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Tag: Licking County Christian Academy

The Day My Wife was Sued for $2.6 Million

newark baptist temple heath ohio

My wife taught one year of third grade at Licking County Christian Academy in Newark, Ohio — 1980-1981. The unaccredited school was operated by the Newark Baptist Temple — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist congregation pastored by Polly’s uncle, the late James (Jim) Dennis. (Please see The Family Patriarch is Dead: My Life With James Dennis.)

As Polly will admit, she was grossly unprepared and unqualified to teach school, but LCCA needed a teacher and we needed the money, so Polly dutifully tried to manage a class of third graders.

After Polly left LCCA, we helped her father start an IFB church in Buckeye Lake, Ohio. In the spring of 1983, Polly learned that a student of hers, Eddie Linders was alleging that he had suffered serious physical injuries after being beaten up by fellow student, Stan Toomey. Linders’ parents sued LCCA, the Baptist Temple, Toomey’s parents, and Polly — as the boys’ teacher.

The 1983 lawsuit was dismissed. I was unable to find any news report on the original suit. The lawsuit was refiled in 1985.

The Newark Advocate reported on April 5, 1985 (behind paywall):

Lawsuit seeks $2.6 Million in Damages

A former Licking Countian has filed a $2.6 million suit in Common Pleas Court, seeking damages from the family of a boy she claims beat her son several times during April and May of 1981. Patricia Nelson, of Brooksville. Fla., filed suit Thursday on behalf of her 14-year-old son, Edwin. Ms. Nelson alleges Stan Toomey of Alexandria beat her son up while they were both students of the Licking County Christian Academy, run by the Newark Baptist Temple. She filed an earlier version of the suit in 1983, but it was dismissed March 15 of this year. Ms. Nelson seeks $1.6 million in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive, damages from the Toomey youth and his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Earl Toomey, of 4472 Lobdell Road, Alexandria, and Polly Gerencser, of the Emanuel Baptist Church, Buckeye Lake. Ms. Gerencser was a teacher at the school at the time of the alleged incidents and should have controlled Toomey’s behavior, Ms. Nelson said. She also seeks to hold his parents responsible While Thursday’s suit does not enumerate Linders’ injuries, the first claim said he suffered from dislocation of the vertebra, swollen legs, bruises and head injuries. Ms. Nelson seeks a jury trial.

This suit was also tossed out of court. According to Polly, she wasn’t even in the classroom when the alleged assaults occurred, and best she can remember, all the Toomey boy had was a bloody nose. Besides being sued for $2.6 million, what was most irritating about this lawsuit was the fact that Pastor Dennis — remember, he’s Polly’s uncle — didn’t bother to tell us about the suit. We read about it in the newspaper. Needless to say, we weren’t happy.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

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IFB Standards for Staff and Church Workers

ifb

Many Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches have what are commonly called staff or worker standards. These rules strictly regulate what church staff and church workers wear, how they look, and how they behave. Some churches even require staff members and workers to sign their names to these rules, thus signifying an agreement between them and the church. Not abiding by these rules usually results in loss of employment or loss of ministry opportunities. All too often the offender is labeled rebellious or a backslider and run out of the church.

In the fall of 1979, I resigned from Montpelier Baptist Church in rural northwest Ohio and moved to the central Ohio community of Newark with my wife and newborn child. Polly’s maternal uncle, the late James (Jim) Dennis, pastored the Newark Baptist Temple — a hardcore IFB institution. Polly’s father, Lee, was the church’s assistant pastor. We planned to join the Baptist Temple and serve the Lord there while waiting on God to direct us to our next ministry opportunity. (Please see The Family Patriarch is Dead: My Life With James Dennis.)

