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Tag: Short Stories

Short Stories: I Killed the Kittens With a Hammer, Says a Local Evangelical Farmer

feral cats in barn-008
Barn cats at my Son and Daughter-in-law’s Farm

As Polly and I wrapped up our twenty-five-year tour of duty pastoring churches, we began looking for a new church home. I had pastored Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio from 1997 to 2002, and after leaving the church, we attended — for a short time — an Independent Fundamental Churches of America (IFCA) church in Butler, Indiana. The congregation itself was not much to write home about, but we dearly loved the pastor, Jim Glasscock, and his family. After attending for a few months, we decided that we would join the church, only to find out that we couldn’t do so because we weren’t Dispensational and Premillennial. That’s right, we couldn’t join because of our amillennial, posttribulational, non-dispensational eschatology. Such is the fracturing nature of Christian Fundamentalism. We soon left, looking for friendlier confines. The pastor and his wife — by now friends — were, as we were, disappointed. We felt, at the time, that we couldn’t in good conscience attend a church that wouldn’t accept us as members. The church later closed its doors and the pastor and his family moved on to a new ministry.

While I could tell many stories about our time at this church (good, bad, and funny), one stands out above all others. One Sunday morning we were sitting around a table in the fellowship hall swapping stories. Somehow, the subject of cats came up. Now, I am a cat lover. We have always had at least one cat, and have had as many as three. Currently, we have a fat, lazy yellow sixteen-year-old cat named Joe Meower and a year-and-a-half-old stray we took in named Socks. We regularly feed the neighborhood’s feral cats, hopefully providing them a bit of respite from the cruelty inflicted upon them by thoughtless humans.

As we talked about cats, an aged farmer decided to share a story about his barn cats. One of his cats had recently given birth to a litter of kittens. I thought, how nice, this man is going to take care of these feral cats and their offspring. I quickly learned, however, this man was anything but nice. Not that he was peculiar. Lots of Jesus-loving, God-fearing locals are quite cruel to animals. Some of the most cruel people I know are local Amish farmers. I asked the man how the kittens were doing. Oh, he chuckled, I killed them. I got a hammer out and smacked each one of them in the head! I quickly felt my face becoming flush as rage filled my mind. I thought, you could have given the kittens away, or better yet, you could have had your female barn cats spayed. Instead, your cruel hands picked up a hammer and beat them to death.

I quickly exited the fellowship hall, fearing that I was going to have a “Bruce moment.” My rage passed, but I have not forgotten that people who speak of the love of God can often be cruel and violent; that God commanding them to have dominion over the earth means that they can indiscriminately kill. In an anthropocentric world, man rules the roost. All other life only has the value given to it by its overlords. This is why this farmer could, as if he was telling a story about his grandchildren, share his murderous rampage with his fellow church members.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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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Short Stories: Do You Want Some “Rose of Sheridan”?

somerset baptist church 1989

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

One spring, a woman who attended our church with her husband and three children asked Polly if she would like some “Rose of Sheridan.” The year before, we had moved a 12’x60′ trailer onto the church property, parking it fifty feet from the main church building. The first thing we did was put a chain link fence around our small yard so Bethany, our toddler daughter with Down syndrome, couldn’t wander away and get hit by a car in the parking lot or fall down the cement stairs to what was commonly called the basement building. After the fence was installed — we paid $400 for the fence out of our income tax refund — we set out to beautify our yard as best we could. Knowing this, Mrs. M made the offer of the “Rose of Sheridan.” We had no idea about what “Rose of Sheridan” was. All we knew is that we wanted “stuff” to plant in our newly fenced yard.

Several days later, Mrs. M brought us three “Rose of Sheridan” bushes. We planted them on the northeast corner where our yard met the basement building. The bushes didn’t bloom that much the first year, but the next summer they were in full bloom. Another church member asked Polly what the bushes were and she replied, “Rose of Sheridan.” The church member got a quizzical look on her face and said, you mean “Rose of SHARON,” right? You see, what Mrs. M gave us was Rose of Sharon and not “Rose of Sheridan.”

phil sheridan somerset ohio

How did Mrs. M confuse the name? Oh, that was easy. You see, nearby Somerset was home to Civil War general Phil Sheridan when he was a child. His boyhood home sits on the south edge of town on State Highway 13. A statute of Sheridan on a horse — the only equestrian Civil War monument in Ohio — adorns the center of town where two state highways meet. The local high school was named Sheridan High School. In Mrs. M’s mind, she confused Sharon with Sheridan, so that’s why the bushes she gave us in the spring of 1990 were called “Rose of Sheridan.”

