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Tag: Polly Gerencser

“Normal” is a Just a Setting on a Washing Machine

normal

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

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

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

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

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

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

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Short Stories: The Old Man and the Old Woman

Polly and Bruce Gerencser, Wedding July 1978

The old man is lying in bed, weary from yet another day of pain and suffering. He hears keys in the front door lock, announcing that the old woman has arrived home from work.

She too is weary and tired, ready to retire, but can’t because of insurance needs.

How was your night? the old man asked. Anything new?

The old woman shakes her head. She had already told the old man about the fire at the plant that night. No need to repeat that story.

The old man told the old woman about the eight raccoons that were in their yard tonight, three adults, and five babies.

After a few minutes of chit-chat about their day and what they planned to do on the morrow, the old woman asked, do you want something to eat?

Sure. What do you have in mind?

How about eggs and toast?

Sure, make them scrambled. I’ll take some orange juice too.

When the old woman returns to the room with that night’s cuisine, the old man said, Happy Anniversary!

Happy Anniversary to YOU!, the old woman replied.

It’s 3:00 AM on the fifteenth of July. Forty-four years ago, the old man and the old woman, then twenty-one and nineteen, recited their vows and said I do at the Newark Baptist Temple in Heath, Ohio.

Six weeks after they married, a baby was on the way. Over the next fourteen years, five more children would come their way, including a child with Down syndrome.

For many years, their lives were in perpetual motion. Serving the Lord and trying to make ends meet. There were stressors on their marriage, times when they wondered if their relationship would survive. Yet, they endured, and now they can’t imagine not being together.

Later years brought health problems, hospitalizations, and loss of faith. Parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins died, leaving them to wonder when it will be their obituaries in the pages of the local newspaper.

Blessed with thirteen grandchildren, the old man and old woman are grateful that they can enjoy them together. While life had brought them trials and adversity, both are glad they could walk this journey called life hand in hand.

Forty-four years ago, the soloist for their wedding sang We’ve Only Just Begun by the Carpenters (causing controversy because it was the first and only secular song sung at the church):

We’ve only just begun to live
White lace and promises
A kiss for luck and we’re on our way
(We’ve only begun)

Before the risin’ sun, we fly
So many roads to choose
We’ll start out walkin’ and learn to run
(And yes, we’ve just begun)

Sharing horizons that are new to us
Watchin’ the signs along the way
Talkin’ it over, just the two of us
Workin’ together day to day
Together

And when the evening comes, we smile
So much of life ahead
We’ll find a place where there’s room to grow
(And yes, we’ve just begun)

Sharing horizons that are new to us
Watchin’ the signs along the way
Talkin’ it over, just the two of us
Workin’ together day to day
Together
Together

And when the evening comes, we smile
So much of life ahead
We’ll find a place where there’s room to grow
And yes, we’ve just begun

Video Link

When evening comes, the old man and old woman still smile, happy that a kiss for luck and lots of hard work has given them a well-lived life. Not a perfect life, and certainly not a perfect marriage. A marriage that began with love is now one deeply rooted in an abiding friendship. Oh, they still fight, and all those irritating habits each of them had four decades ago are still there. Change is hard, they learned, so the old man and old woman learned to adapt, ignoring the niggling things that still annoy them to this day.

The old woman takes the dishes to the kitchen, heading to the bathroom to perform her nightly rituals before bed. Forty-four years, the old woman walked out of the bathroom of their hotel suite in a sexy negligee. Tonight, it is well-worn comfortable sleepwear. The old man looks at the old woman and reminds himself of how lucky he is. Of all the girls he could have dated and married, he married her. Fate? The old man wants to say yes, but he knows hormones, personalities, and common interests drew them together at a Fundamentalist Baptist college forty-six years ago.

The woman crawls into bed and snuggles up to the old man. He draws her close, putting his hand on her breast. After a few minutes, the old man can no longer lie in that position due to excruciating back and neck pain. With a gentle squeeze, he says to his beautiful bride, I love you. And to her man she replies, I love you too.

Another year together, what more could the old man and old woman ask for?