The church needed someone to oversee its bus ministry (unpaid). I thought, at the time, that doing this would be a perfect opportunity to put my Bible college training and skills to work. Instead, Pastor Dennis told me that he couldn’t give the position to me because it would like he was playing favorites with family. Later behavior would suggest that his real problem was with me personally. Numerous other family members would work for the Baptist Temple, just not Bruce Gerencser. This initial bit of conflict between us led to four decades of what can best be described as an adversarial relationship. I suspect that the root of the problem traces back to the fact that Pastor Dennis did not want Polly to marry me, and neither did Jim’s wife nor Polly’s mother. Yet, here we are, 42 years later.

Granted, I was a contrarian, not afraid to speak my mind. This put me in the doghouse more than a few times. Let me give you a couple of examples related to church staff and church worker standards. I taught Sunday School, drove a bus on Sunday, and helped do mechanical work on the busses during the week. Polly worked in the nursery, sang in the choir, and worked for the church’s non-licensed daycare. She later taught one year of third grade for the church’s non-accredited school, Licking County Christian Academy. At the time, I was a general manager for Arthur Treacher’s in Reynoldsburg, and later part of a new store management team that opened stores for Long John Silver’s in Zanesville, Heath, and Westerville

As workers at the Baptist Temple, we were required annually to read and sign the church’s standards. Polly quickly signed, but I refused to do so. I thought then, and still do, that it was manipulative (and stupid) to demand people sign the standards; that the only person I was accountable to was God. My “rebellion,” of course, caused quite a stir in the church. “Poor Polly,” people thought. “Bruce needs to get right with God!” The real issue wasn’t my “heart,” as much as it was my refusal to play by Pastor Dennis’ rules.

Pastor Dennis’ church standard regulated everything from length of hair, facial hair, what women and men could wear clothing-wise, and what entertainments people could participate in. The spouses and children of staff and church workers were expected to obey these rules too.

Refusing to sign caused a huge rift between Pastor Dennis and me, one that never healed. Because I refused to sign, I was removed as a Sunday School teacher. Ironically, I was still allowed to drive busses and repair them during the week. Nothing changed for Polly. I suspect this was due to the fact that Polly was so quiet and passive, and I was so outgoing and outspoken, that people saw me as Polly’s overlord Polly as a wife who dutifully followed her husband’s edicts. To this day, some family members refuse to see that Polly has come into her own; that the only “boss” in her life is herself. Some ill-informed Evangelical family and friends think that Polly is an unbeliever only because I am; that once I die, she will come running back to Jesus and the IFB church movement. Boy, are they in for a big surprise.

During our time in Newark, I played recreational basketball at least three times a week. During the winter, I would play basketball at the YMCA or join other church men for games at local school gymnasiums. During the summer, I would, after work, join my fellow manager, Neal Ball, at local playgrounds for pick-up basketball games (I also played softball). One day, I drove over to the Baptist Temple to pick Polly up from work. She was working for the church’s daycare, Temple Tots, at the time. I was wearing gym shorts — remember the short shorts of that era — a ratty tee-shirt, white socks, and Converse tennis shoes. As I walked into the church building, Pastor Dennis saw me. Like a bull charging a red cape, Jim came towards me, letting me know that I couldn’t enter the building dressed as I was. He was livid, and so was I. How dare he respond to me like this. I was just there to pick up my wife. He stomped off, as did I. He later let Polly know that I was not allowed to enter the building again unless I was dressed properly.

One night, we were at Polly’s parents’ home when Pastor Dennis stopped over for some reason. Polly’s dad was still the church’s assistant pastor, though they had cut his pay and forced him to work a factory job to make ends meet. (The Baptist Temple was notorious for paying poor wages, including paying married women less than men.) Polly’s sister was living at home at the time. She worked for a nearby nursing home. Kathy, dressed for work, came down the stairs while Pastor Dennis was standing at the front door. He looked up, and much to his horror, saw that Kathy was wearing pants! OMG, right? The good pastor quickly became angry, and with a loud voice lectured Kathy and her mom and dad over the evils of women wearing pants, and that Kathy, as the daughter of the church’s assistant pastor, was required to obey the church’s standard. According to Jim, this was to be the first and last time Kathy wore pants. It wasn’t.

