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#ExposeChristianSchools Guest Posts Wanted

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I thought I would kick this back up to the front page in the hope that some of you would see it and agree write a guest post about your Christian School experiences.. Please contact me if you are willing to do so.

Chris Stroop, an ex-evangelical, recently launched the #ExposeChristianSchools hashtag on Twitter in response to “Vice President Mike Pence and conservative commentators like David French lambasting liberals over legitimate criticism of Second Lady Karen Pence for choosing to teach art at Immanuel Christian School in Springfield, Virginia—a K-8 school that explicitly discriminates against members of the LGBTQ community.” Needless to say, Stroop’s effort has caused a tornado-level shit-storm. You can read Stoop’s article on the fallout from #ExposeChristianSchools here.

ObstacleChick sent me a two-part guest post detailing her experiences attending an Evangelical Christian school. As I read her submission, I thought, maybe there are other readers who would like to share their Christian school experiences. If you would like to do so, please email me via the contact form. Anonymous submissions are fine, as are pseudonyms. I hope some of you will consider adding your voice to the discussion. I plan to write a series of posts detailing my experiences as a pastor who started an Evangelical Christian school. Several months ago, the local school superintendent and I were chit-chatting and he asked me, “so where did your children go to school?” I chuckled and responded, “well, that’s a long, convoluted story I will have to share with you some day when we have time.” I hope this series will provide a vehicle by which I can share my past experiences and readers can understand why I, today, oppose the anti-culture, anti-human beliefs and practices used by many, if not most, Evangelical Christian schools and home schoolers.

Stay tuned. I have lots to share, and I hope other readers of this blog will too. Your voice is important. I look forward to hearing from you.

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.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Guest Post: #ExposeChristianSchools Part 1

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#ExposeChristianSchools, created by ex-evangelical Chris Stroop, has been trending on social media since Second Lady Karen Pence accepted a position at Immanuel Christian School in Springfield, Virginia. Readily available on the school’s website is the agreement which parents of admitted students must sign. Included in the agreement is the paragraph as follows:

I understand the biblical role of Immanuel Christian School is to partner with families to encourage students to be imitators of Christ. This necessarily involves the school’s understanding and belief regarding biblical morality and standards of conduct. I understand that the school reserves the right, within its sole discretion, to refuse admission to an applicant or to discontinue enrollment of a student if the atmosphere or conduct within a particular home, the activities of a parent or guardian, or the activities of the student are counter to, or are in opposition to, the biblical lifestyle the school teaches. This includes, but is not limited to, contumacious behavior, divisive conduct, and participating in, supporting, or condoning sexual immorality, homosexual activity, or bi-sexual activity, promoting such practices, or being unable to support the moral principles of the school. (Lev. 20:13 and Romans 1:27). I acknowledge the importance of a family culture based on biblical principles and embrace biblical family values such as a healthy marriage between one man and one woman. My role as spiritual mentor to my children will be taken seriously.

As a parent of a student, one must sign an agreement that one does not even condone homosexual or bisexual activity upon threat of expulsion. Additionally, the school teaches creation mythology instead of evolution, and of course, the school teaches typical Evangelical doctrines regarding sin and salvation through grace, along with “the rapture” eschatology.

I attended a fundamentalist Christian school much like this in grades 5-12 (1981-1988). My mom and grandparents heard a rumor that students living in my district would be bused to a mostly-minority community, so they acted fast to enroll me in the private (almost completely white) Christian school. Entering the school, all students were subject to a gender-based dress code and a comprehensive code of conduct. Girls were to “appear as God made them — feminine” (yes, I distinctly remember that description from the student handbook). There were strict guidelines for skirt length and sleeve length, and when we entered 6th grade the female teachers taught us how to go through physical contortions in front of a mirror to determine whether our clothing would properly cover us if we bent over or reached over our heads. Girls’ dress code also allowed for pants/slacks/culottes to be worn to extracurricular activities such as ballgames (but we were never to wear jeans – somehow denim is fine in the form of skirt, dress, jumper, or jacket, but it transforms into pure evil if it is cut into the form of women’s pants). Boys’ dress code included strict guidelines for hair length including a diagram in the handbook and the requirement for a belt to be worn and shirt tucked in at all times. No one was allowed to wear anything with obscenities, racial slurs, or the American flag.