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Short Stories: The Night Polly Almost Went to Jail

chrysler k car
1980s Chrysler K Car, Junction City, Ohio

In 1989, Polly was driving in the northbound lane of Route 13 north of Thornville, Ohio, and south of Interstate 70. Suddenly, an automobile stopped in front of her and Polly bumped into the car. The driver quickly fled the scene of the accident. Polly, shaken, drove to the gas station at the top of the hill. At the station was a highway patrolman. Polly told him what happened. He looked at the front of her car. Seeing little visible damage, he told her not to worry about the accident. Polly continued on her trip to her mom and dad’s home in Newark.

Later that night, the person whom Polly drove into — an unlicensed teen girl, driving a relative’s car — totaled the car she was driving. Her relative had the same insurance company as we did. Unbeknownst to us, the insurance agent filed a $4,000 claim against our insurance without telling us. To this day, we don’t know how the agent connected Polly to the accident, Nonetheless, he did. Small town life, I suppose.

In Ohio, you are required to file an official accident report if you are in an accident that results in property damage. Since the girl fled the scene of the accident, Polly didn’t file a report. (And I am sure I am the one actually responsible for her not filing the report.) This would later have a disastrous (and funny) outcome.

A month later, I am standing on the porch waiting for Polly to come home from church. We always drove separate cars. On this night she was driving our 1980s Chrysler K car. As I watched Polly drive up the side street near our home in Junction City, Ohio, a village police officer pulled up behind her with his lights on. I snickered a bit as I watched this unfold. I was the one who got tickets — lots of tickets — not Polly. As I watched, the officer had Polly get out of the car. I thought, at the time, “that’s strange.” He had stopped her for a burned-out headlight. It had been burned out for several weeks. I had planned to replace it, but there were sermons to preach and souls to save, so I put it off to another day After running her driver’s license number, he informed her that there was a warrant out for her arrest, so he was arresting her for failure to report an accident. Yep, there was a warrant out for her arrest. We had just moved to Junction City and Polly’s license still had our old address on it, so she never received notice of her license suspension. Fortunately, the women’s section of the Perry County Jail was filled. There was no room for her in the inn, so to speak. Instead, she was told to contact the state highway patrol to resolve the matter.

Polly was traumatized from this experience. I, on the other hand, was enraged. In a matter of days, I was able to get the warrant for her arrest and license suspension dismissed. All is well that ends well, right? Not in our shared life. 🙂

Two weeks later, Barney Fife shows up at our house, knocks on the door, and hands Polly a traffic ticket. For what, you ask? The burned-out headlight. Boy, was I livid! I mean, sinning-in-the-flesh angry. My wife of forty-four years and our six children will tell you that it is best to avoid me when I am angry like this. I have a quick-to-rise-quick-to-recede temper. (Apologies to readers who thought I was a perfect human being. I’m not.) Polly has learned over the years to just ignore me. Let me mutter, cuss, and air my grievances, knowing that my anger will soon disappear and I will say, “Hey, want to go to dinner tonight”? On this day, my anger was justified.

Junction City had a mayor’s court. Such courts are known for abuse and corruption. When we arrived at the appointed time for judgment, we were the only serfs there. Most people just paid their tickets, end of story. That was not going to happen for Polly Gerencser on this night. Her husband, known in them thar parts to be a fire-breathing crusader, was by her side. When they called her name, I started to speak. The mayor tried to put me in my place, telling me only Polly could speak (she was terrified). I told the mayor that I planned to speak, regardless. I then laid into them about how wrong it was to give Polly a ticket weeks later for a trivial headlight violation. “That’s the law, sir!” the mayor said. I replied, “fine. My wife is going to plead not guilty. This means you are required to transfer this case to County Court. Do you really want all this exposed in public court”? After quickly conferring with each other, the mayor sanctimoniously said — as if he was doing Polly a BIG favor — “I will dismiss the ticket, but you have to pay court costs.” I replied, “we are not paying costs.” Barney Fife and Mayor Roy Stoner (the mayor of Mayberry) conferred again, quickly deciding to waive the costs. With that, we said “thank you” and walked out the door. I am sure they were glad to be rid of that temperamental redheaded preacher. We move away from Junction City a few months later.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

How Many Times Have You Moved in Your Life?

My sixty-fifth Birthday, 2022

I am a restless soul. Let me tell you why. I’ve moved thirty-six times in my sixty-five years of life. I’ve lived in 45+houses, apartments, and mobile homes.