The standards haven’t changed much at the Newark Baptist Temple. Men can now have hair that is a bit longer and are permitted to have facial hair, but the dress standard for staff and church workers remains as rigid and legalistic as ever.

While the Baptist Temple seems extreme to the uninitiated, such rules are not uncommon in IFB churches and colleges. The standards at the Baptist Temple were similar to the rules at the IFB college Polly and I attended — Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Pastor Dennis was a 1960s graduate of Midwestern and was later given an honorary doctorate by the college. It should come as no surprise that his rigid legalism matched that of Tom Malone and his alma mater. Polly’s father was also a Midwestern alum.

Yesterday, someone posted the male platform standard for the North Platte Baptist Church in North Platte, Nebraska. The church is pastored by William Reeves. (Three of six church staff positions are held by Reeves’ children — nepotism at its best.) I have written about Reeves and his church before:

If a man wants to be on the platform — the dog and pony show stage — at North Platte Baptist, he is required to dress and look a certain way:

platform standard north platte baptist church

I don’t know the context of the Twitter exchange between pastors William Reeves and Andrew Sluder — pastor of Bible Baptist Church in Asheville, North Carolina. Both men are arrogant, self-righteous pastors who are proud that their IFB dicks are bigger than those of other preachers. What I want to bring attention to is not dick size, but the requirements at North Platte Baptist for any man appearing on the church’s stage.

All men must:

  • wear a suit, a tie, and a white shirt
  • wear polished, clean dress shoes
  • be clean-shaven

Men are not permitted to wear necklaces or bracelets, nor are they to have a beard or mustache of any kind.

Sound crazy or bizarre? Trust me, in the IFB church movement, such standards are quite common.

Keep in mind that these are Pastor Reeves’ rules. He is the CEO, king, and potentate of North Platte Baptist. His word is the law, and those who refuse to play by his rules aren’t welcome.

charles spurgeon

I find it interesting that the church’s platform standard says that men who have facial hair are not trustworthy and lacking in personal character. Wow! I wonder if they realize that Jesus, the apostles, and the Apostle Paul all likely had facial hair, and that some of the preachers revered by IFB pastors, say Charles Spurgeon, had facial hair. Even God has a beard. I have seen his picture.

And here’s the thing, North Platte Baptist and other IFB churches have lots and lots of rules and regulations governing congregant/staff dress, appearance, and behavior. Rarely are these standards made known to new attendees. Better to hook them first with fake “love and kindness” before letting unwary attendees know, as Paul Harvey would say, “the rest of the story.”

Did you attend an IFB church? Did the church have specific requirements for staff and workers? Did the church have a platform standard? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

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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.

The Green Station Wagon

beater station wagon
$200 beater. Polly HATED this car.

In July of 1983, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist preacher Bruce Gerenser, his wife, Polly, and their two young boys, aged four and two, moved from Buckeye Lake, Ohio to Somerset to start of new IFB church. I would remain pastor of Somerset Baptist Church until we moved to San Antonio, Texas in March 1994 so I could become the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf. 

Over the course of the eleven years I spent pastoring Somerset Baptist, we owned all sorts of automobiles — most of them cheap beaters or cars given to us by congregants. Every one of these cars has a story to tell. (Please see I Did It For You Jesus — Crank Windows and Vinyl Floor Mats.) One such car is the green Ford station wagon in the picture featured above.

John Nelson, a congregant who lived down the hill from the church with his wife and four sons (who later would attend our Christian academy), was what you would call a “wheeler and dealer.” John has been running a perpetual yard sale for decades. His father owned a junkyard in nearby Saltillo. Over the years, I bought or traded for cars from John. One such car was the green wagon. If I remember right, I traded John a Chevy Caprice I had purchased from another church family for the station wagon. Out of the 50+ cars I/we have owned over the years, Polly hated this car the most. I mean really, really, really hated the car. And my three oldest sons hated the car too. Let me explain.

