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Tag: Ney Ohio

Short Stories: The Pool Hall

bruce gerencser 1970

Half way through my fifth-grade school year, my dad informed us that we were moving from Harrod to Farmer — both in northwest Ohio. There’s a story to be told about why we had to move, but I will leave it for another day.

By the time I arrived at Farmer Elementary School in 1968, I had already attended five different schools. Dad “rented” an old farmhouse owned by his older sister Mary on State Route 249, one mile east of Farmer. I say “rented” because Dad had a penchant for not paying rent/loans — especially when it involved his gullible sisters. I have no doubt that Dad had a rent tab with Mary.

I finished the last half of fifth grade and all of sixth grade at Farmer, thinking, “wow, maybe we are going to live here for awhile.” I had made friends and played baseball for the Farmer Tigers. I even started paying attention to girls. In the mind of a then twelve-year-old country boy, my life revolved around friends, church, girls, and sports. Life was good, right (even though this was when my mom was raped while I was home sick from school)? Alas, as my dad often did, he would soon disrupt my life.

September 1969 found me attending Ney Junior High School — in the community I currently live in. I was excited about making it to the next level academically. I also discovered I could play sports other than baseball. I made the Ney seventh grade football team, and I planned to play basketball in the winter.

Two weeks into the school year, Dad came home and informed us that we were moving — immediately. No goodbyes to my friends, no promises of eternal love. The short, slight-of-weight redheaded boy who loved joking around was gone, never to be seen again in the halls of Ney Junior High.

Our new destination? Deshler, forty miles south and east of Ney. Dad rented a house on North Park Street. He was a district sales manager for Combined Insurance. I, once again, made new friends. We would live in Deshler all of nine months, moving twenty-six miles down the road to Findlay after school was out for the year.

While living in Deshler, I delivered newspapers for the Findlay Republican-Courier. The Republican-Courier was a morning newspaper, so I delivered my route each day before school. This was in the days before parents shuttled their children around for their paper routes. I got up early every morning, rolled my papers, put them in my bag, and rode my bike delivering the daily paper to my customers (back in a day when older customers were already up and waiting for their paper to arrive).

Neither of my parents provided me any guidance about the newspaper business. I opened a checking account at the Corn City Bank, which later proved to be a really bad idea. What could go wrong, right? No one, and I mean no one, questioned a twelve-year-old boy writing checks at local businesses. During Christmas that year, I went to the local drug store and bought myself a gift — a twenty-four bar box of Clark candy bars (still my favorite candy bar and impossible to find today).

I started hanging out at the local pool hall so I could play the hall’s pinball machines. I quickly became addicted to playing pinball. When I needed more cash to play the machines, I would write a check to the pool hall — say for $5. I soon had a cash flow problem, spending money that should have gone to pay my newspaper bill on flipping steel balls from bumper to bumper, hoping to rack up a big enough score to get a free game or three.

After a month or so of decadent, “sinful” behavior, the newspaper’s district manager contacted my dad about my unpaid bill (and the papers I stopped delivering). The newspaper took the route away from me, expecting dad to pay my bill. Instead, Dad went up to the pool hall and demanded the owner pay my debt. When the owner balked, Dad reminded him that it was illegal in the state of Ohio for minors to frequent pool halls. The owner quickly saw the light and gave my dad the money I had spent at the hall. Knowing my dad as I do, to this day I wonder if the money made it to the Republican-Courier. My gut tells me that my bill is still outstanding.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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

Evangelical Pastor Ron Adkins and THE Agnostic

letter to the editor

Originally published in 2010. Edited and corrected.

In August 2010, I wrote the following letter to the editor of the Defiance Crescent-News. It was published on August 10:

Dear Editor:

Attempting to formulate a reply to the responses to my letter to the editor has left me with quite a quandary. In 500 words I must respond to issues that deserve far more treatment than I can give them. Every letter writer committed the same error as Jack Palmer.

They assumed a priori that everyone believes in the Bible, their God and their version of Christianity. According to them, it is self-evident that the Christian God is the true God. They base their assertion upon the Bible, and therein lies the problem. They believe the Bible is the inspired word of God. I suspect most of the letter writers also believe the Bible is inerrant.

I do not believe the Bible is a supernatural book. The Bible is a manmade book of spiritual writings. It is rooted in a nomadic and agrarian economy that no longer exists. The last book of the Bible was written 1,900 years ago. While certainly the Bible has some value in the 21st century, it is not a book that should be used as a divine road map for life nor as a rulebook for governing society.

The Bible is best suited for use in tribal worship, cultural events and acts of personal piety. In other words, our society is far better off if the Bible is relegated to the same shelf as the great classics of the past.

Because I do not believe the Bible to be the divine truth, threats of divine retribution and judgment have no meaning to me. They did at one time. I was a student of the Bible for over 33 years, attended a Christian college and pastored evangelical churches for 25 years. As an agnostic, I have a humanistic worldview. It is a worldview that focuses on the here and now rather than eternity and a mythical home in heaven.

With all the suffering in the world, time spent pining for a mansion in the sky seems scandalous. The responses to my letter make it very clear to me that no two Christians agree on anything. Every letter writer espoused a different form of Christianity. Every letter writer has their own version of God and what constitutes a right, saving relationship with that God. This shows me that there is no such thing as Christianity (singular) in America.

Instead, what we do have is multiple Christianities, with every Christian picking and choosing what they want to believe from the Bible and then making God into their own image. Christians continue to use Pascal’s Wager with unbelievers to no effect. I would reverse the challenge and ask Christians, What if this is it? What if there is no heaven or hell?

What if you’ve spent your entire life seeking an eternal destiny that doesn’t exist? A life wasted that could have been spent enjoying the here and the now? A life wasted that could have been spent living and loving rather than trudging through a wicked world in search of a heaven and eternal reward that does not exist? We each have one life. This is it. Love and live. 