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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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Short Stories: Bruce, the Baptist Goes to a Charismatic Faith Healing Service

somerset baptist church 1989

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

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

I grew up in a religious monoculture. The only churches I attended were Evangelical/Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregations. I attended a Methodist church one time, but that was only because I was chasing a girl who went to that church. I was twenty-six years old before I attended the services of any other church besides a Bible-preaching Evangelical church.

One of my responsibilities as an IFB pastor was to preach against false pastors and their teachings. On Sundays, I would preach against Catholics, Southern Baptists, Charismatics, mainline churches, and any other sect I deemed heterodox or heretical. As a fully certified, circumcised, and lobotomized IFB preacher, I had a long list of things I was against. The goal, of course, was to make sure that congregants didn’t stray. They were members of the “best” church in town. Why go elsewhere, right? I saw myself as a gatekeeper, a divinely called man given the responsibility to protect people from false teaching. And protect them I did — from every false, harmful teaching but my own.

One Sunday afternoon, I decided to attend a Charismatic faith healing service at the Somerset Elementary School gymnasium. I thought, “if I am going to preach that Charismatic movement is from the pit of Hell, I’d better at least experience one of their services.”

I arrived at the service about fifteen minutes early. I brought one of the “mature” men of the church with me, a man who wouldn’t be swayed by the false teachings we were going to hear. There were 50 or so people in attendance. Songs were sung, a sermon was preached, and an offering was collected. Pretty standard Baptist stuff. But then it came time for people to have the pastor lay hands on them and deliver them from sickness and demonic possession. People started speaking in tongues as the preacher walked down the front row “healing” people. According to the preacher, numerous people were being healed, though I saw no outward evidence of this. This so-called man of God would stand in front of people, ask them their needs, lay his hand on their heads, and pray for them. And just like that, they were “healed.”

Near me was sitting a dirty, scraggly woman. Her black hair looked like it hadn’t been washed in weeks. It had a sheen that said, “last washed with used motor oil.”  When it came time for the preacher to lay his hand on top of the woman’s head, he refused to touch her greasy, dirty head. Instead, he held his “healing” hand just above her head, prayed for her, and quickly moved on to the next mark. I thought, “What a fraud. Why not put your hand on this woman’s head? What’s a little grease on your hands?”

I attended other Charismatic services during my eleven years as pastor of Somerset Baptist, but there’s nothing like your first one, right?

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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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Short Stories: A Perry County Septic Tank

somerset baptist church 1989

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

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

Perry County was coal-mining country. Several large underground mines were in operation during my eleven years at Somerset Baptist. Also scattered across the county were open-pit (strip) mines. These mines, in particular, caused great ecological harm to the beautiful rolling hills of Perry County. Companies were required to “reclaim” land used for mining, but their reclamation efforts often left denuded landscapes and polluted streams and lakes. This land was practically worthless except for recreational use. A southern man by the name of Sidney Hurdle — a lawyer by trade — found a way to monetize this land by selling it on land contract to poor people looking to own a place of their own. Sectioned off in five-, ten-, and twenty-acre lots, Hurdle sold former strip ground land (and non-strip ground land) for $395 down and low payments over the next twenty to thirty years. Sidney Hurdle died a few years back. His son, I believe, continues to sell land as his father did before him:

For nearly half a century Hurdle Land & Realty has conducted business with the philosophy that owning your own property is an essential part of the American Dream. That is why three generations of Hurdles have enabled thousands of people just like you to purchase land hassle free.

….

We do things a bit differently than a traditional lender. We promise to finance you, if you promise to pay us. We believe in a hand shake. We take a man for his word. We feel too many people have lost this type of service. If one of us ends up not living up to our agreement, then there are practices in place to resolve that. But in the beginning, we trust our customer. Besides, this saves you money overall, eliminates the complicated process of securing a mortgage from a bank and it all works with just a small amount of cash up front.

When purchasing real estate there are costs involved that are above the cost of the property itself. You have probably heard terms regarding these fees like document prep, attorney cost, title service, deed stamps, survey, application fees, points, commissions and the list goes on. However, when you buy from us, we cover all associated fees with the transaction for you. We will NEVER ask you to pay for any of these fees before or after the sale!