The station wagon was a huge car — common of the “boats” manufactured in the 1970s. Personally, I loved big cars — the bigger the better. Polly, however, did not. Not that what she liked or disliked mattered. I was officially in charge of all things auto related — from purchases to repairs to sales. Polly oh-so-fondly remembers days when I left the house with one car, only to return home later that day with a different one. She never, ever said a word, but I have to think that she more than once thought the Baptist equivalent of “what the fuck” when I drove up with a new rolling wreck.

As you can see from the photo, the station wagon had an ugly green paint job. The car had been repainted by a previous owner, by hand. Its paint really made the car stand out in a parking lot, much to the embarrassment of my family. 

Typically, I looked at prospective automobiles from one of two perspectives: looks and mechanical soundness. This car looked awful, but it was mechanically sound. I drove it all over southeast Ohio (and West Virginia on road trips) until I got bored with the car and traded it for something different.

Polly hated taking the car anywhere. She thought, at the time, that the station wagon was a rolling advertisement for our poverty; not the kind of car a preacher’s wife should be forced to drive. Ever the trooper, she said nothing. 

While Polly disliked driving the car, it was my sons who couldn’t stand the sight of the station wagon. At the time, our two oldest sons were enrolled at Licking County Christian Academy in Heath, Ohio. A ministry of the Newark Baptist Temple — an IFB church pastored by the late Jim Dennis, Polly uncle — LCCA was a non-accredited school populated primarily with children from middle class and affluent Christian families. The Gerencser children were among the poorest students to attend the school. 

LCCA was thirty miles from our home. A Bible church near our home, Maranatha Bible Church, then pastored by Bob Shaw, bussed children to LCCA every day, but my request to let our children ride the bus was denied. I suspected then, and still do today, that the church and its pastor didn’t want our poor munchkins intermingling with theirs. So, we dutifully drove 60 miles a day to Heath to drop off and pick up our children from school. Later, a girl in our church started attended LCCA. We would take children to LCCA in the morning, and her father would pick them up after school on his way home from work. He, too, drove a junker. 

My sons have told me that they were embarrassed to see me pull up in the school parking lot driving the green station wagon. Other parents drove new or late model automobiles. Not their preacher dad. Character building? Perhaps. I know this much. Neither of them drives their children to and from school with autos that look anything like the station wagon. Not going to happen. And these days, we drive a 2020 Ford Edge. No clunkers to be found in our driveway. If I came home with such a car today, why I suspect the top of my head would be sporting an indentation left from a Lodge cast iron skillet. Polly is definitely no longer passive when it comes to making car-buying decisions.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

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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.

Baptist Shorts — Culottes

polly gerencser late 1990s
Polly Gerencser, late 1990s, carrying water from the creek to flush the toilets. An ice storm had knocked out the power. Oh, the clothing! But she was and remains one beautiful woman.

Many Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers spend an inordinate amount of time instructing congregants about what clothing is acceptable to God. This is especially true when it comes to the clothing of girls and women. Last week, I posted a quote by Gerald Collingsworth, pastor of Heritage Baptist Church in Mogadore, Ohio, that stated in no uncertain terms that girls wearing “immodest” clothing can and do cause male family members to sexually assault (commit incest with) them. Consider the following graphics from an article written by IFB zealot Daphne Kirkland titled, A Return to Biblical Modesty.

modesty check

dressing modestly

Girls and women are not permitted to wear anything that draws attention to their feminine shape. The goal is to keep weak, pathetic church boys and men from getting boners while in their presence. Girls and women are viewed as gatekeepers, and it is up to them to dress and act in ways that extinguish sinful unmarried sexual want, need, or desire. The goal is no sticky underwear before marriage.