We had a strict code of conduct that allowed the school to suspend or expel students for activities outside the school. Students could be suspended or expelled for having sex, for smoking, for drinking alcohol, for profane language, and for playing rock music on school grounds. There was a year when anyone caught going to the roller-skating rink would be suspended. During my tenure at the school, three boys were expelled for attending a party that served alcohol. A girl overheard the boys talking about it and turned them in. Naturally, we were in a culture that encouraged us to report behavior of other students to the administrators. Additionally, two girls were expelled for getting pregnant. One would think that pro-lifers would commend the girls for giving birth to their babies, but for some reason the administration thought that the correct course of action was to expel the girls. I suppose they wanted to remove the quite-visible reminder that the girls had participated in sexual activity.

To be fair, I was never told that I could not excel academically or take a class because I was female. It was clear that females were not allowed to preach, but we had a female high school principal. However, there were other things that we learned about being female. First, of course, was the emphasis on the dress code as described previously. Girls were sent home from school if their skirts were too short, too tight, or if their shirt was “too revealing” in some way. When I was in 6th grade, our health and physical education teacher taught us that the “perfect female form” had the dimensions of equal measurements of bust and hips with waist measuring ten inches less. Homework required that we take our measurements, and the next day she asked girls to raise their hands who had the “perfect female form” measurements. Three girls raised their hands — we all knew they were liars, but I remember feeling like a loser because at age twelve I had nowhere near the “perfect female form.” My entire life, I never had those measurements, though I have always been fit and active except while pregnant and postpartum. Those measurement parameters and their association with the “perfect female form” have stuck in my mind my entire life though.

Another traumatizing moment at school was in preparation for our senior class trip to Florida. Girls were allowed to bring one-piece swimwear on the trip, but we were only allowed to bring pieces approved by female faculty. I will never forget having to put on my two one-piece swimsuits while my female teachers examined them to determine if they were modest enough. They approved both suits, wrote down their descriptions which would be available to the female chaperones, and they told me I looked good. There are few incidents in my life that were as mortifying as this. I do not know what the requirements were for boys’ swimwear.

Our school had a culture of pointing out misbehavior/sin. Among students, people would comment upon other students’ failings “in a spirit of love” but really, we all knew it was just an opportunity for people to judge others and to highlight things they didn’t like to other students. As teachers were the authorities and in charge of correcting misbehavior, they were allowed to point out misbehavior at any time. There was a lot of watching, observing, and judging going on. Faculty sometimes even tried to prevent dating situations from occurring. One of my friends was a PK — preacher’s kid — whose father was friends with the headmaster of the school. The headmaster did not approve of my friend’s boyfriend (also a student at the school), so he approached my friend’s father who broke up the relationship.

Yet there was, of course, rampant hypocrisy. Teachers as part of their employment contract were not allowed to attend movie theaters. It was explained that observing students would not know whether a teacher was entering or exiting a rated-R movie, so in order to protect the testimony of the teacher, the teacher could not attend the movie theater. However, all the young teachers had memberships to the local video store, and they openly discussed movies with students. I never understood how it was acceptable for the teacher to rent movies from the video store, as by the same reasoning that students would not know whether a teacher was attending a rated-R movie, how could we know whether the teacher was renting a pornographic film? Additionally, I always found it odd that two female students married teachers from the school and wondered if any dating was going on while the girls were students.

Students were told that we received the best academic education available, but I learned when I went to a top ranked secular university that this was not necessarily the case. (One could argue that my education was good enough to gain admission to a top ranked secular school.) Of course, as a fundamentalist Christian school whose statement of beliefs included inerrant, inspired, and literalist view of the Bible, evolution was not taught in science courses. Our science textbooks were from Bob Jones University Press, and they included some odd rebuttals of evolution. One of the main rebuttals was that radiocarbon dating was contaminated and inaccurate on the magnitude of millions of degrees of error. The curriculum taught that the earth was only 6,000-10,000 years old and that God had created the earth with the appearance of age. Fossils existed due to upheavals that occurred during (the story of) Noah’s Worldwide Flood. I remember the explanation that spontaneous generation of life does not occur because rotten meat that produced maggots and flies meant that flies laid eggs in the meat, not that the rotting meat generated flies; therefore, evolution is false. It’s a fair analysis that flies lay eggs in rotting meat, but it has nothing to do with spontaneous generation of life – it just means that ignorant people who thought that rotting meat gave rise to maggots and flies had no understanding of the reproduction and gestation of flies. As for mathematics, our course path was a year behind the honors track at public or private secular schools, so those of us who were “advanced” students were a year behind other top students. History courses were taught from a Christian inclination, and I do not remember much mention of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or of the civil rights movement. Our foreign language curriculum was not very rigorous, and I was required to repeat basic French in college in order to fulfill the foreign language requirement. What the school considered Advanced Placement courses were not the true Advanced Placement courses one finds in other schools in which an AP exam is administered for which one can earn college credit. On the positive side, our writing skills were impeccable as the school focused on constructing proper paragraphs and essays. My college literature professor pulled me aside after our first composition and asked me if I was sandbagging his course because my writing skills were beyond the level of other students in the class. I told him I was not offered another option and explained I had attended a private Christian school. I think he felt sorry for me as he allowed me to take a leadership role in the class.

