. The same could be said of the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry. I loved starting new churches. However, over time, these new churches would become old churches, and when that happened, I was ready to move on. I pastored a church in West Unity, Ohio for seven years. Awesome people. Not a problem in the world. Yet, I resigned and moved on. Why? I was bored. I was tired of the same routine Sunday after Sunday. It wasn’t the fault of the people I pastored. I was the one with a restless spirit. I was the one looking for matches and gasoline so I could start a new fire.

dogs and contentment

My counselor asked me if he could wave a magic wand over me and instantly make me content, would I want him to do so? I quickly replied, “Absolutely not.” I told him that instant contentment would rob me of my passion and drive. “What kind of writer would I be without restlessness and passion?” I asked. He replied, “ah yes, that which drives creatives.” If being content requires me to surrender my passion and drive, no thanks. I am not interested. Now, I can certainly see where I would be better off if I, at times, let go and let Loki. I have never been good at “be still and know that I am God.” I like being busy. I enjoy “doing.” One of the frustrating problems I face with having fibromyalgia, gastroparesis, and osteoarthritis is that I can no longer do the things I want to do. My “spirit” is willing, but my “flesh” is weak. Does this lead to discontentment? Maybe, but I am more inclined to think that the inability to do what I want leads to frustration and anger, not discontentment.

I’ll leave it to others to determine if I am content. I will leave it to the people who look at me and “read” my face, thinking my lack of a smile is a sure sign of discontentment; as if there couldn’t be any other explanation for my facial expressions — you know, such as chronic, unrelenting pain. Would it settle the contentment question if I tell people that I am generally happy; that I enjoy writing and spending time with Polly and our six children and thirteen grandchildren? I doubt it. Much like my counselor, people seize on anecdotal stories as evidence for their judgments of my life. I told my counselor about a visit to a new upscale pizza place in Defiance. I told him that the waitstaff left a lot to be desired, and our pizzas were burnt on the bottom (the restaurant uses a brick pizza oven). I told our server the pizzas were burnt. The manager gave us a 50 percent discount on our bill. My counselor seized on this story as a good example of my discontentment. Never mind the fact that I rarely complain about the quality of restaurant food. I just don’t do it. I am willing to give a place a pass; having managed restaurants myself. I know how things can get messed up. That said, I always wanted to know when an order didn’t meet customer expectations. No, customers are not always right. Some of them are idiots and assholes. But I couldn’t make things right if complaints never reach my ears.

Am I content? Probably not, but I sure as hell don’t want the kind of contentment preached by the Apostle Paul, modeled by my father, and suggested by my counselor. No thanks . . . I’ll take happiness with a slice of restlessness, and garnished with passion every time.

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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Bruce, You Would Give the Shirt Off Your Back to Help Others

where your treasure is

My wife, Polly, is the daughter of an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher and his wife. Polly’s family on her mother’s side is littered with preachers, missionaries, and evangelists. Her grandfather was a United Baptist preacher. Most of my experience with Polly’s family over the past forty-seven years comes from Polly’s parents and her mother’s close family. One thing that I noticed is that while Polly’s mom and dad, along with her grandfather, aunt, and uncle were gracious, kind, and helpful towards IFB family members, they weren’t the same towards people outside of the family. This always troubled me. Why were they so hesitant or unwilling to help people who weren’t “blood?”

In 1989, our two oldest sons and a girl from the church I was pastoring at the time, attended the Licking County Christian Academy — a ministry of the Newark Baptist Temple, the church pastored for fifty years by Polly’s uncle, Jim Dennis. We would carpool the children to and from school, a thirty-mile drive each way. One day, it was the girl’s father’s turn to pick up the kids from school. Before arriving at the school, Harold picked up a homeless man and brought him to the Baptist Temple, thinking the church would help him. He quickly learned that the Baptist Temple was nothing like the church he attended. The church turned the homeless man away.

Harold wrongly thought all Christians were the same; that the Baptist Temple would treat poor people the same way we did at Somerset Baptist Church. Surely, the Baptist Temple, a Bible-believing, Bible-preaching church, would follow the teachings of Christ, Harold thought. At Somerset Baptist, we fed and clothed the poor and the homeless. We paid the rent and utility bills of people in dire straits, even though Somerset Baptist took in only one-thirtieth the money each year the Baptist Temple did.

