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Short Stories: 1983: Smelly Carpet, Sprite, Psycho Bruce, and a Christmas Tree

christmas tree new lexington 1985
Christmas tree at another New Lexington house, 1984

In July 1983, I planted a new church in Somerset Ohio. I would, for the next eleven years, pastor Somerset Baptist Church, starting in a storefront and later holding services in a 150-year-old brick church building purchased from the Methodist Conference. I would learn a lot about myself during the time I spent pastoring this church For a few years, the church experienced rapid numerical growth (reaching 200 in attendance), leading to scores of professions of faith. And then, just as quickly, the church numerically receded, returning to a typical country church of fifty or so people. I could spend months writing about my experiences as pastor of this church, but for now, I want to focus on a house we lived in on Water Street in New Lexington, Ohio.

When I started the church, we lived in Buckeye Lake, twenty-five miles north and west of Somerset. Wanting to live in the area where I would be ministering, we sought out housing in Somerset. Unable to find housing, we rented a house in New Lexington — a community built on a hill nine miles south of Somerset. After moving into the home, we noticed the carpets had a smell. The longer we lived there the worse the smells became. I mentioned this to the owner. He said the previous tenants had animals and that’s why the carpet smelled. Determining that we were likely going to move if he didn’t do something about the smell, the owner had the carpets replaced in the living room and main bedroom. Despite the carpet replacement, the house still had a faint smell of animal urine. I suspect the urine had soaked into the wood floors underneath the carpet, and as anyone who has ever had to deal with such a problem knows, once this happens either the floors must be sanded and refinished or shellacked to seal in the odor. Six weeks later, we decided to move to a ramshackle farmhouse northeast of Somerset, near Glenford, Ohio.

There are several stories I would like to share from the few months we spent living on Water Street. I have always been a pop (soda) drinker. My drink of choice was/is Pepsi, but I would, from time to time, drink other brands such as Coke and Sprite. These were the days when pop came packaged as eight returnable 16-ounce glass bottles. Many of my fellow baby boomers have memories, I’m sure, of collecting pop bottles for money or using pop bottles for ashtrays or emergency urinals The returnable bottles were sent by grocery stores to bottlers who would sanitize the bottles and refill them with the proper soft drink. One day, I decided to drink a bottle of Sprite. I grabbed the bottle opener, popped the cap off the bottle, put it to my lips, and tipped the bottle so the sugary drink would flow. Suddenly, I felt something hit my teeth. I quickly stop drinking, and upon investigating I found a barrette with hair still attached in the bottle. Gagging, I quickly put the bottle down. To this day, I find it hard to drink Sprite. Irrational as it might be, all I can think of when I think about drinking a Sprite is that barrette with hair attached hitting me in the teeth.

As a young adult, I did a good bit of walking and talking in my sleep. My brother and sister have all sorts of stories about my sleepwalking escapades, including walking through the living room brushing my teeth. Not long after Polly and I were married, she awoke to find me standing in the corner of the bedroom urinating. Sound asleep, I thought I was in the bathroom. The sleepwalking continued into my later life. One night, while living in New Lexington, we had gone to bed, and as had been the custom for the past 43 years, Polly quickly fell asleep and I fitfully tossed and turned before finally drifting off into that night’s dream world. Several hours into the night, Polly awoke to find me crouched over her — eyes wide open. I was sound asleep, but Polly thought I was a psychopath fixing to kill her. After a few moments, I rolled over, while Polly was left shaking, fearing for her life. Both of us wondered if I would someday do something hurtful and not know that I did it. Fortunately, Polly and our six children survived. These days, the only sleepwalking I do is the wide-awake kind as I make one of my nightly trips to the bathroom or the kitchen. I still talk in my sleep from time to time. Polly no longer fears becoming the next day’s headline, though she does enjoy retelling what I said to her in one of my sleep-talking moments. I can, in her words, still be quite entertaining.