Many of my teachers were kind, compassionate people who were dedicated to educating students. However, most newer, younger teachers did not last long at the school due to the low pay and the heavy course load — each middle school and high school teacher was required to teach a minimum of four individual classes, each with a separate course prep. The shortest tenure I recall is 5 weeks; a couple of teachers lasted through the first half of the year; the majority quit after the first year. The teachers who made it past the first two years generally stayed for a long time. Male teachers were required to prepare and preach sermons on chapel days (Tuesdays and Thursdays) in addition to teaching courses. A few teachers coached sports or drove school buses in order to make a little extra money, and all had summer jobs. The teachers chose life in a Christian school whereas most of the students did not — our parents and guardians chose for us.

Stay tuned for more about #ExposeChristianSchools.

Guest Post: #ExposeChristianSchools Part 2

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Guest post by by ObstacleChick

In the wake of Karen Pence’s decision to accept a position at Immanuel Christian School in Springfield, Virginia, which requires parents of admitted students to sign a statement that they do not participate in or condone any sexual immorality, including homosexuality or bisexuality, ex-evangelical Chris Stroop created the social media hashtag #ExposeChristianSchools. Please see Part 1 for some of my experiences in a fundamentalist Christian school from 1981-1988.

After reading an article that Ms. Pence had accepted the position, I went to the school’s website to find out more about the school before jumping to conclusions, and I found that it is very similar to the fundamentalist Christian school I attended in the 1980s. While I am not surprised that Ms. Pence would support such a school, and I believe she has a right to teach wherever she wishes, I also believe that she should not act surprised or offended when other people call her out on teaching at a school that promotes bigotry against LGBTQ people.

One of my friends from the fundamentalist Christian school came out as gay after he left the school. Fortunately, his parents were very supportive of him. He and I have stayed in touch through the years because I was one of the few former classmates who did not treat him like a pariah due to admonishments from writings of ancient, ignorant people.

I noticed my friend shared the story of Ms. Pence’s acceptance of the job at Immanuel Christian School on his social media page with the comment, “I went to a private Christian school. I wish I had come out during my time there to shake things up.” It made me sad to read his comment, knowing that he would have either been silenced or expelled. Knowing full well that my post would probably upset former teachers and classmates, I posted my own #ExposeChristianSchools story. I believe it is important that people from my post-evangelical life understand what these schools are and that they may actually know someone who attended one of those schools. Also, I felt it was important for people from my past and present to realize that people can change their views.

Several friends from my post-evangelical days thanked me for posting and sharing the story. None of them knew my background with regard to religious indoctrination. Many commenters were members of my husband’s family or were former coworkers. I am sure they were shocked to find out I was raised that way, especially as I no longer hold the bigoted views espoused by these types of schools. Only one of my former classmates commented, and she thanked me for posting and admitted that she did not think about these things while growing up, is currently sending her children to this type of school, and struggles with the legalism.

My father-in-law, who attended Catholic schools through grade school and undergraduate university, was concerned that I was judging all Christian schools, so we had a telephone conversation and cleared things up. My brother and my former mathematics teacher, however, were not pleased with my assessment. I had already decided that if any of my teachers saw my post, I would not feel bad, as they must be held accountable for their complicity in such a system regardless of whether they were active perpetrators of abuse. While my former mathematics teacher is a nice lady who is in her early 90s, she still holds unapologetically to the abusive fundamentalist evangelical beliefs that I wish to expose. I thanked her for her response, but she did not apologize for being part of the system and I did not offer absolution.