Jim and I got into an argument one day in his office over material wealth. We were struggling to pay our school tuition bill. I wanted to find out if there was anything the church could do to help us. The answer was no. I have never forgotten what Jim told me: “it is never God’s will for a Christian to live in poverty.” In other words, he was telling me that I was not doing the will of God. I retorted, “this would be news to Jesus, the disciples, and countless other Christians.” Our meeting ended on a sour note. Our children finished the year at LCCA. By the start of the next school year, I had started Somerset Baptist Academy — a tuition-free school for church children.

Was Jim a bad person? Of course not. He grew up in a middle-class home. He had never experienced poverty or doing without. I, on the other hand, had real-world experience with poverty. He and I had very different life experiences, and these lived experiences affected how we viewed the world and ministered to people. I have always been sensitive to the needs of the poor. Most of the people I pastored over the years were working-class poor or on public assistance. Sure, I pastored several millionaires and upper-middle-class families, but they were the exception to the rule. And quite honestly, poor church members tended to be more gracious and giving than affluent members. As a Baptist church, we believed Christians should give ten percent of their income to the church. It was the church, then, that decided how to spend donations. One millionaire wanted to control where his tithe went. He told me the church couldn’t be trusted with his money. No control, no donation. You can guess how that turned out. Not well. He later left the church.

I co-pastored Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas in 1994. After returning to Ohio and then moving back home to rural northwest Ohio, we started a new Baptist church in West Unity. Months after we started the church, a family from Community Baptist contacted me about moving to Ohio to be part of our church. I said yes, and began making plans for them to move from Texas to Ohio. A preacher friend and I drove to San Antonio to help them move. I rented a car for our trip, paying for our gas and meals. I also helped pay for some of this family’s moving expenses. All told, I spent almost $2,000 out of pocket to help them move. I sold my firearms to help fund this trip, a decision I deeply regret.

The family moved into the church until they could find employment and housing. The congregation went out of its way to help them. The family didn’t stay. I had warned them about how different it would be for them as a Hispanic family living in white rural Ohio. They assured me that this wouldn’t be a problem. It was. They missed their family and culture. I was disappointed (and angry, at the time) that they left, but years later I understand why they did.

One day, Polly’s mom and dad happened to be visiting our home. Polly and I were discussing moving this family from Texas to Ohio, when Mom interjected, “Bruce, you would give people the shirt off your back.” We just stared at her, wondering why this was a problem. It seemed to be the Christian thing to do; the way we had lived our married life from the get-go and still do to this day. Realizing how bad that sounded and that she had “stepped” in it, Mom added, “not that that is a bad thing.”

Our conversation moved on to other things, but her comments to me were a reminder that we lived in different worlds; that we had different beliefs about what it meant to be a Christian. What I always found odd is that Mom grew up dirt poor. Her parents were migrant farm workers. She had experienced poverty firsthand. Yet, once free of being poor, she had no interest in helping anyone outside of her immediate family. Was Mom a bad person? Of course not. That said, it is hard to read the Gospels and not have a heart for the poor and marginalized. And where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

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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Short Stories: George of the Jungle and a Dog Who Plays Basketball

george of the jungle

My wife, Polly, and I have six children — four boys, and two girls. As children of an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher and his wife, they lived sheltered lives, safe from Satan and the world. Our two oldest sons attended public school for two years. Outside of that, our children either attended a private Christian school or were homeschooled. Our two oldest children attended Licking County Christian Academy for one year and our three oldest children attended Somerset Baptist Academy, a school I started, for five years. Our youngest three were homeschooled from kindergarten through grade twelve.

We didn’t have a TV for years. I detail my battle with the TV here: The Preacher and His TV. And even after we got a television, I carefully controlled what our children could watch. Our youngest children fondly remember watching programs such as Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, Lois & Clark: The Adventures of Superman Continue, Five Mile Creek, Quantum Leap, and Sliders. We also let them watch G-rated/PG-rated movies. The goal was always the same: to protect them from the “world.”