Here is how it works: You pay a total down payment of $295. We currently have a set fixed interest rate of 7.9%. We are flexible with the term of the loan. We will finance to you for as short as 12 months or extend it as long as 360 months–whatever fits your budget! Our office will prepare all the necessary closing documents for you to sign . . .

The website for Hurdle’s Ohio land for sale can be accessed here.

Some people took issue with Hurdle selling reclaimed land to poor people, profiting from their poverty. While I once thought that too, I came to see that Hurdle enabled the working poor to own that which they would never be able to own otherwise. Several congregants owned Hurdle Land, as it was commonly called. One family owned a twenty-acre parcel. Most of the families purchasing Hurdle Land couldn’t afford to build a home, so they bought mobile homes instead. On several lots sat school buses that were converted to year-round homes.

The church family with the twenty-acre plot bought a dilapidated trailer and had it towed up to the top of their hill.  Drinking water was provided by a spring at the bottom of the hill. Sewage was handled by what was called a Perry County Septic Tank. There was no zoning, and locals routinely ignored licensing and permitting requirements. Perry County had septic tank regulations, but many of the people buying Hurdle Land couldn’t afford to have a commercial septic system — complete with tank and leach bed — installed, so they installed a makeshift septic tank instead. A Perry County Septic Tank consisted of running plastic pipe from the mobile home to a fifty-five-gallon oil drum buried downhill in the ground. The drum had two holes, one where the sewage entered and the other where the liquids (gray water) exited and ran down the hill. Yes, down the hill where the spring was! (There was no leach bed.) On more than one occasion I expressed my concern that sewage runoff might contaminate the spring. I was told, Oh, preacher, don’t worry, we will be fine. Over time, the oil drum would fill up with solids. This, of course, posed quite a problem. The tank either had to be emptied, or raw sewage would run down the hill. Far too often, the drum overflowed, and down the hill went raw sewage. In time, the tank would get emptied by bailing out the drum with a rope attached to a five-gallon bucket. The sewage would be dumped on the back side of the property — out of sight out of mind.

The eleven years I spent in Perry County taught me a lot about the struggles of the poor, the working class; of their desires to have and own just like their more affluent brethren. The family in this story could proudly say they owned twenty acres of land and a mobile home; an achievement, to be sure. Their children learned from these hardships, went to college, and built their middle-class lives upon the memories of Hurdle Land, a ramshackle mobile home, and a Perry County Septic Tank.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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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Short Stories: Why I Am Early for Everything

punctuality

Ask anyone who knows me and they will tell you that I am early for everything. It is not uncommon for me to arrive thirty minutes to an hour before an event begins. When I attend major league sporting events and dirt track races, I arrive a half hour or so before the gates open. The same can be said for medical appointments and dinner reservations. The surest way to irritate me is for someone to say he or she will be somewhere at a certain time, and then to show up late, leaving me oh-so-impatiently waiting. When someone makes me wait for no good reason (and doesn’t text or call), that person is being rude and wasting my time; time that could be used to do other things. I am acquainted with people who have no problem making other people wait for them to make their grand entrance minutes or even hours after the appointed time. Such people think that setting a time for an event, meal, or get-together is a suggestion, one they need not follow if more “important” stuff claims their attention. They seem clueless to the fact that their lack of punctuality robs others of their time; that ultimately it shows a lack of respect. “Bruce, you don’t understand; shit happens.” Yes, shit does indeed happen to ALL of us, but many of us still meet our obligations on time. Why is that?

One of the reasons I am punctual — “punctual” meaning arriving well before an event begins — is that I don’t like crowds and I don’t like being the focus of attention. I know that sounds odd coming from a man who spent most of his adult life being the center of attention as a pastor, but Polly will tell you that I go out of my way to avoid people/crowds, preferring to blend into the background. This is especially the case when I go somewhere I haven’t been before. I want to arrive early so I can survey the lay of the land. The same applies to going to a restaurant to eat. I prefer, if at all possible, to sit where I can clearly view my surroundings. I prefer a seat where no one can walk behind me. That’s just how I am. My children know not to invite me to crowded public events. Take concerts — I might love a particular band, but if seating at the event is general admission — count me out. Years ago, my sons took Polly and me to hear Collective Soul at Pierre’s in Fort Wayne. We had a wonderful time; that is until it was time to leave. I was surrounded by younger adults who had spent most of the evening swilling beer. They pushed, shoved, and repeatedly banged into me. The last straw was one man who dumped beer on me. With one hand, I stiffed-armed the man, sending him reeling. My sons decided it was best to quickly get Dad out of the place before he killed someone. And then there is Christmas shopping. We used to go to local retail stores and shop, but I found myself being repeatedly battered by people whose only mission in life was to save $2 on a toaster. After an hour or so of that, I was ready to commit homicide with my cane. No thanks. We now do all our shopping online.

beater station wagon
$200 beater. Polly and the boys HATED this car.