My brother, about whom I have written before, stated unequivocally that he cannot understand how we were brought up in the same system yet have such completely divergent world views. He and my former mathematics teacher then proceeded to orgasm over each other’s conversion stories and how Jesus has saved them from their depravity. I let them have their little orgasmic bonding on my post, hoping that previous commenters would read what sounds to outsiders like ridiculous ranting and raving in order to solidify the points that I was trying to make. I won’t bore you all with the details of their stories, but suffice it to say theirs are typical tales of “I was a sinner and Jesus totally saved me glory hallelujah amen praise Jesus.” Evangelicals really have no idea how ridiculous their “testimonies” sound to those outside the system.

In any case, my husband and I were concerned that my brother would cut us off as we have feared, given my brother’s increasing zealotry. This particular interchange led me to realize that my brother is too far gone to have a rational discussion about religion, and I have determined not to bring it up to him anymore. If he wishes to persist in his beliefs, he will need to follow his own journey. My pointing out scientific and historical flaws in his beliefs has no impact on his desire for faith in ridiculous (and harmful) views. I commented a few days later on one of his few non-religious posts, and we had a nice banter back and forth, so he is not averse to banalities. I think he understands that my children and I are the only blood relatives with whom he has any type of relationship, and if he cuts us off, he will only have his wife’s family. They are definitely more Christian than we are, but even they do not seem to be participating in his hard-core fundamentalist zealotry. I don’t think he has any friends outside his Skype men’s prayer group.

In any case, I accomplished my goal of raising awareness about the abuses in fundamentalist Christian schools. And while I am not ready to be completely public about my atheism for fear of prompting my brother to sever ties, I will say that my name is Laura, and I #ExposeChristianSchools.

Please share your experiences with Christian schools in the comments. We would love to hear your stories.

Why and How I Started Christian Schools Part One

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As devout Evangelicals, Polly and I strongly believed in Christian education. Outside of our two oldest sons attending public schools for two years when they were young, our six children either attended church-operated Christian schools or were home schooled. Our youngest three children were home schooled from kindergarten through grade twelve. Our oldest two children attended Licking County Christian Academy (LCCA) in Heath, Ohio for two years, attended Somerset Baptist Academy in Mt. Perry, Ohio for five years, and then were home schooled through grade twelve. Our third son took a similar path, except that his stint at LCCA took place his senior year, the result of him trying to run away from home. LCCA was, and still is, owned and operated by the Newark Baptist Temple (NBT). Polly’s uncle, Jim Dennis, pastored NBT for almost fifty years. Polly taught third grade one year at LCCA in the early 1980s, and worked two years in the church’s daycare “ministry.” She was summarily fired after church leadership determined that all church employees had to be members of the church. At the time, Polly and I were members of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Buckeye Lake, Ohio, a church that I started with Polly’s father.

I recite the above historical sketch to impress on readers that I was a big proponent of Christian education, be it church schools or home schooling. In 1989, after having a falling-out with Polly’s preacher uncle, I started a church-operated Christian school in southeast Ohio. I served as the administrator of this school until March 1994, at which time I packed up my family and moved them to San Antonio, Texas, so I could become the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church. While at Community, I started Community Baptist Academy in Elmendorf, Texas. Once the school was up and running, I moved on to other duties. The school had 55 students its first year. I left the church later that year (Please see the series, I Am a Publican and a Heathen.) The church later shuttered the school.

Ohio and Texas were similar when it came to regulations governing church schools. Simply put, there were no rules outside of fire and safety requirements. When I say NO rules, that’s what I mean – no curriculum or teacher requirements. Both states minimally regulated home education, but when it came to controlling schools owned and operated by churches, it was hands-off. In Ohio, schools such as Somerset Baptist Academy were called non-chartered nonpublic schools — institutions that objected to state oversight for religious reasons. Many Ohio parochial schools, however, were considered chartered nonpublic schools. Such school:

. . .holds a valid charter issued by the state board of education and maintains compliance with the Operating Standards for Ohio’s Schools. These schools are not supported by local or state tax dollars and require the family to pay tuition. Chartered Nonpublic schools are eligible for the Administrative Cost Reimbursement Program, Auxiliary Services Program and Transportation services for students.