Bryan, Ohio — born 1957
Ney, Ohio — toddler
San Diego, California — kindergarten to second grade
Bryan, Ohio — third grade
Harrod, Ohio — fourth, fifth grade
Farmer, Ohio — fifth, sixth grade
Deshler, Ohio — seventh grade
Findlay, Ohio — eighth grade to tenth grade
Tucson, Arizona — tenth grade
Mt. Blanchard, Ohio — eleventh grade
Findlay, Ohio — eleventh grade
Bryan, Ohio — dropped out of high school
Sierra Vista, Arizona — age 18
Bryan, Ohio — age 18
Pontiac, Michigan age 19-21, college, married Polly
Bryan, Ohio —1979
Montpelier, Ohio — 1979
Newark, Ohio — 1979-1981
Buckeye Lake, Ohio — 1981-1983
New Lexington, Ohio — 1983
Glenford, Ohio — 1983-1984
New Lexington, Ohio — 1984-1987
Junction City, Ohio — 1988-1989
Mt. Perry, Ohio — 1989-1994
San Antonio, Texas — 1994
Frazeysburg, Ohio — 1994-1995
Fayette, Ohio — 1995
Alvordton, Ohio 1996-2003
Clare, Michigan — 2003
Stryker, Ohio — 2003
Yuma, Arizona — 2004
Newark, Ohio — 2004-2005
Bryan, Ohio — 2005-2006
Alvordton, Ohio — 2007
Ney, Ohio — 2007 to present (my final resting place)

I still want to move. My wanderlust never goes away. However, I know I’m where I need to be, close to my doctors, children, and grandchildren. It is here I will die, though my ashes will be spread by Polly and my family on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. Why? That’s a story for another day. ❤️❤️

Short Stories: Somerset Baptist Church: A Trip Down Memory Lane

somerset baptist church mt perry ohio auditorium
Somerset Baptist Church Auditorium after Remodel, 1992

In July of 1983, I started the Somerset Baptist Church in Somerset, Ohio. In 1985, we bought a Methodist church building near Mt Perry, Ohio for $5,000.00. The church building, built in 1831 and one of the oldest Methodist buildings in Ohio, would be the church’s home until Polly and I moved away in March 1994.

During the eleven years I was pastor, hundreds of church members came and went and we hauled thousands of kids to church on one of our four buses. For five years, we operated a private Christian school, open only to the children of the church. It was tuition-free.

bruce gerencser 1983
Bruce Gerencser, Somerset Baptist Church, 1983

This was the church where I came of age as a pastor. In 1983, I was a hardcore, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastor. When I moved away in 1994 to co-pastor Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas, I was a committed Calvinistic, Reformed Baptist pastor. I went through tremendous intellectual and social transformation during these eleven years.

Several years ago, as I scanned the pictures from this era, my mind was flooded with memories of the shared experiences I had with the church family. Yes, there were bad times, stupid times, dumb ass times. Yes, I was a Fundamentalist and that brought all kinds of baggage with it. But, as I looked at the pictures, I didn’t think about beliefs. My thoughts were about people and the wonderful times we had. Yes, Fundamentalism psychologically and emotionally harmed and scarred me (and the people I pastored), but that does not mean there are no good memories. There are lots of them. In fact, the vast majority of the memories I have are good ones. Sometimes, when people deconvert they often become so fixated on the negative which happened that they forget the good times. I know I did.

bruce gerencser 1991
Bruce Gerencser, 1991, Somerset Baptist Academy

As I looked at these photos, I also shed some tears. There were a handful of people in the pictures who are now dead. Cancer, heart attacks, and car accidents claimed their lives and all I have left of them are the pictures and our shared memories. After I posted the pictures to Facebook, I heard from a number of people who were once part of the church. Most of the people I heard from were children when I was at Somerset Baptist Church. They are now middle-aged with families of their own. Their parents, like me, are old and gray. It was nice to hear from them.

The photos aren’t very good – the best a $20.00 camera could offer. Nothing like the photos I took with my professional $4,000 camera years later. In fact, they are down-right terrible. But, infused into the photos are memories, and it is those memories that matter.

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

I feel old today — a dying man who has lived a long life. But I also feel blessed to have lived a good life, a life marked by contradiction, conflict, grief, and change, along with happiness, joy, and goodness. It is the sum of my life.