One universally banned item of clothing is shorts. Usually, attention is only paid to what girls and women wear, but I remember a spring day when I was playing pick-up basketball after work and came to get Polly from the Newark Baptist Temple after I was finished. I was wearing a T-shirt, gym shorts, tube socks, and Converse basketball shoes. I went into the church building to let Polly knowing that I had arrived. As I neared her classroom, I ran into her uncle, the late James “Jim” Dennis. As soon as he saw me, he laid into me about my inappropriate dress. He sternly lectured me about wearing shorts, informing me that I was to never, ever again enter the Baptist Temple wearing such clothing. A year later, I witnessed Jim go ballistic at Polly’s parent’s home over her sister wearing slacks to work. She was a nurse’s aide at a nearby nursing home. Her dress was quite typical for people who worked at the home. Keep in mind, Polly’s sister was an adult. It mattered not. As Jim had done with me, he took my sister-in-law to task IFB- preacher-style, telling her that wearing slacks was a sin. Sound almost beyond belief? Yep, but it’s the truth, nonetheless.

polly pontiac michigan 1977
Polly, 1977, Midwestern Baptist College, Pontiac, Michigan. Notice the shirt under the sundress?

As temperatures warm in Ohio, it’s natural to see girls and women wearing shorts. Many women find shorts cooler and more comfortable than pants. IFB congregants sweat just as much as the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world, so it stands to reason that Fundamentalist girls and women want to wear cooler, more comfortable clothing too. However, shorts are verboten. Some girls and women will wear sundresses. Polly wears sundresses to this day. Never one to wear shorts, she spends most summers wearing colorful sundresses. Because sundresses tend to show side boob and cleavage, IFB girls and women — Polly included, at the time — wear sleeved T-shirts underneath their dresses. I often find myself smiling when I see Polly wearing a sundress today — sans T-shirt. Damn girl, that’s some mighty fine cleavage. I know, I am so w-o-r-l-d-l-y. All praise be to Loki for breasts!

Many IFB preachers encouraged church girls and women to wear what is commonly called in the movement, Baptist shorts. Baptist shorts are culottes. Almost every IFB girl and woman has several pairs of these pastor-approved “shorts.” Usually, culottes are loose fitting, especially around the legs. Reaching to the knees, culottes are meant to be comfortable, “modest” clothing. That said, many IFB girls and women HATE wearing culottes. When worn in public, culottes are a blaring, flashing sign that says to the world, I’m a member of the IFB cult! The same goes for shoe-top length skirts or maxi dresses. Polly and I can spot IFB families (and homeschoolers) from a mile away. The “uniforms” and the hairstyles give away their religious identity. Of course, their preachers think this is wonderful. Christians are SUPPOSED to look different from the world, IFB preachers say, but why is it that it is only women who look different; that IFB boys and men look just like their counterparts in the world? That’s a rhetorical question, by the way.

As an IFB pastor, I held to the party line on Baptist shorts for many years — that is, until two events forced me to change my mind.

One late spring day, I drove up from Somerset, Ohio to the Newark Baptist Temple to talk to Pastor Dennis. Our oldest two children were attending the church school — Licking County Christian Academy — at the time. As I drove into the church’s main parking lot, I noticed four teen girls bent over pulling weeds out of the flower beds. These girls were cheerleaders. Typical of IFB schools at the time, the cheerleaders were not permitted to wear short skirts. Instead, the girls wore red culottes. What set them apart was the fact that their culottes were quite tight, so much so that I could have bounced a quarter off their backsides when they were bent over. I thought at the time, I thought culottes were supposed to be modest. These are NOT modest!