A few days after Thanksgiving, we decided to move from Water Street to our newly-rented house in Glenford. We had very few possessions, so we were able to do all the moving with a pickup truck. Having just put up our Christmas tree several days before, we decided to leave all the decorations on the tree as we moved it to its new location. I still remember how hilarious it was to see that Christmas tree sitting in the back of the pickup truck, fully decorated. As you might imagine, by the time we got to our new house, all the tinsel had blown off the tree, as had some of the glass bulbs. I know– the stupid stuff kids do, right? We put the tree back together, in preparation for what we still call to this day the Christmas from Hell. But that’s a story for another day.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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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Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Christmas Trees Are All About Jesus and Hanukkah Says Ainsley Earhardt

fox christmas tree
Maybe there is a God 🙂

Earlier this week, a “terrorist” set the Christmas tree in front of Fox News in New York on fire. The talking heads at Fox are outraged over this latest salvo in the fake “war on Christmas.”

It’s a tree that unites us, that brings us together. It is about the Christmas spirit, it is about the holiday season, it is about Jesus, it is about Hanukkah. It is about everything we stand for as a country and being able to worship the way you want to worship. It makes me so mad.

Ainsley Earhardt, Fox & Friends, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Fox News host says Christmas trees are about Jesus — and Hanukkah, December 8, 2021

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency explains:

Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Jewish temple several centuries before the birth of Jesus, and its main story is about a Jewish sect’s resistance to assimilating into the dominant religious culture. The two holidays, Christmas and Hanukkah, are coincidental in their midwinter timings, but in little else.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Secular Christmas is All About “Gay Pride” Says Fundamentalist Jeff Maples

christmas creche

Christmas is a Christian holiday, no matter how you look at it. Spare me the arguments that it has Pagan origins and actually borrows from other festivals and was only later Christianized as a holiday. [Yes. let’s ignore the historical facts about the holiday.] Let’s just be real; without Christ, there never would have been a Christmas. There never would have been an advent. There never would have been a reason to celebrate the birth of the savior of the world–the greatest gift to mankind from God the world has ever seen. Christmas is about Christ.

Despite that, Christmas has become overly commercialized and secularized. While even non-Christians in many parts of the world celebrate Christmas–for them, it’s just a fun holiday–they actually hate the fact that it has anything to do with Christ.[No, we don’t. For the Gerencser family, Christmas is all about family, food, and grandkids opening presents — and beer and fine spirits.] It’s why we’ve replaced phrases like “Merry Christmas” with “Happy Holidays” in retail stores and we see decorations of Santa, reindeer, and trees with generic ornaments on them rather than nativity scenes and Bible verses praising the one Holy Triune God who is here to save his people.

For decades, the secularists have wanted Christ out of Christmas, [This is a bald-faced lie.] and they’re largely accomplishing that and replacing him with the secular god of gay pride [ says a world-class homophobe]. Below is a gallery of some of the filth that these secularists are replacing Christ with. [Please go to Maples’ website to see pictures of the gay Christmas stuff he finds offensive.]

Jeff Maples, Reformation Charlotte, They’ve Successfully Taken Christ Out of Christmas and Replaced Him With Gay Pride, December 10, 2021

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Short Stories: 1976: My First Christmas with Polly

bruce polly gerencser midwestern baptist college 1977
Bruce Gerencser, Polly Shope 1977

In August of 1976, I packed my meager belongings into my dilapidated, rust-bucket of a car and moved two hours northeast to the Midwestern Baptist College dormitory. Midwestern, located in Pontiac, Michigan, was a small, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) college. I planned to study for the ministry. Well, that, and chase girls. I thought, at the time, that Midwestern would provide me an ample supply of Baptist girls to date. Playing the field, was my goal. However, “God” had different plans. By the end of September, I was in a serious relationship with a beautiful dark-haired preacher’s daughter named Polly. To say that I was smitten is a gross understatement. In February of 1977, we became engaged, and in July 1978, we tied the knot at the Newark Baptist Temple in Heath, Ohio.

Forty-five years ago, I met a young woman who altered the course of my life. How we got to where we are today requires a book-length telling, but for today, let me share with you the story of our first Christmas.