Bruce Gerencser
Ney

What follows is my response to one of the Christians — an Evangelical pastor — who wrote to the paper to object to my letter.

The Sunday (August 2010) edition of the Defiance Crescent-News has the first, of what I am sure will be many more, letters to the Editor concerning my recently published rebuttal letter.

My youngest son asked me today if anyone has ever written a letter to the editor in support of my views about religion. I laughed and said No. As far as I know, I am the only person who has written to the newspaper and said “I am an agnostic.” (Some days I wonder, “what was I thinking”?) I hope my willingness to stand up and be counted will encourage others to do so. I know I am not alone. I have received their letters and email. They fear what might happen to them socially or economically if their agnosticism or atheism were made public. Their fears are well-grounded and I would not encourage anyone to take the same path as I have.

My children have to live with the fact that their dad is “the man who writes in the newspaper.” They have to field questions like “are you related to Bruce Gerencser”? If they answer yes, what often follows is a queer look, a look that says I want to tell you what I think or I want to ask you a question or two. Usually, once my children affirm their connection to me, a nervous silence ensues. It’s like, the questioner, all of a sudden, finds out he has been working alongside a spawn of Satan.

The first letter to the editor response I want to deal with is written by Ron Adkins, pastor of the Ney and Farmer United Methodist churches. I know Ron personally. Our family attended the Ney church for a number of months, and it was the last church we ever attended. One might say our last experience proved to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back (though we met many wonderful people at the Ney church).

Ron is a young man. This is his first pastorate. (Ron later moved on to a different denomination, though he still lives in the area.) Prior to this, he was a professor at Ohio Christian University. Ohio Christian University is a Fundamentalist institution affiliated with the Churches of Christ in Christian Union. (I am sure Ron will chafe at the Fundamentalist label, but he also knows what my response is to that. Please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?)

Ron has pastored the Ney/Farmer churches for about 2 years. When I asked him what his philosophy of ministry was, he told me it was “loving on people”. Evidently, as you shall see from his letter, that “loving on people” doesn’t include me. Some of what Ron writes in his letter reflects personal, private discussions he and I had during the time we attended the Ney church. One could object, saying “I told you that in private” but one thing I know about preachers, “don’t tell them anything you don’t want others to know.”

From reading Ron’s letter to the editor, I think it is safe to assume that my rebuttal letter upset some people in his church. Here I am, almost two years removed from attending Ney United Methodist Church — we left the last Sunday in November, 2008 — and I am still causing trouble. I realize my letter put Ron in a no-win situation. He is a great guy and he doesn’t like conflict. The last thing he needs is to tangle with Bruce. But my heresy demands an answer, so Ron penned a reply to my letter.

As you shall see in a moment, Ron tries to avoid making this personal. He never calls me by name. Instead, he calls me THE agnostic. Since the is a definite article and I am the only agnostic that has written to the paper, it is safe to assume that THE agnostic = Bruce Gerencser.

Now to Pastor Adkins’ letter. Ron’s letter appears as normal type. My response appears as bold italics.

To the Editor:

I have been averse to reading the latest letter to the editor from the agnostic because I personally find agnosticism trite for two major reasons.

Let’s get one thing out of the way right away. Ron is writing about my letter, and since I am the only agnostic who has written to the newspaper, he is directing his response to me and what I have written. Of course, his greater objective is to cheer on the faithful. 

My response is personal. I guess I could hide my response target by saying I am responding to THE pastor, but, I am not one known for such subterfuge, so I want to make it clear that my response is directed to Pastor Adkins and his letter to the editor. I do hope that the faithful will be challenged and forced to ask hard questions about Christianity and the Bible. I also hope my fellow atheists and agnostics will be encouraged to continue on the path of intellectual freedom.

I am amused somewhat that Ron considers agnosticism trite, yet he expends quite a bit of verbiage in his attack of the agnostic view. Perhaps it was not as trite as he thought is was.

First, agnosticism is predicated on the premise of skepticism concerning the existence of God. The agnostic doubts the absolute truth about God (although some may believe in a First Cause), yet states an absolute truth by claiming God does not exist and that the answer is a humanistic worldview. If consistent, the agnostic would doubt his own statements, and furthermore, would doubt his own doubt that God does not exist, thus resulting in the probability that God could exist.

I don’t believe I have ever said God does not exist.  I am, after all, an agnostic. In fact, Ron might be surprised to know that I have quite a bit of room in my agnostic worldview for a god (or gods) — much to the consternation of some hard-core atheists. (I would no longer make this statement now.) I am fairly certain that the gods which man has created so far are not gods at all. I cannot state categorically or infallibly –I’ll leave that to the Pope — there is NO God. Even Christopher Hitchens does not say there is No God. 

The best answer, the best philosophy of living, in my humble opinion, is humanism. With humanism, the focus is on reality, the here and now. Surely, Ron, the history major that he is, knows that many humanists have a spiritual or religious dimension to their beliefs. But the humanist always comes back to what he can see and know. The humanist does not have the time to spend on pining about a future in heaven, the rapture, and the many other supposed events in the future that preoccupy and keep Christians from engaging a suffering and dying world. 

What is humanism? The best statement I have found comes from the Humanist magazine:

Humanism is a rational philosophy informed by science, inspired by art, and motivated by compassion. Affirming the dignity of each human being, it supports liberty and opportunity consonant with social and planetary responsibility. Free of theism and other supernatural beliefs, humanism thus derives the goals of life from human need and interest rather than from theological or ideological abstractions, and asserts that humanity must take responsibility for its own destiny.

Christians often prop up the straw man of absolute truth. Everyone believes in absolute truth, they claim.  Evidently Ron needs to meet a few real agnostics and atheists before he claims such a thing.