Another reason I am punctual goes back to the days when Polly and I were first married — forty-five years ago. We drove junk cars — automobiles I purchased for a few hundred dollars. We went through dozens of cars during the first two decades of marriage. My oldest two children still “fondly” remember me picking them up at the Christian school they attended in the dilapidated, noisy, handpainted green, full-sized Ford station wagon pictured above — by far, the cheapest, ugliest car in the parking lot.

newark-telephone-car

Here’s another beauty I bought in 1980 for $225. It was formerly a fleet vehicle owned by the Newark Telephone Company. If you carefully look at the driver’s side fender, you will notice the fancy bodywork I did with duct tape. I drove it to work in Columbus for two years before selling it to a man in our church. I gave him instructions on how to baby the car along. He didn’t listen to me, and two weeks later he trashed the transmission. “Idiot,” I thought at the time. Ah, those were the days.

These clunkers and others rarely had good tires on them. I drove on tires years ago that had cords showing through their tread. Today, I wouldn’t leave my driveway with such tires. Of course, driving cars with bald ties meant sitting alongside the berms of countless roads with flat tires. Back then, I usually carried two spare tires in the trunk, just in case one of them didn’t stay inflated. Changing a flat took time, so I began adding time to whatever trip I was taking to account for having to change a tire (or put water in the radiator). Generally, I added thirty minutes or so to the drive time. Remember, I hated being late; and being on time was the same as being late. Allowing time for changing a tire was the best way for me to arrive on time. As the years passed, I started buying nicer cars, finding out that they did come with decent tires. Why, I even found out that there were stores that sold NEW tires. (I used to buy used tires for $5 apiece from a guy who attended our church. For a few years, I went the retreaded tires route.)

These days, I am far removed from junk cars and flat tires. But what still remains is the time with which I pad trips, just in case something happens that delays me. You never know, right?

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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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Short Stories: My Gay IFB College English Teacher

gary keen bruce mike fox greg wilson midwestern baptist college 1978
Gary Keen, Bruce Gerencser, Mike Fox, Greg Wilson, Midwestern Baptist College, 1978

Forty-seven years ago, I loaded my meager belongings into my rust bucket of a car and drove two and a half hours northeast of Bryan, Ohio to enroll for classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Founded in 1954 by Tom Malone, the pastor of nearby megachurch Emmanuel Baptist Church, Midwestern was an ardent Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution. Malone was an alpha male who had little tolerance for weakness. From time to time, I would play basketball with Malone after Sunday evening church. Malone loved playing rough and tumble, no-blood-no-foul basketball, as did I. Students showing weakness such as complaining about getting fouled were ridiculed and, on occasion, sent to the showers.

Malone’s manliness appealed to me. I played baseball and basketball in high school and would continue to play competitive sports into my thirties. I loved hiking, hunting, and working on cars. As a dorm student, I was known for playing practical jokes and horsing around. I was, to a large degree a normal heterosexual man — typical for my generation. Malone’s brand of masculine Fundamentalism and that of my pastors appealed to me. As a young pastor, I became what was modeled to me — a masculine, authoritarian preacher.

A man I will call Bill to protect his identity was the chairman of the English department. Bill was an educated man, holding degrees from secular institutions — a rarity among Midwestern professors. Many of my professors held degrees from Fundamentalist Bible colleges, including degrees from Midwestern. (The music department was an exception. Most of the women in the music department had advanced degrees from secular institutions.)

Bill was gay. I mean 100% flaming gay. The first time I met him, my Gaydar® pegged to the right. I remember thinking, at the time, “How is it possible that one of my teachers is a faggot?” Even my naive girlfriend, Polly, knew he was gay.

Bill lived in the dormitory, on what was commonly called the spiritual wing. There were three male dormitory wings: the spiritual wing, the party wing, and the pit. I, of course, lived on the party wing. 🙂 It was common knowledge among male dorm residents that Bill was gay (though we did not use the word “gay” to describe him at the time.) A shy, backward freshman student lived with Bill, an “odd” relationship to say the least.