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Bruce Gerencser, Somerset Baptist Church, Early 1990s
bruce gerencser 1987
Bruce Gerencser, Somerset Baptist Church, 1987
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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Listen to My Speech for the Atheists of Florida Monthly Meeting

atheists of florida speech

I had the honor of speaking at the monthly meeting of the Atheists of Florida this past Sunday, August 29, 202 After my speech, I answered questions from the crowd. Several friends and family members attended the meeting, including some of you. Thank You! for your support.

My speech is now available on YouTube.

Video Link

My speech is available on the following podcast services:

Apple

Audible

Google

Spotify

For other podcast services, please search for “Free2Think.”

I apologize in advance for my leaning to the right/left in parts of my speech. One explanation: pain, awful pain. I did what I could.

Let me know what you think.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Bruce and Polly Sitting in A Tree

polly bruce gerencser cranbrook gardens bloomfield hills michigan 1978
Polly and Bruce Gerencser, Cranbrook Gardens, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, Spring 1978, two months before wedding.

Polly and I are celebrating our forty-third wedding anniversary today. Tomorrow, we plan to travel to Findlay, Ohio, and celebrate our anniversary at The Gathering, an upscale restaurant. Afterward, we will take a stroll along the Blanchard River at Riverside Park. Weather permitting, I hope to take a picture of both of us. It’s been two or three years since I have done so.

Last night, as I typically do on Wednesdays, I watched Matt Dillahunty’s show The Hang Up. At the end of the show, Matt takes what is called Super Chats from viewers. Any donation over $10 is read live on air. What follows is my $19.99 Super Chat. (Clip starts at 2:16:25 if the embed doesn’t work properly for you.)

Video Link

Thanks, Matt! And most of all, thank you, Polly, for forty-three mostly wonderful years. I love you!

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Can Atheists Celebrate Christmas? 

bruce and polly gerencser christmas 2015
Santa and his favorite elf.

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

Growing up in an Evangelical home, I knew that Christmas was all about the birth of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Gifts were sparse, often just two or three packages, but never far from view was the most wondrous gift of all: salvation through the atoning work of Christ on the cross. The churches I attended spent significant time each holiday season reminding congregants that Jesus was the reason for the season. Sermons against Santa Claus, consumerism, and idolatry were common, as were pleas for money to help the poor and disadvantaged.

Polly and I started dating in September 1976. On Christmas Eve of that year, I drove from my mother’s home in Bryan, Ohio to Newark to meet Polly’s parents and attend her family’s Christmas gathering. This was the first time I had the opportunity to be alone with Polly, and we took advantage of it, using trips to the apartment complex’s laundry room to get as much kissing in as possible before returning to Midwestern Baptist College and its thou-shalt-not-touch six-inch rule. The family gathering was held at the home of Polly’s aunt and uncle, Jim and Linda Dennis. Jim was the pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple. Prior to gathering at their house, we dutifully attended the Christmas Eve service at the Baptist Temple. During the service, Polly’s uncle decided to thoroughly embarrass both of us by pointing out that Polly had a special visitor with her. He then said, “Bruce and Polly have a shirt tail relationship. We just don’t know how long the shirt tail is.” I can imagine Polly’s Mom saying to herself, not very long if I have anything to do with it.

After Christmas Eve service, we drove over to the Dennis’ home. As I walked in the door, I couldn’t help but notice the largest pile of Christmas gifts I had ever seen in my life. Jesus may have been the reason for the season, but it was quite evident that receiving a lot of gifts came in a close second. Prior to the gift-giving orgy, someone — I can’t remember who — gave a quick devotional, reminding all of us, yet again — as if we haven’t heard before — that Christmas was all about Jesus, his virgin birth, death on the cross, and resurrection from the dead. Once the Sermonette for Christianettes® was duly delivered, it was time for the gifts to be distributed. Polly and I had already traded gifts, so I didn’t expect anything for myself. I was surprised (and embarrassed), then, to receive a gift from Polly’s parents — a leather belt.