Personally, there are many things I believe to be true or factual. Based on what knowledge and information I have at hand, I have concluded that certain things are true. I know that the earth revolves around the sun and that the earth is not flat. I am relatively certain the science behind these claims is true. If I were left with only the absolute truth of the Bible, I would have to ignore what science teaches and I would be forced to accept that the sun revolves around the earth and the earth is flat (among countless other incredible, yet false. claims found in the Bible).

Ron writes of the absolute truth of God, and by God, let’s be clear, Ron means the Evangelical Christian God. Where does one find this absolute truth? The Bible. Ah, finally a concrete piece of information we can weigh in the balances. And that is exactly what I have done. I have weighed the claims of the Bible in the balances and found it wanting. 

I find the claims made by academics such as Bart Ehrman and Robert Price to be compelling. I find Richard Wright’s book The Evolution of God to be a fascinating alternative story to the monotheism of orthodox Christianity.

My agnosticism rests squarely on the belief that the Bible is not what it claims to be and that it is not inspired, divine truth. At the end of the day, it all boils down to the Bible. If I do not accept the claims of the Bible, or the claims of what churches, denominations, popes, or pastors say the Bible says, then I cannot believe in the God that the Bible presents.  I may still believe in a god but not the god of the Christian Bible. 

Ron, I am sure, will appeal to nature and conscience as proof for God, but I would counter: how can one necessarily conclude that the God who gave us nature and a conscience is necessarily the Christian God? Would a person not initiated in Christian thinking come to the conclusion, by looking at nature, that there is a God and that that God is the triune God of the Christian religion? Doubtful. In fact, I can say impossible. 

Second, if then, the agnostic is not a true agnostic, because of the self-defeating premise, then there is another motivation behind his self-proclaimed agnosticism.

Answered above, so I assume this makes moot the next point Ron makes. But Ron gets personal (divulging a bit of inside information about me) in what follows so I want to deal with it.

I have found that agnostics, who are not true agnostics, typically are angry at God because God does not operate the way they think God should operate. At other times they are angry because they have not received what they wanted from God. Like the undisciplined child who is angry at a parent using their only means of power, knowing they are powerless, will proclaim, “I hate you!” Nothing could hurt a parent more, and they know this.

The agnostic stands before God and proclaims in anger, ”You don’t exist!” Isn’t it interesting then that humans, created beings, desire God to act the way they perceive God should act? Furthermore, I find it pathetic to claim a humanistic worldview in which there is nothing, or no one, greater than ourselves to rely.

Anger. Ron, is right about my anger, but he is wrong about the focus of my anger. 

The Christian God, the God of Ron Adkins does not exist. Why would I be angry at a fictional being?

No, my anger is directed towards organized religion.  My anger is directed at Evangelical Christianity. I am angry over what was taken from me over the 25 years I spent in the ministry. I am angry over the wasted time and effort spent “doing church.” I am angry over my own selfish ambitions and my attempts at building a kingdom in my own name (as all pastors do; after all, why is their name on their church’s sign?).

I am angry over what the ministry and the church did to my wonderful wife and children. I am angry over countless parishioners whose lives are now shipwrecked because they drank from the well of organized religion.

Yes, I am angry and it feels good. For 33 years I lived in denial of my emotions, serving a God who was no god at all, a god that demanded self-sacrifice and self-denial. It feels good to be out from under such a burdensome weight.

Ron may consider humanism pathetic, and I might be tempted to say back at ya, but what humanism provides for me is reality. It is rooted in the common humanity we all share. I no longer have a need to pray, fast, tithe, and attend church. What humanism demands of me is doing. It demands of me the very things Jesus spoke of in the Sermon on the Mount. Humanism calls me to be fully human in an imperfect, marred world. It calls me to use what talents I have for the betterment of my fellow man.

Becoming an agnostic and a humanist has forced me to admit that most of the supposed altruistic works I did as a pastor had an ulterior motive. I didn’t love people for who they were. I loved them because I wanted Jesus to change them. If Jesus changed them then they would become a part of the church I pastored. End result? Bigger attendance and bigger offerings. (Trying to get a pastor to admit this is nigh impossible.)

It is an exhilarating experience to truly love people as they are. 

Last, I would like to briefly answer the question which became the title for the agnostic’s editorial, “Writers espoused different views.”

I am glad of one thing, Ron used the word last. I despise the use of the word “lastly.” Ron gets 1 brownie point for using “last” instead of “lastly.”

I hope Ron is aware that the newspaper determines what the letter title is. I have been writing letters to the editor, op-ed pieces, etc. for over 28 years and I have yet to write my own title.

First, let me give some advice to all of those wonderful Christians who have been troubled by THE Agnostic. Remember an agnostic asks questions based on skepticism. Don’t feel as though you are in a corner. The quote at hand read, “Every letter writer has their own version of God and what constitutes a right, saving relationship with that God. This shows me that there is no such thing as Christianity (singular) in America”.

Truth is an objective fact expressed in a subjective way. It is obvious that one comes to the truth of Christianity or more generally religious truth, differently than one would come to scientific truth. God is not an object to be observed. God has made himself known. Faith, therefore, is a response in obedience, the thing agnostics hate.

I find Ron’s statement here astounding. Ron writes “Truth is an objective fact expressed in a subjective way.” Ron certainly believes the Bible is absolute truth.  I would love to know if he really, really, believes the Bible is absolute truth (I have my doubts). Ron, without any evidence, believes that what the Bible teaches is an objective fact. The Bible is true because it says it is.

How does one know this? Through a subjective experience, God has made himself known. How do we know that? Because the Christian says so. Because Ron says so. Ultimately, then, it is a matter of faith.

If it is a matter of faith, why do so many Christians try to “prove” the truth of Christianity? Why do they attempt to use scientific methods to prove the veracity of the claims the Bible makes?