I have often wondered how Bill came to be a teacher at Midwestern. I assume he had some sort of IFB cred. Gay was not a thing in the IFB church movement of the 70s, nor is it today. I am just speculating here, but I wonder if Bill’s willingness to work for the peanuts Midwestern paid professors was such that they were willing to ignore his sexuality for the sake of gaining a credentialed teacher.

Bill was Polly’s English professor for two classes. I, on the other hand, only took one of Bill’s classes — freshman English. Bill’s effeminacy rubbed me the wrong way. Quite frankly, I despised the man. I have no idea whether he was a good teacher. After two weeks in his class and numerous conflicts with me, Bill told me that he didn’t want me in his class anymore; that he would give me a passing grade — a B — for not attending the class. For the remainder of the semester, I worked on my jump shot in the school gym during class time. Awesome, right?

Several years later, Bill moved on to greener pastures. This is the path most Midwestern professors took. Starvation wages without benefits led many good men and women to leave Midwestern’s teaching ranks. Midwestern wanted teachers to treat their jobs as a ministry. They were working for God, not man, the thinking went. This didn’t change the fact that these professors had rent, utilities, transportation expenses, medical bills, and other normal, everyday expenses to pay. All the God in the world doesn’t change the fact that rent is due on the first.

If alive, Bill would be in his eighties. I tried to locate him on the Internet and social media, without success. As I pondered writing this post, I thought, “What would sixty-six-year-old Bruce say to Bill?” Nineteen-year-old Bruce was an alpha male homophobe. Sixty-six-year-old Bruce, still somewhat of an alpha male, is a defender and supporter of LGBTQ rights; a man whose youngest son is gay; a man who has numerous LGBTQ acquaintances and friends, many of whom read this blog.

The first thing I would do is embrace Bill and tell him, “I am sorry for judging and demeaning you. I am sorry for disrupting your class. I am sorry for whatever pain I caused you.” I wish I had gotten to know Bill, the person, instead of thinking I “knew” him based on a homophobic stereotype in my head. Of course, I can’t undo the past. All I know to do is to be a kinder, gentler, more compassionate man today; a man who loves and accepts people as they are, even when I may not necessarily understand them. I have spent the past twenty+ years undoing a lifetime of Evangelical indoctrination and conditioning. Change is hard. Flushing one’s mind of all the Fundamentalist junk is an arduous process. I certainly haven’t arrived. My life is a fixer-upper that will require continual renovation.

I am sure some of the readers of this blog understand the sentiments I have expressed in this post. It is not easy to look back at what we once were and the harm we caused. Even though we have become better people, the scars remain.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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.

Short Stories: The Chapel Library Tape Lending Library

cassette tapes

In the late 1980s, I left the theology of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church movement and embraced Evangelical Calvinism. Over the next fifteen or so years, I preached what is commonly called the “doctrines of grace.” I abandoned preaching topical/textual sermons and started preaching expositionally, verse-by-verse through books of the Bible. I preached over 100 sermons from the Gospel of John alone. I also preached through Genesis, Exodus, Daniel, Hebrews, Revelation, and many of Apostle Paul’s epistles. My library was filled with books written by Puritan authors and modern Calvinistic writers. My book collection quickly surpassed 1,000 books, mostly of a Calvinistic persuasion.

My turn towards Calvinism was fueled by tapes and literature from Chapel Library, a cassette tape and publishing ministry of the Mt. Zion Bible Church in Pensacola, Florida. I remember reading an ad for Chapel Library in a Christian publication, advertising their free tape-lending library. Chapel Library sent me a printed catalog, and I ordered my first box of tapes.

The tapes — ten or twelve of them — came in a duct-tape-covered plastic rectangle tape box. Every two weeks, after listening to the tapes, I would return them and order another set of tapes. I listened to sermons by Rolfe Barnard, Martyn Lloyd Jones, Henry Mahan, Al Martin, Walter Chantry, and other Calvinistic preachers. I later bought a tape duplicator and copied the tapes Chapel sent me. I then made the tapes available to church members. Eventually, I started our own tape lending library, the CHARIS Tape Lending Library.

I kept this large collection of tapes for years, through three pastorates. One night, in a fit of spiritual angst and depression, I threw the tapes into our backyard and set them on fire. I explained this event in a post titled, The Night I Set My Life on Fire:

During the last three years of my time at Our Father’s House, I became increasingly disenchanted with Evangelical Christianity. Deeply influenced by authors such as Thomas MertonWendell Berry, and John Howard Yoder, I fully embraced pacifism and changed my political affiliation from Republican to Democrat. I now see that the seeds of my unbelief were planted during this period of time.