In the late 1990s, our (my) view of the “world” began to change. We were still quite Fundamentalist, but we loosened the reigns, so to speak, when it came to “entertainment. Our older sons were allowed to listen to contemporary Christian music. I remember when I brought home a PETRA CD. Polly thought God was going to strike us dead and burn our house to the ground. Alas, God didn’t give a shit about what kind of music we listened to.

air bud

In the summer of 1997, I told Polly I wanted to take the children to the drive-in theater. Polly and I hadn’t been to an evil Hollywood movie since our teen years, and our children had never been to a theater of any kind. Polly, ever worried about God getting us, thought it was a bad idea to go to the drive-in. I assured her that God would be okay with us going to the movies. After all, we were going to see Air Bud and George of the Jungle. 🙂 Sure enough, we learned that God didn’t give a shit about what kind of movies we watched either. Our family and a wonderful time at the Wauseon Drive-in Theater. Our children were 18, 16, 13, 8, 6, and 4 the day the “world” won and Satan took over our family. 🙂

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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Our Relationship with the Newark Baptist Temple Began and Ended with Acts of Defiance

bruce polly gerencser wedding 1978
Bruce and Polly Gerencser, July 1978, with Bruce’s mom and dad

It is a hot July day in 1978. Soon Bruce Gerencser and Polly Shope will be married at the Newark Baptist Temple — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church pastored by Polly’s uncle Jim Dennis (please see The Family Patriarch is Dead: My Life With James Dennis). Her father, Lee Shope is the church’s assistant pastor.

Bruce and Polly faced much adversity from Polly’s mom leading up to their big day. Polly’s mom didn’t like Bruce, so she had spent the past two years trying to ruin their relationship. She miserably failed, and today was the day when a youthful, immature twenty-one-year-old Bruce and an equally youthful, naive nineteen-year-old Polly would stand before God, family, and friends and pledge their troth.

Bruce and Polly asked Mark Bullock, a fellow student at Midwestern Baptist College, to be their soloist. He agreed. The couple asked Mark to sing two songs: We’ve Only Just Begun by The Carpenters and Wedding Song (There is Love) by Noel Paul Stookey. Both were secular songs.

Little did Bruce and Polly know that secular songs were not permitted at the Baptist Temple. They had a niggling idea that maybe, just maybe they were pushing the envelope with their song choices, but no one asked, so Mark sang the songs Bruce and Polly requested. Afterward, they learned that Polly’s uncle and others in the church were outraged over their use of “worldly” music.

This was their first act of defiance.

Over the next forty-five years, Bruce and Polly faced a plethora of contentious moments with Polly’s mom, Jim Dennis, and the Newark Baptist Temple. Bruce and Polly were Baptist Fundamentalists, but they never seemed to “fit.” For a time, they attended the Baptist Temple. In 1981, they left the church to help Polly’s dad start a new IFB church in nearby Buckeye Lake. Bruce and Polly would remain there until July,1983, when they moved thirty minutes south to start a new IFB congregation in Somerset. The couple would serve God hand in hand at Somerset Baptist for eleven years. Bruce and Polly moved to Texas in 1994, returning to the Newark area later that same year. As they licked their wounds from a vicious experience as co-pastor of Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf (please see I am a Publican and a Heathen — Part One), Bruce and Polly made the decision to not attend the Baptist Temple. Instead, they took their six growing children to Fallsburg Baptist Church, a nearby IFB church pastored by Bruce’s best friend Keith Troyer. Needless to say, this move did not go over well with Polly’s family. Yet another conflict added to the growing pile of conflicts between the couple and Polly’s IFB family. Bruce and Polly were IFB, but it was becoming crystal clear that they intended to march to the beat of their own drum.

Seven months later, Bruce and Polly had their 14’x70′ mobile home moved to Alvordton, Ohio so Bruce could assume the pastorate of Olive Branch Christian Union Church. After a short stay at Olive Branch, Bruce and Polly started a new Baptist church five miles south of Alvordton in the rural community of West Unity. The church later dropped its Baptist name, renaming itself Our Father’s House — a non-denominational congregation. They would remain there for seven years.