If it is a matter of faith, then why write letters to the editor attempting to discredit and refute my rebuttal letter? Would it not be better to rest in the belief that the God of faith, through the Holy Spirit, will take care of things? Surely God can take care of one lowly, insignificant, pimple-on-the-ass agnostic named Bruce?

Ron might be surprised to know that I still have faith. I have faith in the gods I can see, my fellow human beings. In my Christian days, I put my faith in a God whom I said was always there, but quite honestly I never really could find him. God was all-knowing and all-powerful. He was supposedly intimately involved in the minutia of my life, yet when it came to things that mattered — matters of life and death — God was nowhere to be found. 

I would assume that Ron considers his weekly sermons to be subjective in nature? After all, he is preaching absolute truth in a subjective manner, yes? I don’t know of any preacher who would embrace such a claim, especially an Evangelical preacher. After all, the preacher is the man of God who speaks the infallible Word of God to the people of God. Not much subjectivity there.

I find no conflict in the different responses to the agnostic because the different individuals have expressed their belief and experience (“Pascal’s Wager”) in the one, absolute God in different ways. Faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Savior of the world is truth and is experienced by individuals.

Ron is being disingenuous here OR his two years in the Methodist church have worn down his Evangelical resolve. I realize he is preaching to the choir here, but any cursory reading of the letters written in reply to either of my recent letters will reveal full-blown heresy. Is Ron suggesting that subjective heresy is fine as long as it is done with the right intention? If so, it is time to give all the heretics of the past a place at the orthodox table once again. Each of them had sincere intentions. They loved their version of Jesus. Welcome, Brother Pelagius!

It is clear for all who are willing to see . . . no two Christians have the same version of Christianity. Christianity for most Christians is akin to going to a buffet, taking what you want, and leaving the rest. I don’t have a problem with this approach, but I would, at least, like Christians to admit it. They speak of orthodoxy and common belief, but such singularity does not exist except in denominational or church confessions or theological texts. Real-world experience tells me that all Christians believe what they want to believe and ignore the rest. (Any righteous men out there that want to offer their virgin daughter to the men of the city as righteous Lot did?)

This is why all Christians can describe some kind of personal experience, or relationship, with God through the Holy Spirit. Christian faith is an assent and obedience to the revelation of God.

On this point, I  agree with Ron. It is all about the revelation of God. In other words, it is ALL about the Bible. As I have said time and time again, there is no Christianity without the Bible. I am an agnostic because I reject the truth claims of the Bible. I reject its claim that it is a supernatural, divine book that reveals God to humankind. It is a fallible book written by unknown men thousands of years ago.  Certainly, the Bible has much to offer in way of personal spiritual guidance, but it is just a book, and it has no authority in my life. It has as much authority, and is just as inspired, as the writings of Mark Twain. (And no Christian can prove otherwise because the doctrine of inspiration is presupposed and cannot be empirically proved.)

Ron knew I was heading down the slippery slope towards agnosticism. Surely he can recall our discussions about the Bible. He, at one time, read my blog. Yet, when I stopped attending his church, that ended our interaction. Evidently, his time was better spent rescuing those who wanted rescued.

Yet, one would think that over the course of two years, in a town of 325 people, Ron or someone from the church would have stopped by and looked in on us. As I have struggled with debilitating neurological problems, problems Ron was well aware of, one would think that a visit might be in order. How can we help? Is there anything you need? One never knows what love and kindness might accomplish.

As is always the case . . . why spend time helping people who have no intentions of joining the happy band. If their ass is not in the seat, why bother?

There are six churches within a few miles of the home where my family and I reside. Prior to my recent coming out as an agnostic, our family would have been a great catch for any church. We are clean-cut, clean-livers. We look like Christians. We are talented. We have skills that any church would be grateful to use. We are loyal, faithful people. We are loving and kind. We are great non-Christian Christians.

But, not one pastor, one church leader, one church member, ever knocked on our door to invite us to their church. Even after we visited four of the six churches, no one bothered to try to befriend us and love us as Jesus would.

No, the truth is . . . no one gave a shit.

And then one day . . . neither did we.

Here are some of the other responses to my August 2010 letter to the editor:

August 2010

I cannot help but wonder what would make someone who has read the Bible (assuming the entire Bible from cover to cover), attended a Christian college (attending a Christian college does not make one a Christian) and been an evangelical pastor change his mind and become an agnostic humanist.

Richard Dawkins in his book, The God Delusion, contains a chapter entitled “The Poverty of Agnosticism.”

Dawkins is a renowned atheist, and you are probably wondering why I quote an atheist to make a point. In the said chapter he discusses many points concerning agnosticism but I would like to point out two items of interest. First he observes there is an “agnostic spectrum,” varying degrees of agnosticism, ranging from one — “I believe in God but have a lot of questions concerning his existence” — to seven — “I do not believe in God, period.”

Second, he also mentions two types of agnosticism — a temporary agnosticism in practice and a permanent agnosticism in principle. I wonder where Mr. Gerencser stands.

If he was once enlightened and has fallen as far as agnosticism, then there is still hope. The next step is apostasy on which the Bible is very clear. If he has sincerely studied the Scriptures then he knows what I am referring to (Hebrews 6). If not, then he should, perhaps, rethink his position. And, yes, I know his position on the inerrancy of scripture. However, the Bible is as relevant today as it was then.

Bob Palczewski
Defiance

August 2010

In answer to Bruce Gerencser’s letter in Sunday’s paper, he says he is an agnostic and no longer believes.

He said that at one time the Bible had meaning to him and that he pastored an evangelical church for 25 years. Evangelical churches should evangelize. What did he preach? Did he tell them that God sent His sinless son Jesus to die for our sins? John 3:16. He did. Did he ever truly accept Christ as his Lord and Savior? None of us ourselves will ever be good enough. You cannot prove to me that the Bible is not the inspired Word of God that tells us in Romans 10: 9-10 that if we believe and confess with our mouth the Lord Jesus that we will be saved.