One night, after a long, depressing self-reflection on Evangelicalism and my part in harming others in the name of God, I gathered up all the ministry mementos I had collected over the years, piled them in the yard, doused them with gasoline, and set them on fire. In a few minutes, 20 years of sermons notes, recorded sermons, letters, and church advertisements went up in smoke. At the time, I found the consuming fire to be quite cathartic. This was my way of breaking with my past. Little did I know that eight years later I would torch the rest of my ministerial and Christian past and embrace atheism.

I have fond memories of the days when my Chapel Library tape orders arrived. Much like a child on Christmas, I excitedly opened my tape box and started listening to the tapes in my car, on my Walkman, on the portable tape recorder I purchased for use in my office, or on our awesome Fisher stereo that cost us $500. Virtually every day I would listen to the sermons of eloquent orators, men who taught me much about the art of preaching and the gospel according to John Calvin. These taped sermons were instrumental in my personal and spiritual growth.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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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Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Short Stories: Playing the Bruce and Polly Fantasy Game

white birch clare michigan 2003
House we rented in White Birch, a wooded community north of Farwell, Michigan. At the time, I was pastoring Victory Baptist Church, Clare Michigan 2003

Depression Sea is roiling today, my mind is twisting, turning, and dying.

She knows, she always knows. My face and body language tell a story she’s read time and again.

She worries that this time the story might have a different ending.

I’m at the doctor’s office.

Wasn’t I here last month? I already know the answer, having made the trip eight times and the year isn’t even half over.

As we wait for the nurse to call my name, we play the Bruce and Polly Fantasy Game®.

Playing the game allows me to change the monotonous, deadly channel that keeps playing over and over in my mind.

We look at one another, smile, and begin the game.

The game always has the same answers, but we like to play anyway.

In the Bruce and Polly Fantasy Game®, we take shared places and experiences and meld them into one. A fantasy, to be sure, but who knows, maybe we’ll strike it rich, rob a bank, or write a book detailing where Jimmy Hoffa is buried.

Spring in Ohio, with its promise of new life and flowers.

Fall in Ohio, with its crisp air and changing colors.

Winter in Arizona, no snow for us, we survived the Blizzard of 78.

Summer in the Upper Peninsula , nestled as close to our Canadian friends as possible.

Our rented house in White Birch, Michigan, with a 1970 green Nova SS sitting in the drive.

bruce 1970 nova ss
Bruce putting water in 1970 Nova SS, March 1976, somewhere in Kentucky

Package these things together and magically move them to the eastern seaboard, to a small, out-of-the-way fishing community on the shore of the Atlantic.

Turn the house so it fronts the ocean, allowing us to sit on our deck and watch the sunrise and the fishing boats making their way to the secret spots known only to those whose hands and faces bear the weathered look of a lifetime spent fishing.

Nearby live our six children and thirteen grandchildren. Not too close, yet not so far as to be beyond an invite to a Saturday night BBQ.

This is Bruce and Polly’s fantasy.

She remains worried, wondering if the slough of despondency will bury the man she loves.

All I want is for the pain to stop.

Is that too much to ask?

I already know the answer. I always know the answer.

The nurse calls my name and I  haltingly walk to the exam room.

My vitals are “normal” though blood tests, scans, and X-rays say I am anything but. Refills ordered; sure is hot; how’s Bethany; he’ll be in to see you soon.

The doctor walks through the door and sits near me.  Twenty-five years we’ve danced to this tune, both of us now dance much slower than we once did.

The doctor thinks I am chipper today, better than my last visit.  Little does he know what I’m really thinking. We talk about the Reds, the Bengals, and the Browns. I promised the nurse that we wouldn’t do our thing, “our thing” being shooting the breeze while other patients wait. I lied. He’s behind and I’m to blame.

We shake hands, and afterward, I put my hand gently on his shoulder. I tell him, see you in two months. This sounds like a lie, a hollow promise with no hope of fulfillment.

I want to live.

I want to die.

June 19, 1957, in a building now torn down and replaced with a modern new one, at 9:01 AM I drew air into my lungs for the first time. A new life born into poverty in a nondescript rural Ohio community, delivered by a doctor who also worked as a veterinarian.