By now, Bruce was having serious health problems. After a short pastorate at a Southern Baptist church in Clare, Michigan, Bruce and Polly decided to move to Yuma, Arizona in hope that the weather there would help Bruce’s pain and debility, His sister, married to a cardiologist, lived in Yuma at the time. While the couple thoroughly enjoyed their time in Yuma, the pull of family proved to be too much. Once again, Newark came into their lives. The couple moved back to Newark, thinking Polly’s mom and dad needed their help. Unfortunately, Polly’s parents didn’t want their help.

Bruce and Polly spent seven months in Newark, attending various Christian churches, none of which were IFB. Their unwillingness to attend the Baptist Temple caused more conflict with family. One preacher, Art Ball, wrote Bruce and told him, “Bruce, you know there is only one church in town, the Baptist Temple.” Bruce replied that there was a lot of family water under the proverbial bridge that Art knew nothing about, so, no, they would not be attending the Baptist Temple.

Bruce and Polly left Newark in July 2005 and moved back home to rural northwest Ohio so they could be close to their children. In 2007, they bought a home in Ney, Ohio, where they live to this day.

Over the past fifteen years, Bruce and Polly have returned to the Baptist Temple four times for funerals: the death of Jim Dennis (Polly’s uncle); Polly’s dad; Linda Dennis (Polly’s aunt); and several weeks ago, Polly’s mom. Each visit brought memories of family conflict and trauma. Good times too, to be sure, but no amount of good can wipe away the harm done by Polly’s IFB family. It is what it is.

Bruce and Polly knew Mom’s funeral would be a difficult time for them — and it was, and remains so to this day. Much ugliness happened at the end of Mom’s life; ugliness that destroyed what little relationship they had left with their IFB family and the Baptist Temple.

Bruce and Polly, now forty-five years older than when they recited their vows on that hot summer day long ago, were the first people to sit down in the church auditorium. No one from the church, outside of Mom’s best friend and Polly’s cousin and her IFB preacher husband, spoke to them. Sitting all around them were people who had known them for decades. Not one word of sympathy from anyone. Even the church’s pastor, Mark Falls, ignored the grieving couple. Bruce and Polly knew why, but still, why was there no compassion? That’s for the fine Christian folks at the Baptist Temple to answer.

Perhaps Bruce and Polly’s chickens had come home to roost. The funeral was the period at the end of a forty-five-year sentence.

At the appointed time, Pastor Falls mounted the pulpit and began the service — five minutes about Polly’s mom and thirty-five or so minutes about Jesus. Tis what the aged atheists expected. Bruce and Polly had talked about how to handle the IFB sermon they knew was coming. Both figured they could grit their teeth one last time and get through the sermon. Sure enough, Falls preached about Hell, Heaven, salvation, and death. In a sermon riddled with theological errors, Falls turned his attention to the unsaved in the room. Everyone in attendance was Christian, except for the Gerencser children and their spouses, grandchildren, and Grandpa and Nana. It was clear who Falls was preaching at. In the closing moments of his diatribe, Falls fixed his eyes on Bruce, the outspoken atheist and the pain in his ass, and preached at him. In a split second, forty-five years of trauma came bubbling to the surface. Bruce, sitting three rows from the front, said, loud enough for the bully in the pulpit to hear, Bullshit! Preach at someone else! (As of the publishing of this post, the church has removed the video of the funeral from YouTube.)

Defiance. That’s what Bruce and Polly Gerencser will be remembered for by the Newark Baptist Temple, Pastor Falls, and their IFB family. Why couldn’t we just believe in the tribal deity and play by the rules? Why did we have to be so stubborn? Why couldn’t we just submit and obey?

Previous posts about our IFB family and the Newark Baptist Temple

Sometime this year, I plan to write a series titled How the Newark Baptist Temple Affected Our Lives for Sixt Years. Stay tuned.

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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Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

1957-2020: Christmas Memories

christmas tree new lexington 1985
Our Christmas Tree, 1984, New Lexington, Ohio

Christmas has played a part in my life ever since I entered the world in June of 1957. In this post, I want to detail some of my memories of Christmas.