Gerencser asked, What if there is no heaven or hell and we Christians have wasted our lives? If he is right and I am wrong, I have not lost anything. But if I am right and he is wrong, he has lost everything, his soul.

My husband is 85 and I am 82, and neither of us regret the almost 50 years of volunteer service for the Lord. For 13 years we sang Gospel and ministered with our young family in churches and the migrant camps. Last year after my husband’s bypass surgery and 34 years in the jail and prison Ministry we left it to devote more time to visiting and ministering in our local rest home.

If Gerencser thinks Jesus is not real, he should read our book. He says that we should live and love life. This has not been easy because we supported ourselves in our small businesses. But after 64 years of marriage we are still living and loving, thanks to Calvary.

Gertrude Hitt
Archbold

August 2010

In response to Bruce Gerenscer’s letter of June 20, I am one of those right-wing nuts and Christian Republicans that are dominating Ohio. I am proud to be a Christian. I will tell anyone anytime what I believe, but I won’t make you listen if you choose not to.

God gave us all a choice. What Jack Palmer said in his column on June 10 was the truth. He believes what he says. He has a right to say it. Bruce Gerencser has a right not to believe it, that is his choice. The last time I looked we in America have freedom to say what we want to say. That means we have the same rights as Gerencser has. I thank God for Jack Palmer. We need more like him.

God doesn’t leave us. I am thankful for that. The proof is when you feel Him yourself. God didn’t just save my soul, he saved my life. If I didn’t’ have God, I would not be here this day.

God’s heart breaks because of all the suffering in the world. It goes back to unbelief and the choice He made available to us, and when we choose the wrong way.

Gerencser said he gave thanks to his parents and all the others in his life. If it weren’t for God, he wouldn’t have them in the first place, so I thank God for my family.

Gerencser talked about being on the boat, but you can’t abandon ship unless you were on it to begin with. I hope and pray that one day Gerencser will get back on board.

No one is going to get rid of God no matter what he or she says or does. God answers me so gently in a soft and loving tone, saying “I am with you always, you will never be alone.”

Rose Molnar
Defiance

August 2010

I am writing in response to Bruce Gerencser’s letter to the editor in the June 20 Crescent-News. Gerencser stated in his letter that he wanted “to give credit to whom credit is due.” Well, I too would like to do that.

First, I am thankful to live in America where I have the privilege of writing a letter to the editor to express my opinion. Thank you to The Crescent-News for setting aside a page in your paper to print even those I may disagree with.

Many, many thanks to my parents and husband for working so hard to provide for us. In addition to those Gerencser gave thanks to, I would also like to thank the farmers who provide the food our nation enjoys. Also, a big thank you goes to those serving in the military, past and present, who are willing to sacrifice their lives in order to help protect our nation.

However, I realize that God is the one who actually provides all these. He gives good health in order to do the work. He gives knowledge to the doctors, teachers, counselors, etc. so they can help others. God provides the sunshine and rain the farmers need in order to produce their crops.

Everything we have or do not have comes from God. So, thank you dear God for all these, but most of all I thank you for my home in heaven.

Connie Elston
rural Oakwood

August 2010

Since Bruce Gerencser asked the question, let’s get it answered. Say I believe in a religion and I follow its tenants. I am good to my neighbors and strangers, help the homeless, donate to charities and do the best that I can. Now, when I die if there is nothing, then what exactly have I wasted?

And, if there is something after death, then I will be rewarded for my good works and remembered far longer then Gerencser ever would be. People will remember Mother Teresa or Billy Graham far longer than Gerencser. If you live for today like Gerencser wants and when you die, if there is a creator, you have to stand before the creator and explain why you did not believe and tried to get others to do the same. Somehow I don’t think that saying “whoops, my bad” is going to cut it.

But my other question would be while Gerencser claims to have been a pastor for 25 years and since being an agnostic is one step above being an atheist, as both of them deny the existence of a deity according to every encyclopedia and dictionary out there, is Gerencser now freely admitting that he was living a lie and that his whole life before becoming agnostic was a fraud?

And, if he was a pastor, then what about all the people he was supposed to lead? Is he now admitting that he deceived them as well? And, why bother becoming a pastor in the first place if you were just going to turn your back on your chosen religion, especially one that he has never mentioned? Something about his claim just does not sound correct.

Daniel Gray
Defiance

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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

Does Racism Exist in Rural Northwest Ohio?

etch a sketch
The Etch-a-Sketch is made by Ohio Art, a Bryan, Ohio company. Once manufactured in Bryan, it is now made overseas.

I used to be a member of the Growing Up in Bryan, Ohio Facebook group. The group is made up of people who live/lived in Bryan, Ohio. Recently, the subject of racism was brought up and this provoked a lively discussion about the state of race relations in Bryan. This got me to thinking: does racism still exist in rural northwest Ohio and Bryan? Have we reached a place where we live in a post-racial era, even here in homogenous rural Ohio? Before I answer this question, I want to spend some time talking about demographics and my own experiences as a resident of rural northwest Ohio.

My father grew up on a hundred-acre farm three miles south of Bryan and attended Ney High School. My mother moved to Bryan as a teenager. Both of them worked for local Bryan businesses such as K&R Cleaners, The Hub, Carroll Ames, and Bryan Trucking. My father was part of a close-knit ethnic Hungarian group that settled in the Bryan area in the 1920s and 1930s. My parents considered Bryan home, and in 1957 it became my home. My brother and sister were also born in Bryan.

Even though I have spent most of my life living in other places, Bryan is home to me. Try as I might to flee the topographically boring flatlands of rural northwest Ohio, I consider Bryan my home. Over the years, I’ve lived in California, Michigan, Texas, Arizona, and southeast Ohio. I’ve also lived in or near the northwest Ohio communities of Farmer, Deshler, Harrod, Alvordton, Mt. Blanchard, and Findlay. Currently, I live in Ney, a one-stoplight, two-bars village six miles south of Bryan.