Polly’s family gathered for Christmas on Christmas Eve. On a snowy Christmas Eve afternoon, I left my mother’s home in Bryan, Ohio, and traveled four hours south to Newark, Ohio — the home of Polly’s parents and aunt and uncle. The family gathering that year was held at the home of Jim and Linda Dennis (both deceased). Jim, married to Polly’s mom’s younger sister, was the pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple — an IFB congregation. Both Jim and Polly’s father were graduates of Midwestern Baptist College.

Prior to the family gathering, a short, dutiful Christmas Eve service was held at the Baptist Temple. Jim, ever the jokester, pointed out to the congregation that his niece, Polly, had a guest with her. “They have a shirttail relationship. We just don’t know how long the shirttail is.” Polly and I were thoroughly embarrassed. No one in Polly’s family, at the time, thought our relationship would last. I was Polly’s first boyfriend, so her family thought I was just a fad that would quickly pass.

After church, we drove to the Dennis’ home. Polly’s mom had her sister and cousin ride with us, just in case we did something nefarious; you know like hold hands or kiss. We safely arrived to the Dennis’ home with our virginity intact.

Until my arrival in Newark, Polly and I had never kissed. That’s right, we had been dating for four months and had not yet kissed each other. The reason for this was simple. Midwestern banned, under threat of immediate expulsion, all physical contact between unmarried dating couples. Called the six-inch rule, this ban caused all sorts of psychological trauma for dating couples. You see, it is normal for couples to desire and have physical contact with each other. “Normal” at Midwestern, however, was determined by the Bible, sexually frustrated preachers, and arcane rules imported from Bob Jones University — the college where the founder of Midwestern, Tom Malone, received his ministerial training.

Getting caught touching a member of the opposite sex was a sure way to get yourself “campused” (grounded from all outside activities, including dating). Repeat offenders were “shipped” (expelled). Polly and I both received demerits for breaking the six-inch rule. Our sin? I played on the college basketball team (not a big feat — think intramural basketball). One day at practice, I slapped at a basketball, severely dislocating a finger. I went to the local ER and oh-so-painfully had the finger put back in place. It remains crooked to this day. I had to wear a finger splint for several weeks. Male students were required to wear ties to classes. The splint hindered my ability to tie my tie, so one morning I asked Polly to do it for me. Keep in mind we were standing in the middle of dorm common area when Polly tied my tie. If we had plans to break the six-inch rule, this would not have been the place we would have done so. Unfortunately, a couple sitting nearby turned us into the disciplinary committee. The next week, we appeared before the committee and were shamed for our licentious, immoral behavior. I suspect the only reason we weren’t punished more severely was because of who Polly’s uncle and father were (Jim Dennis was a college trustee at the time).

As you might imagine, by Christmas, our hormones were raging. We looked forward to getting away from the college and its rules so we could privately and intimately express our love to one another. College administrators warned unmarried students that the six-inch rule still applied while they were home for Christmas break. I thought, at the time, “yeah, right. Catch us if you can.”

Polly’s parents lived in an upstairs apartment on Union Street. I spent a total of twenty-four hours with Polly that first Christmas. Our first kiss came when Polly’s mom asked her to go to the apartment complex’s laundry room to do some laundry. Seeing an opportunity for some old-fashioned necking, I went along, and it was there we had our first kiss. We did a lot of laundry that day. 🙂

Come Christmas Day, it was time for me to go home. Polly begged her mom to let me stay one more day, but she refused. Polly’s mom would spend the next fifteen months doing all she could to destroy our relationship — including forbidding us to marry — which we ignored, telling her we were getting married with or without their blessing. Needless to say, she and I have had an on-and-off-contentious relationship for 45 years. Our relationship has improved in recent years. Polly’s dad died last year, but I suspect Mom will always believe “Polly could have done better.”