Several years later, we gathered up the teens from several churches and took them to Loudenville, Ohio for a canoe trip. The girls from my church begged me to let them wear pants, but being the stern pastor I was at the time, I said no. The trip was a blast. Most of the teenagers spent more time in the water than out. By the time teens debarked, they all looked like drowned rats. As was our custom, I gathered all the teens up and had them sit on the ground so I could preach at them. IFB Rule #6 — Thou shalt not have fun without spending time listening to a boring sermon. As the teens settled into their seats on the ground, I turned to speak to them and was astounded by what I saw. On the front row were a dozen or so Baptist-shorts-wearing girls. Legs splayed wide, I could see their underwear. Worse yet, an afternoon in the water made their T-shirts see-through. I quickly asked the girls to put their legs down and then I preached my sermon. I later told Polly that I no longer believed that baptist shorts were appropriate for outdoor events. From that moment forward, church teens and women were permitted to wear pants to such events. I know, I know, big deal, right? Remember the context, and where I was at that point in my life. Deciding to let girls and women wear pants in some circumstances was a monumental decision. As time went along, my views on clothing liberalized, so much so that I stopped preaching about the matter.

In the Gerencser home, change came slowly. Polly was in her 40s before she wore her first pair of pants. It had taken me months to convince her that she was not going to go to Hell if she wore them. Today, Polly is a confirmed member of the sisterhood of the traveling pants. Her Baptist shorts? She continued to wear them when working in the garden or painting. Once they wore out, they were pitched into the trash, never to be seen again.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 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.

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 One

exposechristianschools

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.

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Bruce, Were You Happy in the Ministry? Part Two

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

When I write posts like Leaving the Ministry: Dealing with Guilt and Regret, I am always concerned that someone might conclude that I was unhappy while I was in the ministry or that felt I was trapped in a job I didn’t want to be in.  Neither of these conclusions would be an accurate assessment of the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry.

If you have not done so, please read Bruce, Were You Happy in the Ministry? Part One.

In October 1979, Polly and I, along with our newborn son Jason, packed up our meager belongings and moved from Montpelier, Ohio to Newark, Ohio. Polly’s parents lived in Newark. Her father was the assistant pastor at the Newark Baptist Temple, an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church pastored by her uncle James Dennis. For a few months, until we could find a place to live, Polly and I lived with her parents. Our first home in Newark was a duplex several blocks from Polly’s parent’s home. Living in the other half of the duplex was an older couple who attended the Baptist Temple. Later, we would move to a two-story home across the street from Polly’s parents. We lived there until we moved to Buckeye Lake, Ohio in 1982.

Both Polly and I agree that our time spent living in Newark was one of the most difficult and challenging times we have ever faced in our thirty-nine years of marriage. Polly started working at Temple Tots — the unlicensed daycare “ministry” of the Baptist Temple. In the fall of 1980, Polly found herself pregnant with our second son, Nathaniel. By then, she had started teaching first grade at Licking County Christian Academy (LCCA) — an unlicensed, unaccredited school operated by the Baptist Temple. (Polly was paid less money because she was not the breadwinner.)

I busied myself working in the church’s bus ministry, hoping that Pastor Dennis would make me the director of the bus ministry. He did not, telling me that it wouldn’t be right for him to give a family member the job. (Numerous family members would later work for the Baptist Temple.) James Dennis and I spent the intervening years in a love-hate relationship, with major conflicts seemingly bubbling to the surface every few years. While Polly’s family puts the blame for this squarely on my shoulders, a fair accounting of our conflicts shows that both of us bear responsibility for our inability to see eye-to-eye. Our history is long, complex, and littered with buried secrets that, even at this late date, could prove to be embarrassing. Age and health problems have pummeled James Dennis and me into submission, leaving us without the strength and will to continue the war. This is for the best.

After working for the local cable company repairing push-button cable boxes and working at several factories, in early 1980, I accepted a managerial position with Arthur Treacher’s — a large fast-food seafood restaurant chain located in Columbus, Ohio. My starting pay was $144 a week, or about $423 a week in today’s dollars. After my training and a few months as the assistant manager of the Heath, Ohio store, I was promoted to the general manager position of the Brice Road store in Reynoldsburg, Ohio. I would spend the next eighteen months daily driving back and forth from Newark to Reynoldsburg — about 27 miles one way. I worked long hours, six, sometime seven, days a week.

bruce and polly gerencser 1985
Bruce and Polly Gerencser, Sweetheart Banquet, 1985