As a child, Christmas at the Gerencser home was a typical American Christmas. Family, food, and gifts. While there were never many gifts, my siblings and I always received several presents from our parents. My Dad filmed many Christmases with his 8mm movie camera. Sadly, after Dad died in 1985, the movies were either lost or destroyed.

In the 1960s Christmas at our home changed, and not for the best. My grandfather on my mom’s side remarried. My grandmother remarried several times, but was divorced by the late 1960s. My grandparents on my Dad’s side died in 1963. Grandpa Gerencser died February 1, 1963 and Grandma Gerencser died a month later on March 5. I was left with Grandpa and Grandma Tieken and Grandma Rausch for Christmas, and they didn’t get along.

robert gerencser 1950's
Christmas, Dad with his 8 mm Movie Camera

In the 1940s, Grandpa Tieken and Grandma Rausch went through an acrimonious divorce — a divorce that resulted in neither parent being deemed fit to raise their children. They had two children, my mother Barbara, and her brother Steve. Their hateful acrimony was on full display in the 1960s when Bob and Barbara Gerencser gathered for Christmas with their three children — Butch (that’s me), Bobby, and Robin. Into our family gathering would come the grandparents, teeth bared, hateful towards each other — likely fueled by alcohol. The fighting got so bad that it became necessary for us to have two Christmas gatherings, one for each grandparent.

In the summer of 1970, we moved from Deshler, Ohio to Findlay, Ohio. In the spring of 1972, my parents divorced. Dad would marry a 19-year-old girl a few months later, and Mom would marry her first cousin — a recent Texas prison parolee. From this point forward until I entered college, I have no recollections of Christmas. I am sure we celebrated Christmas. I am sure we had a tree, perhaps gave gifts, etc., but I have no recollection of it.

In the fall of 1976, I left Bryan, Ohio, and moved to Pontiac, Michigan to enroll at Midwestern Baptist College, a Fundamentalist Christian college noted for training men for the ministry. In September of 1976, I began dating a beautiful 17-year-old freshman girl named Polly. She would be the last girl I dated, and two years later, in July of 1978, we married.

My first Christmas with Polly was in 1976. I drove from Bryan, Ohio, to Polly’s parent’s home in Newark, Ohio. Polly’s Dad, the late Lee Shope , was the assistant pastor at the Newark Baptist Temple, an IFB church pastored by her uncle Jim Dennis. The Shope/Robinson/Dennis family Christmas was a multifamily affair, with two sisters joining together to have the celebration. Christmas of 1976 was held at the home of Jim and Linda Dennis.

Being Polly’s boyfriend, I was a topic of discussion and inspection. Needless to say, I failed the inspection. I vividly remember Polly’s uncle letting the whole church know that I was there visiting Polly. He said, “Bruce and Polly have a shirttail relationship. We just don’t know how long the shirttail is.” While I have no doubt Jim was trying to be funny, Polly and I were thoroughly embarrassed. This coming year we will celebrate 45 years of marriage –so the shirttail has proven to be quite long and resilient.

As I entered the Dennis home, I was taken aback by how many gifts there were. Underneath the tree and flowing out from its trunk were countless gifts, more gifts than my siblings and I received our entire childhood. The number of gifts– what I would later label an “orgy to consumerism” — continued unabated for many Christmases.

Polly’s family was littered with Fundamentalist preachers — her dad, uncle, and grandfather, along with cousins who later became preachers or married one. They made sure they put a good word in for Jesus before the gift opening commenced. Every Christmas, one of the preachers, which later included Polly’s cousins and nephew, gave a short devotional reminding everyone that the birth of Jesus was the real meaning of Christmas. Interestingly, even though I was an Evangelical pastor for 25 years, I was never asked to give the devotional. Make of that what you will.