Many kisses would follow that first kiss on Christmas Eve, 1976. After our return to Midwestern after the break, Polly and I had a real problem on our hands. You see, we had crossed a physical line, and once that line was crossed there was no going back. We spent the next nineteen months breaking the six-inch rule, only double-dating with dorm couples who had the same “moral” standards we had. Summer breaks allowed us the freedom to act “normally,” but while classes were in session, we had to sneak around to just kiss one another. While we both were virgins on our wedding day, we both knew that if we waited much longer to get married, we would likely have given in to our passions. A week or so before our wedding, Polly’s mom let us go to The Dawes Arboretum south of Newark without a chaperone. We spent several hours enjoying one another’s embrace, coming oh-so-close to rounding third and sliding into home. As it was, Polly was on a strict curfew, and we were late. Boy, did we get a lecture when we arrived home. Here we were, 19 and 21, getting married in a matter of days, and we were being treated like children.

One memory about our first Christmas stands tall in my mind. Polly and I were sitting on the couch, close enough to touch one another, but not so close as to arouse her eagle-eye mom’s attention, watching a TV special starring Captain & Tennille. One of the songs they sang was their 1975 number one hit, “Love Will Keep Us Together.

Video Link

Forty-five years later, that song is still true. Love, indeed, has kept us together.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

The Tyranny of American Christmas

happy christmas

Guest post by Karuna Gal

The English Puritans of the seventeenth century, when they were in power, outlawed the celebration of Christmas.”What a bunch of killjoys they were!” I thought, when I first learned about this in history class. “Who would be so harsh and mean-spirited as to actually cancel Christmas?” Although I don’t share the Puritans’ Calvinist theology or politics, I feel like a latter-day Puritan when it comes to having to submit to the relentless tyranny of American Christmas, this unholy season whose real God is mammon.

American Christmas tyranny produces “existential dread” as Christopher Hitchens put it: having to deal with week after oppressive week of the Christmas season.

Video Link

There is pressure to buy and to consume as American capitalism, already on steroids, flexes its
overdeveloped muscles while wearing a Santa suit or an angel outfit. And you feel the pressure keenly, no matter what your religious stance is.

People watch Hallmark Christmas shows or old classic Christmas movies ad nauseum, and you can’t escape hearing Christmas music everywhere you go. When I was a little kid it was the height of bad taste to put your Christmas decorations up more than a week before Christmas Day. This year I saw that someone put their Christmas decorations up on the day after Halloween. (The Nightmare Before Christmas movie may be pointing out how the Christmas season seems to begin at Halloween now. I
wish Jack Skellington had taken over Christmas permanently — nobody would want the presents he brings. But then again he’s been co-opted by Disney, which sells Nightmare Before Christmas merchandise on their website.) And need I mention the insane number of Christmas light displays, sucking up enormous amounts of electricity, and all the waste produced by discarded packaging and wrapping?

When a close family member died years ago I did not put up a Christmas tree or decorate for Christmas after his death. I was surprised to discover that I was relieved to have a good excuse not to “do Christmas.” There were no more Christmas trees for me in the years that followed. I gave away all my tree ornaments and most of my Christmas decorations, keeping the Christmas decor at a minimum. Sure, I’d listen to Christmas music a bit and would be with the family on Christmas Day, but I kept away from the madness of getting and spending and rushing around that seemingly possessed everybody, even Christians. What I did seemed to be much more appropriately “Christian.”

One time, during the Christmas season, I went to the mall to buy a few boxes of candy. After I did, I thought it might be fun to sit on a bench and watch the Christmas shoppers. Were any of them enjoying themselves? Nope! I saw nothing but long faces and hurried walking. The only person who was smiling was the musician playing his electronic keyboard in front of Sears. With Christmas looming, and maybe being forced to spend money they didn’t have, no wonder the shoppers all looked so grumpy. So much for the joy of the season. My experience as a retail clerk during the Christmas season also was quite instructive in this regard. Some of the rudest and most unpleasant people I’ve ever encountered seemed to “come out of the woodwork” then, and make us retail clerks miserable.