With Polly busy raising young children and teaching at LCCA and me working long hours at the restaurant, we found ourselves estranged from one another. For a time, Polly and I were like two ships passing in the night. Polly, ever the awesome mother, focused her attention on our two boys, figuring that our marriage would be just fine. In her mind, the kids came first. I, on the other hand, ever the workaholic, poured myself into my job, often leaving for work early in the morning and returning late in the evening. Conflict with Polly’s parents and Pastor Dennis increased during this time, so I used my long work hours as a way to avoid interaction with her family. I was able to avoid family gathering by saying, I have to work, sorry. Polly’s family didn’t seem to mind that I was absent, believing then, as they do today, that I was “different.”

While Polly and I never talked about the dreaded D word, divorce, both of us recognized that our marriage was in trouble. We were deeply committed followers of Jesus and active in the machinations of the Baptist Temple. Despite my long work hours, I still worked in the bus ministry, went on visitation, and attended church services on Sunday. Polly helped with the nursery and sang in the choir. While we were busy, our life was not what we expected it would be when we left Midwestern Baptist College in 1978. Both of us believed God had called us to the ministry, so as long as we weren’t in full-time service for the Lord, our lives were not in line with the will of God. Polly and I saw this as one of the reasons we were having marital troubles. Decades later, now an old married couple with grandchildren, we now know that the root problem was immaturity and fanciful expectations. Our focus should have been on family and building financial security. Instead, we yearned to be Pastor and Pastor’s wife. In our minds, Jesus and the ministry came first. Wholeheartedly believing this would plague us for much of our married life.

Late in 1981, Mrs. Paul’s bought out Arthur Treacher’s. Mrs. Paul’s made all sorts of stupid changes, and after several months of working for them, I decided I had had enough and turned in my resignation. Several weeks later, I started working for Long John Silver’s as an assistant manager. Long John’s was rapidly expanding in the Central Ohio area, and I was part of a team of managers that helped open new stores. Polly had, by then, stopped teaching and returned to working at Temple Tots. Towards the end of the year, Polly’s Dad decided to leave the Baptist Temple — a long story in and of itself — and start an IFB church in nearby Buckeye Lake. He asked if Polly and I wanted to come along and help him with the new church. We quickly agreed, and I became the assistant pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Buckeye Lake, Ohio. Finally, Polly and I thought, we are back on track, doing that which God had called us to do.

Though much turmoil and heartache would await us in the years to come, we were happy to be in the ministry once again. Outside of a few months here and there when I was between churches, we would spend the next twenty or so years pastoring churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. No matter what trials and adversity came our way, we were happy to be serving the Lord. The Apostle Paul wrote that he had learned, regardless of the state of his life, to be content (Philippians 4:11) Over time, Polly and I became quite stoic about life. No matter what came our way, we smiled, put our trust in the Lord, and practiced the content Paul spoke of. Our commitment to Jesus gave us what the Bible calls, a “peace that passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). Life wasn’t easy for us, but it was satisfying. Difficult times were seen as tests from God (James 1:2-4) or loving correction (Hebrews 12:5-8) from our Heavenly Father. All that mattered was that we were in center of the perfect will of God for our lives (Romans 12:1,2). Believing that the calling of God was irrevocable (Romans 11:29), being in the ministry was what mattered most to us. Over time, the “ministry” swallowed up Bruce and Polly Gerencser, leaving us with no self-identity. We spent much of our marriage denying self and sacrificing ourselves for the cause. After leaving the ministry, and later leaving Christianity, Polly and I had no idea who we were. Our post-Jesus years have been spent reacquainting ourselves with who we really are. This process has been painful, yet satisfying. While we were happy in the ministry, our happiness was derived from “doing.” These days, we continue to learn that happiness most often comes from being, not doing.

Stay tuned for Part Three.