As an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastor and later as a Calvinistic Baptist pastor, I vehemently opposed public education. In southeast Ohio, I was well known for letters to the editors of local newspapers I wrote decrying the damage “government schools” were causing to American children. I saw public schools as tools of Satan, little more than places where children were indoctrinated in socialistic, humanistic, atheistic, liberal, anti-American ways of thinking. I publicly went after school superintendents and teachers, the former for refusing to give Christianity its rightful place in their schools, and the latter for refusing to teach creationism and Christian-centric curriculum.

When I started Somerset Baptist Academy in 1989, the superintendent of Northern Local School District gave me old desks for our school. He was a gracious man, but I wondered at the time if he was actually quite glad I started a school, and the desks were a parting gift. I am sure he was tired of my visits and letters, thinking that my starting a school would put an end to the attacks. It didn’t. There were parents in the church who refused to put their children in the church’s school. This irritated me, but I still felt a pastoral duty towards them, so I continued to monitor and publicly harass public school officials when it was warranted (from my narrow uber-Fundamentalist point of view). I remain surprised that these families, for a time, stayed on as members. I routinely preached against public education and teachers’ unions, and argued that parents were commanded by God to raise their children up in a Christian environment — complete with proof texts such as Proverbs 22:6Deuteronomy 6:6,7, and 2 Timothy 3:14,15. There were even two public school teachers who attended the church for a while. For the life of me, I don’t know how they weathered my frequent and brutal assaults on their livelihood. Eventually, everyone who saw things differently moved on, leaving me with a congregation committed to my singular vision of Christian education.

As I ponder my past, I can see how hatred and mistrust of government fueled my desire to educate my own children and those of the people I pastored in distinctly Christian schools — institutions that were anti-government and totally separate from the “world.”  My worldview, at the time, was anti-cultural, not counter-cultural. I was closer, thinking-wise, to the Amish or Mennonites. In my mind, the world was “evil” and I was duty bound to be separate from the world and protect my children and those who attended the churches I pastored from Satan and his wicked emissaries. The Christian school, then, was a way to limit the influence of the “world.” As I will share in a future post, try as I might to shield students from the “world,” kids were kids and they found ways to drink in the culture of the day.

As I think back over my motives for starting two schools and sending my own children to Christian schools and homeschooling them, I have concluded that I sincerely wanted what was best for my four sons and two daughters and for the children of the families who attended the churches I pastored. I believed, at the time, that immersing children in a Christian environment and sheltering them from the “world” was the best way to protect them from sin and prepare them for adulthood. I now know that such thinking is not only naïve, it harms children and cripples them as adults. Later in my pastoral career, I realized this and made sure that my children were exposed to the world. Yes, we continued to home school, but we did so for pragmatic reasons — mainly continuity due to our frequent moves. If Polly and I had it to do all over again, we would send our children to public schools, especially now that Ohio allows open enrollment. All of our school-age grandchildren (ten) attend local public schools (Defiance City SchoolsNortheastern Local Schools, and Stryker Local Schools). Their schools and teachers aren’t perfect, but on the whole, we are pleased with the education they are receiving.

As I age — I will draw my first social security check in June — I lament past actions. I have spent countless hours in counseling lamenting choices made because I thought God wanted me to do something. I hurt a lot people trying to “help” them. That said, on balance, our children and those who attended the schools I started did well educationally. The reasons for this are many. I will share those reasons in my next post.

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.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Why and How I Started Christian Schools — Part Two

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Why and How I Started Christian Schools Part One

In August 1989, Somerset Baptist Academy (SBA) — a ministry of Somerset Baptist Church, Mt. Perry, Ohio — opened its doors to fifteen students. SBA was a tuition-free kindergarten-through-grade-twelve, non-chartered private school. SBA did not accept students from outside the church. Parents were required to:

  • Pay an annual book fee
  • Agree with SBA’s policies and code of conduct
  • Agree with SBA’s use of corporal punishment
  • Regularly attend church
  • Regularly tithe and give offerings

The day-to-day operation of SBA fell to me as the pastor of Somerset Baptist Church. My wife, Polly, taught the younger children, along with teaching the older students English, spelling, and writing. Several church members helped teach subjects such as history and shop. I taught the math, science, history, computer, and Bible classes for the older students. Physical education consisted of playing games outside and taking hikes. Former students have fond memories of playing kickball in the church’s gravel parking lot.