Bryan was settled in 1840 and is the seat of Williams County. In 1950, the population was 6,365 people. In 2010, the population was 8,545 people. Bryan saw a 12.9% population growth between 1970 and 1980 and 5.9% growth between 1980 and 1990. Since 1990, the population has grown 8.2%.

According to the 2010 US Census:

  • 94.3% (8,056) of Bryan residents are white
  • .6% (47) Black
  • .9% (73) Asian
  • .2% (14) Native American
  • .1% (5) Pacific Islander
  • 2.0% (170) Mixed Race
  • 5.1% (436) Hispanic or Latino

Statistics are taken from the 2010 US Census Report

The Bryan of today is more racially diverse than at any time in its 175-year history. While this is good news, the reason for the diversity is non-white medical professionals moving to Bryan to work for the local hospital and medical group and white-collar professionals moving here to work for local companies. This diversity is primarily driven by economics.

The Bryan of my youth was 100% white. I was five years old before I saw a black person for the first time — a porter at the Chicago train station. As a teenager, I was told by one proud and ignorant Bryanite that Bryan was 100% white and proud of it. According to him, back in the day, any black caught in town after dark was run out of town. I suspect his attitude was quite common.

In the 1970s, I attended high school in Findlay, Ohio, a community 75 miles southeast of Bryan. The 1970 population of Findlay was 35,800 people. Like Bryan, Findlay was as white as white could be. There were two black students who attended Findlay High School, and they were brother and sister. Today, .3% (886) of Findlay residents are black.

In the mid-1970s, I attended First Baptist Church in Bryan. I can still remember the day that a woman who once attended the church and moved away, returned home with her new black husband. Oh, the racist gossip that ran wild through the church: why, what was she thinkin . . . marrying a black man! Think of the children! It was not long before she and her husband moved on to another church.

It was not until I moved to Pontiac, Michigan to attend Midwestern Baptist College that I came into close contact with blacks. Freshman year, one of my roommates was a black man from Philadelphia. The college was connected with nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church. Emmanuel ran numerous bus routes into Pontiac and Detroit, busing in thousands of blacks. Most of the children from Detroit attended B Sunday school. The B was the designation given for the afternoon Sunday school. It was not long before I figured out that the B stood for black. When an overtly racist man became the bus pastor, one of the first things he did was stop running the buses to Detroit. We were told this was due to budget restraints, but many of us thought the real reason was race.

The college and church were located in a bad part of Pontiac. (Some might argue, is there a good part of Pontiac?) The projects were nearby and the area east of the college was decidedly black. My experiences with the local black community, with its rundown housing and rampant crime, helped to reinforce the racist stereotypes I had been taught by my parents. It didn’t help that gangs of black youth repeatedly broke into the dormitory and ransacked the place while everyone was at church. A few years back, the college relocated to an overwhelmingly white community.

My parents, typical of their generation, were racists. It is impossible to paint the picture any other way. Whether their racism was from their own upbringing or their membership in the John Birch Society, they made no apology for their fundamentalist Christian-driven racism. They had a special hatred for Martin Luther King, Jr. My mother thought King got exactly what he deserved when he was assassinated in 1968. Like it or not, this is my heritage.

In the 1980s, Polly and I lived in southeast Ohio. For a number of years, we were foster parents. One of the children we cared for was black. We had made arrangements to rent a house outside of Somerset, Ohio — where I was pastoring at the time — from a retired school teacher. When we looked at the house, we did not have our foster child with us. Several days before we supposed to move in, the matronly pillar of the community called and said that she decided to not rent the house. We found out later that she told people that she was not going to have a “nigger” living in her house.

We moved to New Lexington, Ohio, and enrolled our foster child in the local public school, thinking little about how hard it might be for her to be the only black kid in the school. Needless to say, she was subjected to daily racial taunts. One day, the principal called us and said our foster child had created a disturbance in class. One of her classmates had called her a “nigger” and she threw her book at her taunter and stormed out of class.

I was quite upset at her behavior. Having never walked in her shoes, I had no way of knowing what it was like to be singled out and taunted for the color of my skin. I gave her the stern Pastor Gerencser lecture, reminding her that she was accountable for behavior and that she couldn’t respond this way every time someone called her a “nigger.” While my words had a ring of truth to them, they were quite insensitive and showed that I didn’t have a clue about how difficult it was for her as a young black woman.

In the mid-1980s, the church I pastored had a black missionary come and present his work. I took the missionary on a tour of the area and we stopped at the Somerset Snack Bar for lunch. The Snack Bar was where locals hung out, and it was always a busy hive of storytelling, gossip, and news. The Snack Bar was quite noisy when we walked in the door, but as patrons glanced up to see who was coming in, the noise quickly dissipated. I later learned that several of the locals were upset over the Baptist preacher bringing a “nigger” into the Snack Bar.

In 1995, I moved back home to northwest Ohio, pastoring a church in Alvordton for a short time, and then pastoring a church in West Unity for seven years. Polly and I have lived in this area now for 23 years. This is our home. Our 6 children and 13 grandchildren all live within 20 minutes of our home.

It was during my time as pastor of Our Father’s House in West Unity that I began to address my own latent racism and the racism that percolated under the surface of the local community. As my politics began to move to the left, my preaching took on a social gospel flavor, and this included preaching on racism.

When a church member would talk about “colored” people, I would ask them, so what color were they? Oh, you know what I mean, preacher! Yes, I do. So, how is the color of their skin germane to the story you are telling? I did the same when members talked about “those” people — “those” meaning blacks, Mexicans, or people perceived to be welfare bums.