Churches, charitable and religious organizations milk Christmas for money. I’d bet that the ministers and priests of all Christian denominations are watching the Christmas collections plate or basket closely, hoping for a good Yuletide haul. How interesting that churches and corporate America work in tandem to push Christmas as a way to bring their fiscal year to a satisfying and lucrative conclusion.

For a tonic to American Christmas tyranny, join the Reverend Billy and the Church of
Stop Shopping
for some pointed musical commentary about consumerism, and then put up a Festivus pole on December 23rd, raising a glass (or several) of spiked eggnog to the memory of those dour old Puritans, who maybe weren’t all wrong about Christmas excess.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Danger! Children Learning Santa Isn’t Real Might Lead Them to Think Jesus Isn’t Either

santa in the bible

Repost from 2015-2016. Edited, updated, and corrected.

James Bachman, former pastor of Roanoke Baptist Church in nearby Roanoke, Indiana and author of the Parson to Person column in the West Bend News, took to his column (no link available) to discourage parents from allowing their children to believe in Santa Claus. According to Bachman, allowing children to believe in Santa Claus, only to find out later that Santa isn’t real — say it ain’t so, Moe! — might lead children to question whether what they have been told about Jesus is true.

Here’s what NO-FUN-da-mentalist Bachman had to say:

My little daughter hears her friend excitedly talk about Santa Claus. Should I tell her he doesn’t exist or just wait and let her find out?

Santa does exist as a mythical, pretend character. Your daughter needs to understand the truth from her parents now. Otherwise, when she discovers the truth, she may wonder if you have been truthful about other things, including Jesus.

Children and youth especially are attracted to supernatural characters who know all things, are immortal and can give them what they want.

Why not rather tell her of the real person of Jesus Christ, who has all power — “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” (Matthew 28:18) He created all things — “For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:” (Colossians 1:16) He understands even our feelings — “For we have not a high priest which cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15) He promises to help with all our needs — “Let us come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16) And he showed us the greatest love possible — “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

Compared to the real Christ of Christmas, the pretend Santa is a complete fraud. Christ wants to be to us every day much more than children want Santa to be at Christmas.

Why not allow children to enjoy the Christmas season, including believing the Santa myth? No child has ever been harmed by believing in Santa, a claim that cannot be made for the Jesus myth. Bachman’s anti-Santa column is a reminder of the fact that Christian Fundamentalists take the FUN out of everything. Several years ago, I attended my granddaughter’s high school basketball game. I wore a white shirt, red suspenders, a red jacket, and a Santa hat. I play the part because I enjoy doing so. I know I am a dead ringer for the REAL Santa — yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus — with my ruddy complexion, portly build, and full white beard. Before and during the game, I had numerous adults, teenagers, and children come up to me and address me as Santa. I had a lot of fun, as did those around me. And yes, a handful of children wondered if I was the real Santa. I replied, maybe.

Pastor Scrooge can’t bear to hear of children believing in Santa. He would rather children be taught about Jesus and his blood cult. No candy canes or presents, dear children. You must learn the truth; that you are a vile, wretched, sinful urchin who is headed for eternal torture in the Lake of Fire unless you tell Jesus you are really, really, really sorry for disobeying mommy and daddy and ask him to come into your heart and save you from the behaviors Pastor Bachman says are sins.

Children believing Santa is real is harmless fun. It’s too bad people like Bachman want to ruin Christmas for everyone. Bah! Humbug! I say to Santa-hater Bachman. May his stocking be filled with coal.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Short Stories: The Church Christmas Tree

somerset baptist church 1989

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

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

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

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

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

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

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Short Stories: 1978: Our First Christmas

bruce and polly gerencser 1978
Bruce and Polly Gerencser, in front of first apartment in Pontiac, Michigan, Fall 1978 with Polly’s Grandfather and Parents

Repost from 2015-2016. Edited, updated, and corrected.

On a hot summer day in July of 1978, a young, naïve couple recited their wedding vows, and with a kiss for luck, they were on their way. Little did they understand that they really didn’t know each other as well as they thought they did. Young love, also known as mutual infatuation, will do that, obscuring flaws in your one and only.