After Polly and I married in 1978, we began to develop our own Christmas traditions. We spent Christmas Eve with Polly’s parents and Christmas Day with either my family in Bryan, Ohio, or with my Mom at her home in Rochester, Indiana, and later Columbus, Ohio. Polly’s family Christmas continued to be marked by the gift-giving orgy and lots of great food. Christmas with my Mom and family was a much more measured affair. Mom made sure her grandkids got several gifts, as did my grandparents and Aunt Marijene. Christmas at Mom’s house continued until around 1990 when she and her husband Michael moved to Michigan. The move was sudden and unexpected, and I came to understand later that they likely moved due to Michael’s shady business dealings with people who threatened to kill him.  Mom would commit suicide in April 1992, while living near my sister in Quincy, Michigan. Please see Barbara.)

Christmas 1983. Polly and I decided to have Christmas with my extended family at our home in Glenford, Ohio. I only remember two things from this Christmas: Grandpa and Grandma Tieken being their usual judgmental, pushy selves and Mom being upset with me because I made her go outside to smoke. This would be the first and last time my extended family came to our home. For the next decade, not one member of my extended family came to our home, save several visits by the Tiekens — whose visits were excruciatingly unpleasant and psychologically harmful. (Please see Dear Ann and John.)

Over time, I drifted away from my extended family. I began to see them as outsiders — people in need of salvation. I regret distancing myself from my family, but as with everything in the past, there are no do-overs. We continued going to my Mom’s for Christmas until she moved to Michigan. We continued going to Polly’s parents’ home for Christmas until circumstances forced us to stop going. I will detail those circumstances in a moment.

In the late 1980s, I came to the conclusion that Christmas was a pagan holiday, a holiday that no sold-out, on-fire Christian should ever celebrate. I unilaterally gave away all our Christmas decorations and we stopped giving our children gifts for Christmas. It’s not that we didn’t buy our children anything, we did. Our children, to this day, will joke that Christmas for them came when the income tax refund check showed up. Living in poverty with six children resulted in us, thanks to the Earned Income Tax Credit, receiving a large income tax refund. When the check arrived — an annual large infusion of cash into our bank account — we bought our children everything they needed — with “needed” being the operative word. While we bought our children clothes, shoes, underwear, and the like, we bought them very few toys. We left it to grandparents to buy those. We did make sure they had bicycles, BB guns, and firearms, but very few toys. Living as we did, 8 people in a 720-square-foot, battered, old trailer, required our children to spend a significant amount of time outside. Toys became whatever the kids picked up in the yard or woods. I have often wondered, looking at the wealth of toys our grandchildren have, if our children are not compensating for their childhood. I know, as we buy for our grandchildren, that we are.

During my “Christmas is a Pagan Holiday” years, I routinely disparaged the gift orgy that went on at Polly’s parent’s home.  At the time, I thought the money being spent on gifts could be better spent on evangelizing the lost. While I would later move away from the view that Christmas is a pagan holiday, I never lost the belief that many Christians are quite hypocritical when it comes to Christmas. Jesus is the Reason for the Season and Wise Men Still Seek Him, devout Christians tell us, but their orgiastic celebration of the true meaning of Christmas — consumerism — betrays what they really believe. After all, conduct reveals what we truly believe, right?

Over time, I allowed — remember, we were patriarchal in family structure — Polly to resume a low-key celebration of Christmas in our home. We had to buy new decorations because I gave all away our old antique decorations given to us by our mothers. For a time, we had an artificial Christmas tree. Since we moved back to rural Northwest Ohio in 2005, we have bought our tree each Christmas from the Lion’s Club in Bryan.

With my parents being dead, we spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with Polly’s parents. This abruptly changed in 2010. I left the ministry in 2003 and we abandoned Christianity in November 2008. In early 2009, I sent out my family-shattering letter, Dear Family Friends, and Former Parishioners. This letter fundamentally changed our relationship with Polly’s IFB family.

Christmas of 2009 was best remembered by a huge elephant in the middle of the room; that elephant being Polly and me and the letter I sent the family. No one said anything, but the tension was quite noticeable.