What made things difficult was that we had a black man attending the church. He was a racist’s dream — the perfect stereotype. He was on welfare, didn’t work, lived in Section 8 housing, had an illegitimate child, and spent most of his waking hours trying to figure out how to keep from working. The church financially helped him several times, and we brought him groceries on numerous occasions. One time he called and told me he needed groceries. I told him that I would have someone bring them over to him later that day. He then told me, preacher, I’m a meat and potato man, so I don’t want no canned food. Bring me some meat. He’s still waiting for those groceries to be delivered.

As I read the comments on the Growing Up in Bryan, Ohio Facebook group (the post is no longer available), I noticed that there was an age divide. Older people such as I thought Bryan was still, to some degree, racist, while younger people were less inclined to think Bryanites were racist, or they thought local racists were a few bad apples. I think that this reflects the fact that race relations are markedly “better” now in this area.

The reasons are many:

  • Older generations, those raised in the days of race riots, Martin Luther King Jr., and Jim Crow are dying off.
  • Local residents are treated by doctors who are not white. My wife’s gynecologist is a dark-skinned Muslim.
  • Interracial couples now live in the area.
  • Migrants workers, once a part of the ebb and flow of the farming season, are now primarily permanent residents.
  • Younger adults and teenagers no longer think race is a big deal.
  • Music, television, and the Internet have brought the world to our doorstep, allowing us to experience other cultures.
  • Sports, in which the majority of athletes in the three major professional sports — football, basketball, and baseball — are non-white. Cable and satellite TV broadcast thousands of college and professional games featuring non-white players.

Exposure breeds tolerance. Bigoted attitudes about gays and same-sex marriage are on prominent display in rural northwest Ohio. These attitudes remind me of how things once were when it came to race. Time and exposure to people who are different from us can’t help but change how we view things like race and sexual orientation. My children are quite accepting and tolerant of others, and I hope that these attitudes will be passed on to my grandchildren. We are closer today than we ever have been to Martin Luther King’s hope of “a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

We haven’t arrived. Latent, institutional racism must continue to be challenged. Recent protests and riots across the United States reveal that we have a long, long, long way to go before we reach King’s hope and dream. Unfortunately, there are those who use race and fear to stoke distrust and hate of those who are different. We must forcefully marginalize (and vote out of office) those who want to return America to the 1950s. We must also be willing to judge our own attitudes about race. We enlightened liberals gleefully look at the extreme right and we see racism and bigotry in all its glory. Yet, if we are honest, such things exist in our own backyard. None of us can rest until we have achieved a post-racial world. We have much work to do.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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

Just Say No to Ed Kidston and His Plan to Deplete the Michindoh Aquifer

michindoh aquifer

The Michindoh Aquifer — covering two million acres underground — provides water for all of Williams County and parts of Defiance and Fulton Counties in Ohio, parts of Steuben, DeKalb and Allen counties in Indiana, and parts of Michigan’s Hillsdale and Lenawee counties. I live in the rural Northwest Ohio community of Ney in Defiance County. Our sole source of water is the Michindoh Aquifer.

According to an October 5, 2009 KPC news story, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — acting on a 2007 petition from the city of Bryan, Ohio — proposed designating the Michindoh Aquifer a sole-source aquifer. A recent news story stated:

A sole-source designation means the aquifer is the only source of drinking water for people in the nine-county area; it would guarantee EPA protection against pollution under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The sole-source designation was suspended by the EPA in March 2013 following comments received in a study in April 2010.

Thanks to the U.S. EPA’s suspension of the Michindoh Aquifer’s sole-source designation, there are no federal laws prohibiting outside communities from tapping the Aquifer.

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Ed Kidston, the mayor of Pioneer, Ohio and the owner of Artesian of Pioneer, wants to tap the Michindoh Aquifer and sell the water to local communities for drinking purposes. First, Kidston must drill a well to test the feasibility of pumping copious amounts water from the Aquifer.

July 14, 2018 Toledo Blade report states that Toledo-area communities are looking at the possibility of gaining access to Michindoh Aquifer water:

City councils in Maumee and Sylvania want to explore the possibility of tapping into the aquifer and have agreed to conduct a study. Officials in Perrysburg, Whitehouse, Fulton County, Henry County, and the Northwestern Water & Sewer District also are considering the aquifer as an alternative to Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz’s plan to form a regional water commission.

The cost for each entity to perform the study, using a company called Artesian of Pioneer, depends on how many agree to it. The study’s total cost is capped at $35,000.

According to the Toledo Blade, Kidston’s:

… preliminary plans call for a pair of 36-inch pipes to be installed; one along the southern portion of the region and another to the north. An additional 36-inch line could be built along the eastern edge of Fulton County to connect the two lines and build redundancy in case either line needs to be shut down.

Mr. Kidston said above-ground storage would be built along the eastern border of the lines to supply each community for one day in case of an emergency. A treatment plant would also be constructed, although groundwater requires minimal treatment.

The Williams County Alliance has started a petition that states:

Artesian of Pioneer’s plan to make money by selling our drinking water to consumers outside the aquifer is self-serving and shortsighted.The Michindoh Aquifer is Williams County’s sole source of drinking water. If we lose it to depletion, we have no other economically feasible source of drinking water. Once a pipeline to extract and sell water to entities outside the aquifer is built, there will be no turning back. Rather than a business selling our drinking water for profit, we should conserve the aquifer for future generations.

The water of the Michindoh Aquifer is a precious resource that is essential for life. Water resources should not be privatized. Existing law needs to be changed to ensure that aquifers like the Michindoh remain sustainable sources of water for future generations.