Our mobile home was parked fifty feet away from the school/church. A dear older woman in our church cared for our younger children while Polly and I taught our respective classes. Polly was eight months pregnant when SBA opened its doors. She would give birth to our first daughter in September 1989, our second daughter in 1991, and our fourth son in 1993. That’s right, Polly had three babies during the five years SBA was open. Both of us got up early, stayed up late, and spent years “living” on 5-6 hours of sleep a night. Add my pastoral duties to the mix, and Polly and I worked non-stop seven days a week. We worked this way because we sincerely believed God wanted us to train the church’s children in the ways of God. It was our duty to prepare the next generation for service.

SBA was a one room school. All the students met in a large basement room. The room was outfitted with desks given to us by the local school district, a teacher’s desk, and a large chalkboard. In another room, students had cubbyholes to keep their books and hooks on which to hang their coats. There was no kitchen to speak of, so students were expected to pack their lunches. In the winter, the building was heated with wood and coal. Older students were expected to help stoke the wood stove and, if necessary split wood. The highlight of the one school year was when the well-casing wood stove vent pipe plugged up and filled the building with dense smoke. It took us two days to clean the building and make it ready for the students to return. (For you not familiar with well casing, it is the steel pipe used in drilling oil/gas wells. There were a lot of such wells in the area, so one member found a long section of pipe and adapted it for use with the school’s wood stove.)

Of the fifteen students, only three had previously attended a Christian school — my two oldest sons and one church girl. The other twelve had been public school students. All of the students came from poor working-class families. (The highest paid man in the church made $21,000 a year as a certified GM auto mechanic. None of the women, save one, worked outside of the home.)  Many of them had previously not done well in school. Using a one room school approach allowed us to teach students at their academic levels, and not their age/grade levels. For example, I taught math. All of the students were required to take timed mathematics facts tests. Students hated these tests, but they knew the only way out of them was to pass them in the time allowed. There were several high school students who had third grade math proficiency. They had a hard time with these tests. I didn’t cut these students any slack, expecting them to master the addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division tables.

To this day, I believe that our one room school approach helped students who were struggling in various academic areas. This approach allowed us to give them one-on-one attention. I determined at the start that SBA would focus on the basics: reading, writing, spelling, English, and arithmetic. My belief, then, and today: teach a child to read and he or she can master anything. According to what former students have told us, we succeeded on this front. Polly, in particular, was mentioned as the one person who helped them the most when it came to reading. She was, and remains, a gem!

The first school year, I decided we would go old-school and use McGufffey Readers for grades 1-6. Dumb idea. Students struggled with the arcane language and illustrations. Older students used Mennonite textbooks published by Rod & Staff. For several single student classes, SBA used self-directed study programs. After the first year, we did away with the McGuffey Readers and started using Rod & Staff materials throughout the school. I taught the older students an introduction to computers. This was a hands-on class. In this regard, we were ahead of what local public school students were taught about computers.

Annually, students took the Iowa or Stanford achievement tests. I believed the tests would provide evidence for student progress. Year to year, every student improved, so whatever SBA’s shortcomings were, students were getting a good education. Good, with respect to the things we taught them. Students received a narrow, religiously-defined education, so there were holes in their educations when compared to public school programs. This was especially true when it came to higher math and science.

Religion, of course, was central to the life of SBA. Students were required to memorize passages from the King James Bible, The Westminster Confession of Faith, and the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith. School days were opened with prayer, though readers might be surprised to learn that students did not recite the Pledge of Allegiance. I was opposed to such recitations because I believed our allegiance belonged to God alone, and not the State. While a large U.S. flag hung on the wall in back of the church’s platform, a pledge to that flag was never uttered in the eleven years I was pastor.

As a non-chartered private religious school, SBA was exempt from state regulation. Local schools were required to give us the records of students enrolled at SBA. Outside of this, SBA had no contact with state or local officials. SBA did, however, run into a problem with the EPA. One day, an EPA investigator showed up and told me that since there was a school operating at the church, its water supply would be designated as a public water supply. We had to drill a new well ($2,000, paid by Polly’s parents), and submit water test reports every three months. One time, I thought the testing bottle had some contamination, so I washed it out with rubbing alcohol. Guess what happened next? Yeah, stupid move, Bruce. After submitting our next sample, the EPA notified us that we had a contaminant in our water supply. I explained what happened — silly, stupid me — but the EPA still required us to publish a notice in the local newspaper saying that our water system had failed its latest test and the steps we were taking to remedy that problem.

In my final post, I want to talk about how we handled discipline and what became of the children educated at Somerset Baptist Academy.

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.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.