2010 found us, just like every year since 1978, at Polly’s parent’s home for Christmas Eve. This would be the last Christmas we would spend with Polly’s parents and her extended family. We decided to blend into the background, and besides short pleasantries, no one talked to us. Not that they didn’t want to. We found out later from one of our children that Polly’s uncle wanted to confront me about our defection from Christianity. Polly Mom’s put a kibosh on that, telling her brother-in-law that she had already lost one daughter and she was not going to lose another (Polly’s sister was killed in a motorcycle accident in 2005. Please see If One Soul Gets Saved It’s Worth It All.)

I appreciate Polly’s mom being willing to stand up to the man who is generally viewed as the spiritual head of the family (and a bully). I am glad she put family first. If Polly’s uncle had confronted me there surely would have been an ugly fight. Whatever our differences may be, I deeply respect Polly’s parents. They are kind, loving people, and I couldn’t ask for better in-laws.

Christmas of 2010 was two years after President Obama was elected to his first term. Polly’s family didn’t vote for him, and throughout the night they made known their hatred for the man, Democrats and liberals in general. Polly and I, along with many of our children, voted for Obama, so the anti-Obama talk and the subtle racism behind it made for an uncomfortable evening.

Most years, a gag gift is given to someone. This particular year, the gag gift, given to Polly’s uncle, was an Obama commemorative plate one of our nephews had bought on the cheap at Big Lots. One of Polly’s uncle’s grandchildren asked him what the plate was for. He replied, “to go poo-poo on” — poo-poo being the Fundamentalist word for shit. This was the last straw for us. (Please see The Family Patriarch is Dead: My Life with James Dennis.)

On our way home the next day, I told Polly that I couldn’t do it anymore and she said neither could she. We decided to stop going to Polly’s parent’s home for Christmas Eve. We do try to see her parents during the holiday season, but we no longer attend the family gathering on Christmas Eve. Making this decision saddened us, but we knew we had to make it. (By the way, our children still attend the Christmas Eve gathering.)

We moved back to Northwest Ohio in July of 2005. Since then, our family has gathered for Christmas at our home on the Sunday before Christmas. Doing this allows our children to avoid conflicts with their spouses’ family plans for Christmas.

These days, Christmas for Polly and me is all about family, especially the grand kids. For us, Christmas has become a celebration of love, a celebration of the gift of a wonderful family. While we do not believe in the Christian God, we still enjoy Christmas music and all the other trappings of the Christmas season. It’s a cultural thing — no need to complicate things with religious demands and obligations. When twenty-three people pile into our grossly undersized living room to open presents, we are reminded of how good we have it.

This Christmas, thanks to a raging pandemic, our children and grandchildren will not be at our home celebrating with us. We have all our shopping done, and we plan on Christmas Eve to deliver our grandchildren’s gifts to their homes. Well, their driveways, anyway. It’s hard not to feel lonely this holiday season, but I hope by next Christmas COVID-19 will be behind us.

How about you? How has the way you celebrate Christmas changed over the years? If you are now a non-Christian, how do you handle your Christian family? Please leave your 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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“Normal” is a Just a Setting on a Washing Machine

normal

Polly’s mom recently died. I always had a contentious relationship with my mother-in-law. She never wanted me to marry her daughter, and she went to great lengths to frustrate our dating relationship. It was not until Polly told her mother we were getting married with or without her blessing that she grudgingly gave in and helped Polly plan our wedding. We’ve been married for almost forty-five years. Polly’s mom was certain that marrying someone from a divorced family led to divorce. I assume, by now, we have put that bit of nonsense to rest. Over the years, Polly and I butted heads with her mom over how many children we planned to have, how we raised our children, ministerial moves, choices of secular employment, how we celebrated Christmas, and a host of other things.

In 2004-2005, we lived in Newark, Ohio, blocks away from Polly’s parents. Our plan was to live there and care for them as they got older. Unfortunately, they made it clear that our help wasn’t needed. Message received. We returned to northwest Ohio so we could be close to our children and grandchildren. Five years ago, Polly’s dad (who died in November 2020) had botched hip replacement surgery that left him crippled. We offered to move them up here so we could help care for them. Our offer was rebuffed. Polly’s mom told her that they couldn’t move because their church — the Newark Baptist Temple — was very important to them. This sentiment is strange considering that their church pretty much ignored them since Dad’s hip surgery. Out of sight, out of mind.