After Polly and I married, we settled into a holiday routine that had us celebrating Christmas Eve with her family and Christmas Day with mine. Things continue this way until the late 1980s. I had stumbled upon material that purported to reveal the pagan history and true meaning of Christmas. Wanting to be obedient to Christ and untainted by the world, I decided, as the head of the home, that we would no longer practice Christmas. I can only imagine how heartbroken Polly was when I gathered up all of her Christmas decorations and donated them to Goodwill. I did make an allowance for us attending family Christmas gatherings. We bought no gifts for our children, treating Christmas as if it were just another day. For several years, our family drove to the Charity Rescue Mission in Columbus on Christmas Day to help serve food to the homeless. Several families from the church I was pastoring at the time — Somerset Baptist Church — went with us. While I deeply regret becoming the Grinch that stole Christmas, feeding the homeless put Christmas into perspective for the Gerencser family.

Somewhere in the 1990s, I realized that you could make Christmas into whatever you wanted it to be. Much to the surprise and delight of our children, we bought a Christmas tree and decorations. We also allowed for limited gift-giving. As I look back on this, I realize that I did with Christmas exactly what the Catholics did when they took pagan practices and repurposed them for Christian use. Yes, Christmas was originally a pagan holiday, as were many of the practices associated with it, but I believed that such things could be used to further the gospel of Christ and give witness to Jesus. From that point forward, in the churches I pastored I allowed Christmas decorations to be put in the church auditorium. For the next decade, our home and the churches I pastored celebrated Christmas as most other American families and churches did. Jesus may have been the reason for the season, but gift-giving was a close second. To assuage the lingering guilt I had over consumer-driven gift-giving, I made sure our family and the churches I pastored gave liberally to missionaries and the poor.

Twelve years ago, on the last Sunday in November, Polly and I attended church for the last time. For the longest time, we found it impossible to attend anything remotely associated with religion. We had just gone through a nasty divorce with God, and we didn’t want to go anywhere that would remind us of our ex. After a few years, the distance between deconversion and the present was sufficient that we were able to attend Christmas programs and concerts without wanting to commit homicide. Our first foray back into the religious world was attending the production of Handel’s Messiah at a nearby church. That same year, we attended a Christmas concert put on by a Trans-Siberian Orchestra cover band — Siberian Solstice. One of the mainstays of the group is my counselor.

Evangelicals often deride me for practicing Christmas. How can an atheist practice a religious holiday? they ask. Christmas is all about Jesus, and aren’t you being hypocritical if you celebrate a holiday set aside to worship a God you don’t believe in? I suppose that this would be a valid question if the evidence at hand showed me that, indeed, Christmas was all about Jesus and his alleged virgin birth in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago. However, the evidence clearly shows that Christmas is all about family, food, and gift-giving, with Jesus often being a cursory add-on — even for Evangelicals. While many Evangelical churches will attempt to put Christ back in Christmas, most church families will practice Christmas in the same manner as their non-Evangelical neighbors. While Polly’s family still practices Christmas just as they did 45 years ago, it is now evident that the obligatory attendance at the Christmas Eve service and the devotional before presents can be opened are mere formalities — things to be endured until the real reason for Christmas begins.

As atheists, we can enjoy the holiday season, sans Jesus. In fact, Polly and I both say that Christmas is far more enjoyable now than it was when I was pastoring churches. Quite frankly, the days between Thanksgiving and New Year’s were so busy that we had little time to enjoy the holidays. Like many Christian churches, who once a year want to show the poor and disadvantaged that they really, really, really care, we put together several food baskets and delivered them to the poor. (Isn’t it amazing that the poor only need food and help during the holidays?) Not only did we have to do obligatory alms to the poor, we also had to prepare for special services such as Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. By the time the new year rolled in, Polly and I were quite glad the holidays were over.

These days, we are free to enjoy Christmas without worrying about whether we are giving Jesus his just dues. For Polly and me, Christmas is all about family. We eat lots of food with no worries about waistlines. Polly loves to bake and I love to eat (in normal years, but not 2020 thanks to bowel problems) what she bakes, as do our children and grandchildren. For the next month, Christmas songs will waft through the air of our home — yes, even religious ones. You might be surprised if you stop by to hear us singing Joy to the World, Oh Come All Ye Faithful, or many of the other religious songs associated with Christmas. The lyrics of the songs are reminders of our cultural heritage, not declarations of faith. This is why you will also find us singing Santa Claus is Coming to Town and Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer. For us, family and not Jesus is the reason for the season. If Christians want to focus on Jesus during Christmas, that is certainly their right to do so. However, I refuse to let them ignorantly suggest that Christmas is a Christian-only holiday. When confronted with such historical ignorance, I remind them that Christmas means different things to different people. It is a holiday that should bind all of us together, reminding us of the blessings of family and our common heritage. Evangelicals who stupidly say that there is a war against Christmas deserve a double-barrel gun salute. There is no war against Christmas, and no matter how many times Sean Hannity says that there is, the fact remains that Christmas is a religious and a secular holiday. Christians are free to worship the baby Jesus — cue Ricky Bobby and Talledega Nights — and sing praises to his name, and the rest of us are free to practice Christmas without the religious baggage.