The path is now long and how much path remains is unknown.

Will the game be called today or will we get to play, for one more time, the Bruce and Polly Fantasy Game®?

I’m still betting on playing the game.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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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Short Stories: 1983: Drafty Windows, Bubbly Water, Dead Kittens, and the Christmas from Hell

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Storefront meeting place for Somerset Baptist Church, 1983

In July 1983, I started a new Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church in the southeast Ohio community of Somerset. I rented a storefront, spent a couple of weeks cleaning up and remodeling the space, and then on the second Sunday in July, Somerset Baptist Church held its first service. There were sixteen people in attendance, including Polly and our two youngest children. At the time, we lived half an hour north of Somerset in the lakeside community of Buckeye Lake. I worked for the village as a grant writer, litter control program manager, workfare program manager, and property code enforcement officer. In September of 1983, we moved from Buckeye Lake to New Lexington, ten miles south of Somerset. We didn’t live but a few months in New Lexington, thanks to our rented home having a horrible odor from the previous renter’s animals peeing all through the house. Our landlord replaced the carpet and shellacked the underlying wood floors, but the awful smell remained. In early December, we packed up our meager belongings and moved to a ramshackle farmhouse near Glenford.

Our new home had been moved from Glenford proper to the top of a hill just outside of town. It was an uninsulated, drafty house that had free natural gas for heating. Perry County had a lot of oil/gas wells, including the one that sat behind our house. It was good that the gas was free. Ohio winters can be cold, and the winter of 1983-84 was one such winter. We set the furnace at eighty degrees, running it constantly, just to keep the house warm enough to live in. One of the side effects of having a natural gas well nearby was that our water well was infiltrated by the gas. Drinking water had to sit before use so the gas could dissipate. The gas levels were such that we could light the gas straight out of the kitchen faucet. Fun times. Worse yet, the gas made the water quite hard, so we had to use water-softening agents when we took baths.

The one nice thing about this house was that it had a fairly new basement. It became the inside playground for our two young children and our foster child. Of course, there were things our boys could get into. One day I went to the basement only to find our son Nathan and our foster son JR rolling up papers and sticking them in the standing pilot on the hot water tank so they could set them on fire! (The boys had seen me do the very same thing when lighting the pilot.) One spring day, the boys were playing in the basement when Polly called them up for lunch and a nap. At the time, we had two kittens. The boys had been playing with the kittens and left them in the basement when they came up to eat. Unbeknownst to us, they left them in the cooler and shut the lid. This, of course, killed the kittens.

Christmas 1983 was one we would never forget. My grandparents, John and Ann Tieken, along with my mother, her new husband Michael Monshine, and my sister and her family joined us for Christmas. Polly and I were excited about having my family over for Christmas — our first and only such event. The Tiekens joined us for church that morning, and everyone else arrived early afternoon. It was bitterly cold and snowy, and while driving the five miles to our home from church, the radiator on our car froze up, leaving me stranded. I walked to a nearby house, used their phone, and had someone come and get me. Little did I know that my car radiator freezing was the best thing that would happen to me on that day.

The radiator freezing, of course, elicited a lecture from my grandfather about making sure I had enough antifreeze in the radiator. Grandpa’s lectures, warranted or not, were a “gift” he gave me every time he saw me. Having my mom and the Tiekens in the same room was risky, thanks to past violence, sexual abuse, and Jesus-loves-you judgmental behavior. Grandpa was a mean, judgmental son-of-a-bitch who loved Jesus. Ann was more of a passive-aggressive type of person, but she too could cut you to the quick with her self-righteous judgments. Needless to say, the entire afternoon was filled with tension; so much so that Polly and I were relieved when it was over. I made matters worse by not letting Mom or her husband smoke inside our home. I told them they would have to stand outside on our front porch to smoke. The temperature that day? Nine degrees below zero. This “order,” of course, infuriated my mother. She let it be known that she would NOT come to my house again if she couldn’t smoke inside. She kept her word, killing herself a decade later without ever darkening the door of my home again.