As readers are aware, Mom made sure that the Gerencser family had nothing to do with her personal affairs and funeral. Mom’s behavior hurt her devoted daughter beyond measure. Why would she do these things? Our atheism. That’s the reason she gave us the last time we talked to her face to face. (Which was odd since she never, ever, not one time talked to us about our beliefs.) We, of course, respected her wishes. Her life, her choices, end of story.

I realize that if Polly had married a “normal” Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher boy things might have been different. Instead, Polly married a “bad boy”; a man who has always marched to the beat of his own drum; a man who has rarely been afraid to make hard, controversial decisions. In Mom’s eyes, I was an “odd duck”; I was “different.” Why couldn’t I have been like other IFB preachers? You know, like Polly’s Dad, Uncle, and cousins? Why couldn’t I have kept the faith? You see, the underlying issue is my unwillingness to hew to IFB belief. We left the IFB church movement years before we deconverted. Polly’s mom was upset with me numerous times during my years in the ministry; upset over decisions such as: me not wearing the IFB preacher uniform (white shirt, tie, and suit), letting Polly wear pants, allowing my children to listen to Christian rock, not preaching from behind a pulpit, not sending my children to a Christian college, removing the name “Baptist” from our church name, using praise and worship music during church services, and not using the KJV when I preached, to name a few. Nothing was as bad, though, as me leaving the ministry in 2005 and Polly and I walking away from Christianity in 2008. I suspect Mom believed that if I were out of the picture, Polly would come running back to Jesus and the family religion. Little did she know how independent her daughter really iwas and how anti-religion she has become. She may not be as vocal as her husband, but Polly has no use for anything associated with organized religion. She is, in every way, her own woman. The days when Bruce, the IFB Patriarch, ruled the home are long gone. Most of all, Mom blamed me for what our children have become. According to her, I  RUINED them! Actually, what I really did was set them free. Each of them is free to be whoever and whatever he or she wants to be. Yes, to a person each has abandoned IFB/Evangelical Christianity, and some don’t believe in gods at all. Yes, they have abandoned the social strictures of their Fundamentalist youth. OMG! They drink beer, cuss, go to movies, watch R-rated programs, and have sex outside of marriage. I can don’t imagine what Mom would have thought had we told her our youngest son is gay. In Mom’s eyes, my children (who are grown-ass adults in their thirties and forties) were “worldly,” and it is all MY fault. I was, after all, in her IFB worldview, the head of the home, even though all my children are out on their own with families, well-paying jobs, and own their homes. Mom might have lamented their worldliness, but I am quite proud of who and what ALL my children have become.

It’s Thanksgiving 2005. We are living in Bryan, Ohio, five miles from where we now live. Polly’s parents came to our home to join us for the day. Mom, as she often did, blew into our home like a tornado, moving furniture and changing meal preparations. It was noticeable to me that Polly was quite stressed by her mom’s behavior. She, however, said nothing. As the day wore on, I became increasingly agitated by Mom’s behavior, so much so that I reminded her that she was a guest in our home and asked her to please STOP micromanaging everything. Well, that went over well. Mom and Dad didn’t stay long that day. A day or so later, Mom called to apologize. During our conversation, she said, “Bruce, we have always accepted you. We knew you were ‘different.'”

Different? Sure, but does that make a bad husband, father, grandfather, or person? Since when is being different a bad thing? My mother had many faults, but she taught me to think for myself and be my own person. I carried her teachings into my life and they continue with me to this day. I refuse to follow the well-trodden path. I refuse to do something just because everyone is doing it. I choose, instead, to walk my own path, even if that means I am walking alone. I realize that Mom went to the grave saddened by what had become of her daughter, her son-in-law, and her grandchildren. Instead of seeing that we were happy and blessed, all Mom could see was our ungodly disobedience and lack of faith. Instead of seeing what awesome children and grandchildren we had, all she saw was their faithlessness and worldliness. Her religion kept her from truly embracing and enjoying our family. In mom’s world, the wash can only be cleaned if the washing machine is set to “normal” and Tide is used for detergent.

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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Bruce Gerencser