How do you practice Christmas now that you are no longer a Christian? Are the holidays stressful for you? Do you still attend Christmas services? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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And Just Like That

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

Repost from 2015. Edited, rewritten, and corrected.

It’s late August in 1976 and I have just walked through the doors of the Midwestern Baptist College dormitory.

A few days later, a seventeen-year-old girl from Bay City, Michigan, a preacher’s daughter,  walked through the same doors.

A few weeks later, we went out on our first date.

It wasn’t long before we were in love; well, we thought it was love, anyway.

I knew she was the one.

I proposed, she said yes, her parents said no, we said we are going to get married anyway, and so we did on a hot July day in 1978 at the Newark Baptist Temple in Heath, Ohio.

Pontiac, Michigan, Bryan, Ohio (twice), Montpelier, Ohio, Newark, Ohio (twice), Buckeye Lake, Ohio, New Lexington, Ohio (twice), Glenford, Ohio, Somerset, Ohio, Junction City, Ohio, Mt. Perry, Ohio, Elmendorf, Texas, Frazeysburg, Ohio, Alvordton, Ohio (twice), Clare, Michigan, Stryker, Ohio, Yuma, Arizona, and Ney, Ohio . . . all the communities Polly and I have lived in over the past forty-one years.

Jason was born in Bryan, Nathan was born in Newark, Jaime was born in Zanesville, Bethany was born in Newark, and Laura and Josiah were born in Zanesville. Just yesterday, they were cute, cuddly newborns, and now they are 40, 38, 35, 30, 28, and 26.

Where did the time go? Polly and I ask ourselves.

Now we have thirteen grandchildren.

My Mom and Dad are long gone and Polly’s parents are in their 80s, in failing health.

I am no longer in the ministry and Polly and I have left the faith.

Never would we have considered such a thing possible.

Yet, here we are.

For decades, Polly was a stay-at-home mom, but now the roles are reversed.

We started married life full of vim and vigor, strong in body. Now my body is broken and Polly faces serious, life-threatening health problems of her own.

Our children are all out on their own, own their own homes, and are productively employed. Just like that . . .there are the two of us . . .and Bethany. Dear, dear Bethany.

Our life has had one constant: change.

Time marches on and stops for no one. A cliche? Perhaps, but nonetheless true.

Most of life is now in the rear-view mirror.

We peer dimily into the future, knowing that death lurks in the shadows.

If I died today, I will die happy.

Happy that I have seen my children grow up into fine adults.

Happy that I have spent lots of time with thirteen wonderful grandchildren.

Happy that I own my home and that I have lived a gratifying life of love with Polly.

If I had to sum up my life I would say, it has been good.

I am often asked, if I had to do it all over again would I ____________________?

I can’t answer this question.

Life is what it is, and playing the what-if game holds no value for me.

I know this one thing . . .

If I could marry one woman in the world . . .

it would be Polly.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Out On the Town With the Polly Celebrating Her Sixtieth Birthday

gerencser family 2018
Bruce and Polly Gerencser and Family 2018

Polly celebrated her sixtieth birthday on Saturday. Our children, their spouses, and Polly’s parents joined her at Mancy’s Steakhouse in Findlay, Ohio to celebrate. Awesome food, generous libations, and great company made for a wonderful evening.

Here are several photographs I thought readers might enjoy.

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Polly Gerencser, with her parents Lee and Bonnie Shope 2018

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Bruce and Polly Gerencser 2018

I got four “you look like” comments:

  • Santa Claus
  • Italian mob boss
  • Jewish rabbi
  • Amish man

So, I can bring you gifts, put out a hit on you, bless you, or build you a barn.

 

 

Bruce Gerencser