Many of the people directly affected by Kidston’s commercial water operations are up in arms, demanding that local, county and state government put a stop to Kidston’s profiteering off of the Michindoh Aquifer — a finite resource. Kidston would have locals believe the Aquifer is a limitless resource that can easily handle pumping millions more gallons a day. The City of Bryan uses one million gallons of water a day. If Maumee, Sylvania, Perrysburg, Whitehouse, and other local communities start using Aquifer water, we are talking about millions of gallons of increased daily draw-down. Based on current rain and recharge levels, the Aquifer will, if Kidston gets his way, draw down faster than it can be replenished. And once this happens, communities such as Ney could face dry wells. And what happens then? Will Kidston be required to turn the tap off that supplies water to larger local communities? Of course not. Ney will just have to figure out how to best provide water for its insignificant, non-consequential 356 residents. This very scenario has played out countless times across the United States in recent years as commercial entities draw down water tables and cause dry or under-performing wells. Even worse, numerous ground drinking water supplies have been compromised by pollution and farm runoff.

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It is up to local, county, and state government officials to use their collective power to put an end to Ed Kidston’s money-making scheme to deplete the Michindoh Aquifer. Local leaders might argue that it is not against the law for Kidston to tap the Aquifer and sell its water to communities outside of the Michindoh watershed. However, just because someone CAN do something, doesn’t mean he should. This issue is clearly one of doing what is best for the people who rely on the Aquifer for drinking water.

Once Kidston starts pumping water to the highest bidder, there is no turning back. Not only will thirsty local communities be drawing millions of gallons of water a day out the Michindoh Aquifer, so will local manufacturing concerns and large-scale farming operations. The answer is to kill Kidston’s plan before it can gain traction. Local protests and anti-Kidston signs are important, but these alone will not stop Ed Kidston from continuing with his plan. Why? Because it is all about money. It’s always about money. If Kidston was concerned with doing what’s best for Northwest Ohio, Southern Michigan, and Eastern Indiana he would, without delay, cancel his plan to drill a test well. Unfortunately, every gallon pumped out the ground and sent eastward means more money for Artesian of Pioneer and its owner Ed Kidston.

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For Further Information

Save Michindoh Water

Save Our Water: Protect the Michindoh Aquifer Facebook Page

The Summer of 1968: Little League Baseball and Dad’s Corvair

bruce gerencser eighth grade
Summer of my eighth grade year, with my mom and a friend (that’s a Rambler in the background) My mom is five foot eight, so as you can see I was quite short at this age.

Several weeks ago, I attended my grandson’s Little League baseball game at the Ney park. In 2007, my wife and I bought a home in Ney, three blocks from the park. Ney is little more than a spot along Route 15, home to one stoplight, two bars/restaurants, one gas station, and 354 people. The park has several ball fields, one of which is used to play youth league baseball games. What makes Ney’s field unique is that it has lights. My grandson’s game had an eight o’clock start time, meaning that part of the game would be played under the not-so-bright lights. A half-hour before game time, I gathered up my Sony camera, my water bottle, and my oversized lawn chair and headed down to the park. Bethany, my twenty-eight-year-old daughter with Down Syndrome, gathered up her purse, water bottle, and backpack — filled with coloring books, colored pencils, and crayons – and headed down to the park with me.

I positioned myself just beyond the first base line so I could photograph the action. My grandson plays for Tinora. Their adversary for the night was a team of players made up of boys from Ney and the surrounding area. As I surveyed Ney’s players, I noticed that one of them, who was of slight build, had fiery red hair. Seeing this boy brought memories of another redheaded boy who played under the lights on this very field fifty years ago. In the spring of my fifth-grade year, my dad moved us from Harrod, Ohio to Farmer, a small community five miles west of Ney. We moved into a farm house two miles outside of Farmer, a home owned by my dad’s sister and brother-in-law. We would live there for two summers. During these summers, I played baseball for the Farmer Tigers. Back in the 1960s, country boys roamed the countryside, rode their bikes, went swimming, and if they were lucky, played baseball. I was never a great baseball player. If fifteen players were being picked for a team, I was always one of the last boys chosen. I had two things going for me: I was left-handed and I was a fast runner. By the time I made the Farmer team, I had already developed bad habits that hurt my ability to hit a baseball. These bad habits would follow me through Little League and into summer league high school baseball. Being slight of build and left-handed, I stood close to the plate when I batted. This made me an easy target for balls thrown by wild pitchers who were not used to throwing to left-handed batters. Over the course of the four years I played Little League baseball, I repeatedly got plunked in the head, back, and legs with wildly thrown pitches. These repeated beanings made me gun-shy, and my inability to stand in there and hit the ball turned me into an offensive liability. My coach for the two years I played for Farmer decided the best approach for my lack of offensive prowess was to have me bunt and run like hell. I was fast on my feet, and as a left-hander, I was two steps closer to first base than a right-handed batter.

I don’t remember my parents ever attending my games while I played for Farmer. On occasion, my father would pick me up after a game and take me home, especially if it was late and I would have to ride my bike home after dark. One night, Dad came to pick me up with his blue Corvair. For those not familiar with the Chevrolet Corvair, its motor was in the rear and its trunk was at the front. Dad opened the trunk so he could put my bicycle away. After doing so he shut the trunk so we could be on our way. For some reason, the trunk wouldn’t latch. After several attempts to get the trunk to latch shut, dad came up with an ingenious plan: he would have me lie down in the trunk and hold it down while he drove us home. And that’s what we did. At the time, I saw my ride in the trunk as a great adventure; and indeed it was as we bounced down Route 249 to our home. I suspect if my dad did the same thing today, child protective services would be paying him a visit the next day. I am sure some of the parents of my fellow baseball players wondered what Bob Gerencser was up to. Who in their right mind puts their son in the trunk? Right mind or not, this redheaded old man has never forgotten his ride home in the summer of 1968 — a time when war raged in Vietnam, race riots inflamed American cities, and assassins’ bullets claimed Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. This remains one of the few “good” memories I have of my father.

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 Gerencser