Polly and I were college freshmen at Midwestern Baptist College when we started dating in September 1976. Five months later, with a 1/4 carat, $225 engagement ring in hand from Sears and Roebuck, I asked Polly to marry me. She enthusiastically said yes. Polly was 18 and I was 19.

We had grand plans: 3 kids, a house with a white picket fence, and a lifelong pastorate in a nice, quiet rural community. As with all such fantasies, reality proved to be quite different from what we expected. It didn’t take long for each of us to see that being married to the other was not quite what we expected.

Several months before our July wedding, we rented an upstairs apartment on Premont Avenue in Waterford Township (Pontiac) Michigan. Our apartment had four rooms: a living room, bathroom, bedroom and kitchen. The walls were freshly painted. The living room floor had recently been covered with green and white shag carpeting. (I would later come home from school to find a discolored, brown stain on the carpet. Polly had spilled her tea and used bleach to remove the spot.)

After classes ended in May, Polly went home to prepare for our wedding and I moved into the apartment. I worked at a nearby grocery store, Felice’s Market. Knowing that I needed to make extra money so I could furnish our apartment, one of the Felice brothers asked me if I was willing to repaint the store’s roof with aluminum reflective tar. I said yes, and earned $200 for my efforts.

One day, while out and about with college friend Wendell Uhl, I stopped at a yard sale that had a bunch of furniture for sale. I made them a $150 offer for all the furniture, an offer they quickly accepted. Upon returning home from our honeymoon, Polly was quite surprised to see all the “wonderful” furniture that I had purchased to furnish our apartment. After a few months of marriage, we bought a love seat from Kay’s Furniture to replace the piece-of-junk futon I had purchased at the yard sale. The love seat, along with a new double bed we bought from J.L. Hudson’s, would be the last new furniture we would own for the next 20 years.

After our wedding, we had about six weeks before classes started up again. We settled in as newlyweds to a wonderful life of wedded bliss. Little did we know how quickly life would throw us a curve.

During the first week of fall classes, we found out that Polly was pregnant. We had everything planned out, yet, at the time, it seemed God had a different plan for us. We now know that the ineffective form of birth control we were using did not do its job. Polly was quite sick from the pregnancy, which forced her to reduce her class load. By Christmas, Polly was four months pregnant. Her expanding belly advertised to family and friends that little Jason or Bethany was on his/her way.

We planned to go to Polly’s parent’s home for Christmas Eve, then get up early the next morning and drive to my mom’s home in Rochester, Indiana. At the time, we were driving an old beater, one of many such cars we would own over the years. After spending Christmas Eve with Polly’s family, the next day we borrowed Polly’s parents’ car, a Plymouth Arrow, to make the trip to Rochester to see my mom. We returned later that night.

Even though we spent Christmas with family, we still wanted to have our very own Christmas tree. We had some Christmas decorations that our moms had given us, and these, along with a few new decorations we had purchased from a nearby department store, would be enough ornamentation for our tree.

We decided to buy our tree from the nearby Boy Scout tree lot. After we purchased what we thought was the perfect tree, we put it in the back of our green Ford station wagon and drove home. Once there, I dragged the tree up the long flight of stairs to our apartment. I then put the tree in the recently-purchased $2 tree stand, tightened the screws, and let go of it so I could admire my handiwork. The tree proceeded to fall over. No matter what I did, the tree would not stand upright.

The more I tried to get our perfect tree to sit aright, the angrier I got. For the first time, Polly saw how angry I could get. My legendary redheaded temper was on full display. I finally reached a breaking point. I opened the upstairs window, and much to Polly’s surprise, I threw the Christmas tree out. It landed with a thud in the front yard.

After I cooled down, we went out and bought another tree. And, as with the previous tree, I couldn’t get this one to stand up straight. As I look back on the tree debacle, I suspect the problem was the cheap, undersized tree stand. My answer on that day for the falling tree was simple: I nailed the tree stand to the floor.

And THAT was our first Christmas.

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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