1983 was quite the year for the Gerencser family. We would have many more eventful days in the years ahead. In fact, I suspect if I gave a full and honest reckoning of my life, I would find that EVERY year had life-altering moments. Sure, life is filled with the mundane, but there are those days and moments when the circumstances of life alter our present and transform our future. The eleven years Polly and I and our growing family spent in Somerset fundamentally changed us and laid the groundwork for what one day would result in us leaving the ministry and walking away from Christianity.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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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Short Stories: Caring for Foster Children: Lice, Scabies, and a Stolen Car

bruce-and-polly-gerencser-1981
Bruce and Polly Gerencser with son #2, 1981

During the 1980s, Polly and I took in foster children from Licking and Perry counties in Ohio. We saw fostering children as an opportunity to not only help children psychologically and materially, but to also lead them to saving faith in Jesus. Most of the children placed with us were teenagers, though we did care for a two-year-old boy and a pair of sisters. We also took in a Black girl, making her the only non-white student in the local school district. Some of the children were court referrals, teenagers who had been in trouble with the law. I suppose, if I am honest, I naïvely thought I could turn them around just by changing their home environment.  We also had a teen church girl live with us for a year. She had been living with her grandparents, and they were unable to control her. I don’t remember what the exact issues were.

One girl was from Buckeye Lake. She was a delightful child who had the bad luck of growing up in a dysfunctional home. She lived with us several times over the years. On occasion, she would spend the weekend with her parents and siblings. Their home was quite unkempt, to say the least. Without fail, she would return from these visits infested with head lice. We would treat her with RID, only to find reinfestations after she came back from seeing mom and dad. This, of course, led to our children also getting head lice.

One time, another child went home for a visit, only to pick up scabies while she was there. By the time we figured out she had scabies, so did Polly and I and our two sons. At the time, I was the assistant pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Buckeye, Lake, Ohio. The church was holding a revival service with John Babcock — a pastor and friend of Polly’s parents. John stayed with Polly’s parents that week. One day, he mentioned to them that he had this funny rash on his belly. It was quite itchy and all he wanted to do was scratch. Of course, when Polly’s parents let us know that John had some sort of “mystery” rash, we knew what it was right away: scabies.

In the mid-1980s, we took in two teen boys who had been referred to us by the Perry County Juvenile Court. One boy lived us for quite some time, whereas the other boy was with us for only a short while. He would later attempt to rob someone at knifepoint. He spent time in prison for his crime. While living with us, he was quite a handful, constantly pushing the rules. The other boy was quite friendly and likable. He loved our boys and we got along quite well with him. Years later, he and his wife would live for us for a short time.

One day, Polly and I awoke to an epic nightmare. In the night, the boys had gotten up, stolen our money, checkbook, and car, and run off. The one boy picked up his girlfriend, and off the three went to infinity and beyond. Their joyride was brought to an abrupt end by a New Jersey police officer who had stopped them for running a red light. The officer discovered they were driving a stolen automobile and promptly arrested them. Local law enforcement went to New Jersey to retrieve them, charging the boys with felony grand theft auto. The girl was not charged with a crime.

The boys were released to the custody of their parents to await prosecution. What complicated matters was the car they stole did not belong to us. Our car was at the Chrysler dealership getting the engine replaced. The car they took was a loaner car. New Jersey law enforcement informed the dealership it was up to them to retrieve the car. They did, and then tried to bill me for their costs. I knew they had insurance for such things, so I refused to pay — end of story.

One day, the Common Pleas Court judge’s office called and asked me to come to the judge’s chambers so he could talk to me. After arriving at his chambers, I could tell that he had already had a few too many. He asked me, Reverend, what do you think I should do with these boys? I pondered his question for a moment, and then replied, I think they need to be punished, but I don’t want them sent to prison. The judge decided to sentence them to one year at the youth detention facility in Columbus. Unbeknownst to the boys, he planned to set them free after thirty days — a sentence I totally agreed with. I knew these two White boys were in for a rude awakening when they found themselves locked up in a facility where being White made them a minority. As I mentioned above, the one boy went on to commit other crimes, but the boy who had lived with us the longest was scared straight and did not offend again.

Polly and I like to think that we made a difference in the lives of the foster children who spent time in our home. We did what we could to give them a stable place to live, along with a little — okay a lot — of Jesus, too. We hope our small acts of love and kindness made a mark on their lives. Several years ago, someone whom knew us let us know that one of our foster children had told them we had made a positive difference in her life. Hearing this made our day. I do wonder from time to time what has become of them. I think of our first foster child, a two-year-old boy. After a year in our home, he was returned to his drug-addicted mom. The boy’s father had gotten out of prison and they were attempting to make a new start in life. I wonder if the new start lasted. What kind of man did this little blond-haired boy become?

Have you ever taken in foster children? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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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Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Bruce Gerencser