The Jonathan Nichols Story: Growing Up Gay in the IFB Church

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What follows is a brief excerpt of a story about Jonathan Nichols. Jonathan grew up in the Newark Baptist Temple,  the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church (IFB) pastored, until recently, by my wife’s uncle, James Dennis.  The Pastor (Jamie) Overton in this story is married to my wife’s cousin. He and his family are now missionaries.  Polly’s parents have attended this church since the late 1970s. The Christian school in this story is the Licking County Christian Academy in Heath, Ohio. It is owned and operated by the Newark Baptist Temple.

The following story is excerpted from Part One and Part Two of Jonathan’s story:

My story is going to be slightly different than the others featured on this blog because I actually never attended Bob Jones University. However, before you stop reading, you should know that I would be finishing up my freshman year at BJU had I not been outed in high school, expelled, and ultimately forced to leave home. My parents are both BJU alumni, and the principal of my Christian school in Ohio was a BJU-pusher. In fact, while I was growing up, BJU was presented as the only viable choice of college by my family and a few teachers. Because of that, my story isn’t too different from the others here, I just went through the same things earlier, before I actually went to college.

I grew up in Newark, Ohio and attended an independent fundamental Baptist church since I was born. That church was more conservative than Bob Jones, and my parents were more conservative than the church. My mom, the church pianist and school music teacher, was forever busy taking the “sensual” triplets out of songs like “Some Trust in Chariots” and campaigning against songs like “As The Deer” and Bow the Knee.” As you can probably deduce from that, practically no modern music was allowed in our household either. I grew up on classical music and only classical music and quickly learned that there was no such thing as likes and dislikes when it came to music. There was just good and bad. You are to listen to good music and not to listen to bad music. What music you “like” has nothing to do with anything.

That mentality was carried into every area of life.

I suppose being the music teacher’s son allowed me to be a little gay boy without thinking anything of it or being called out about it. I was totally into music and art and pretty things, and nothing was weird. I would play with scarves without feeling odd. Well, without feeling too odd. I knew that none of the other guys my age were playing with scarves. Fortunately, I didn’t think about it too much.

Ok, so I can’t really credit my discretion for keeping me in the closet for eighteen years… Like I said, I played with scarves and wasn’t careful about making it known that I was a musician and not like those “other” guys. The atmosphere was so anti-gay that no one even bothered to think that there could be a gay kid growing up there, regardless of how obvious I made it. Besides, I was still a kid. I didn’t even know what it meant to be gay. Heck, I didn’t even know that it meant anything besides “happy.” So in the minds of the church and my parents, there was no way I could have chosen to be gay yet. And since being gay is a choice, that meant that I was a good, straight little boy. Just like God intended. Right? Totally….

….wanted so much to be able to be honest with someone that I was actually in contact with. I hinted to my closest friend that my friendship with Ryan wasn’t just a friendship. She was, naturally for someone in our atmosphere, worried for me. So, despite her promises that she would trust me to do what I felt was right, she went to my youth pastor for help. He promptly told the senior pastor, who is superintendent of the school. The next day, I was called into Pastor Dennis’s office for questioning. Pastor Overton was also in the room, sitting to my left with a legal pad and a pen, taking notes. Dennis tried to start off nice enough, but it was obvious that they found out. I decided that a clean breast of the issue would be best, and went into my research on the matter, hoping at least to get an opposing rebuttal and at best to convince them. How naive I was. . . I don’t remember much of that conversation, but one thing rings vividly in my mind. I mentioned that the Greek word malakoi in I Cor. 6:9 was never elsewhere, in the whole of Greek literary writings, translated “effeminate.” It carried a whole different connotation. His response? He turned around, pulled his Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance off the shelf, looked up the word, and pointed to the definition. He never for one second imagined that Dr. James Strong was not infallible and that his concordance was not holy writ. In those several hours, my pastor beat me down. Hard. I was totally conquered, save in one regard. I would not tell him who I was “dating.” I did not see that it was my place to get someone else, especially someone I loved, in trouble like this. Dennis found out anyways. He had me break up with Ryan. I cried all night…

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