Tag Archive: Somerset Baptist Academy

My Life as a Street Preacher — Part One

bruce-gerencser-street-preaching-september-7-1990

Bruce Gerencser, preaching on a Zanesville, Ohio street corner, September 7, 1990. This photograph was on the front page of the Zanesville Times-Recorder.

I was a street preacher in the 1980s and 1990s. Yes, one of those guys standing on a street corner, Bible raised high, preaching to anyone and everyone who passed by my corner. I often preached on the street several times a week. I preached at Ohio State University, on the Short North in Columbus, and at numerous local festivals, including the Holy Trinity Catholic Church Garden Party in Somerset, Ohio, the Perry County Fair, and the Moonshine Festival in New Straitsville. I preached on the streets of Ohio communities such as Bryan, Crooksville, New Lexington, Zanesville, Lancaster, and Newark. I also preached on street corners in Washington, DC, near the Mall. Sometimes I preached by myself, but most of the time congregants and Christian school children went with me. Their duty was to hold Bible verse signs and hand out gospel tracts. Every week, the students of Somerset Baptist Academy would load into a dilapidated green fifteen-passenger van and go with the man they called Preacher to reach sinners for Jesus. Their appearance on street corners during school hours (once a week) was disconcerting to one school superintendent. He telephoned me and let me know that the kids should be in school, not on street corners hustling for souls. I asked him if the students in his district had extra-curricular activities during school hours. Of course they did! So that put an end to his objection. A short time later, I stopped taking the younger school children with me out of concern that it looked bad. The older students still went along with me, as did several of the teachers.

Don Hardman, an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) evangelist from Fishersville, Virginia, came to Somerset Baptist Church annually to hold what is called a protracted meeting. The meeting would start on a Sunday and last for fifteen days (18 services in all). The Hardman meetings were the highlight of the year. The congregation loved the Hardmans, as did Polly and I. Our youngest daughter, Laura, is named after Don’s wife. (Please read The Preacher: The Life and Times of Donald A. Hardman, A Book Review and Laura’s Light by Laura Hardman, A Book Review.)

Don was a street preacher extraordinaire. I would go with him when he preached on the streets. I didn’t preach at first due to shyness and not wanting to give an inferior performance in front of my friend and mentor. Eventually, the Holy Ghost got a hold of me and I knew I had to start preaching, so I did. Now, the Holy Ghost, of course, didn’t really get a hold of me in any shape, fashion, or form. I did, however, feel a burden for reaching unsaved people and ministering to the homeless. I “felt” a calling to reach the dregs of society for Christ, not only through my preaching, but also through feeding and clothing them. I suspect that my experiences with poverty growing up played a big part in the empathy I had for homeless people.

Some of my readers might want to know what good was accomplished through street preaching. As far as souls being saved, it was a big bust. This didn’t concern me. I saw myself as more of a John the Baptist, a voice crying in the wilderness. In 1739, John Wesley, a street preacher himself, wrote in his journal:

I look upon all the world as my parish; thus far I mean, that in whatever part of it I am, I judge it meet, right, and my bounden duty to declare unto all that are willing to hear, the glad tidings of salvation.

Much like Wesley, I viewed the world as my parish, and preaching on the streets was just my way of being a faithful witness to people who would likely never darken the doors of Somerset Baptist Church. I also believed, that by preaching on the streets, I would shame and embarrass preachers who contented themselves with being Sunday preachers, hirelings who cared little for the lost around them. I learned, however, that most preachers were either afraid to preach on the streets or didn’t care one bit for the spiritual condition of those outside the doors of their churches. Some preachers would compliment me for my zeal, but then say that they weren’t “called” to be street preachers. I reminded them that Jesus, Paul, John the Baptist, and the disciples were all street preachers. This fact did not sway them. I suspect the real issue was that street preaching would interfere with their golf game or their attendance at fellowships and conferences. Laziness, indolence, and indifference are quite common among pastors. Of course, now that I look back on the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry, I wish I had spent more time leisurely attending to my own wants and needs and those of my family instead of street preaching. These days, when I see a street preacher I make sure I share the good news with him — that there is no God, so let’s get a beer.

Stay tuned for Part Two.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven 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.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

The Failure of My Homophobic Preaching

homosexuality a sin

I came of age as an Evangelical pastor during the eleven years I spent at Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio. I was young, brash, full of energy, and convinced that God was going to use me to build a large country church. And sure enough, thanks to aggressive evangelism, the bus ministry, and congregational splits among several nearby Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches, Somerset Baptist grew to over two hundred people.

For many of the eleven years I pastored Somerset Baptist, I preached topical/textual sermons. In the late 1980s, I moved away from such preaching and began taking an expositional approach to my sermons. Textual/topical preaching fit well with my IFB ideology. Want to preach against a particular sin? Find proof texts that validate your viewpoint and build them into a sermon. Homosexuality was one such sin that got a lot of attention from me. I was loud and forceful in my preaching, leaving no doubt as to what I — er, I mean God — believed about sodomites and the sin of sodomy.

I was quite certain that if there were any closeted homosexuals in the congregations, my preaching would drive the gay right out of them. I never, of course, used the word gay to describe homosexuals. There is nothing GAY about the homosexual lifestyle, I told congregants, many of whom showered my homophobia with AMENS!  The children and teens of the church, in particular, faced the wrath of Pastor Bruce as he railed against sexual sin. I felt duty-bound to protect their virginity, warning them that physical contact with the opposite sex was the gateway to fornication. The Bible says in I Corinthians 7:1, I hollered from the pulpit, It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Girls were warned that no girl ever got pregnant without holding hands with a boy first. Want to stay pure until your wedding day? I asked. Don’t let a boy touch you! And just to make sure that teenagers put my preaching into practice, I instituted a no-touching rule in our Christian school and I asked their parents to not let their daughters get in cars with boys.

My preaching against homosexuality was meant as a preventative. I was certain that there were NO homosexuals among the faithful. From time to time, we had lesbians or gay men ride one of our buses, and I made sure they knew the “truth” about their vile lifestyle. There was one particular area where we picked up bus riders that was known for its immorality, especially incest. On more than one occasion, several women came to church with their children who had been fathered by their brothers. This inbreeding led to all sorts of physical maladies, including developmental disability (also known as retardation back in the day). No matter how fiery my sermons were, my edicts against their fornication pretty much went over their heads.

In 1989, I became a born-again Calvinist. Church attendance was declining. Those who had left other IFB churches returned home, taking their tithes and offerings with them. This caused severe financial difficulties, forcing us to stop running four bus routes. At this juncture in my ministry, I felt “led” of God to start a tuition-free Christian school for the church’s children. Our highest enrollment was fifteen students.

Fast forward to today. Through social media and private email, I have been in contact with a handful of the school’s students. I have apologized to them for my harsh preaching, especially my rants against homosexuality. Why this sin in particular? Three out of the fifteen students are now gay. That’s right, twenty percent of the student body came out of the closet as adults, proving that all the anti-gay preaching in the world, complete with Bible verses, won’t change who and what people are.

Evangelical preachers continue to rail against what they deem sexual sin. Few people forsake their nature. Instead, they learn to hide who they really are. In the case of teenagers, they bide their time until they can leave home. Once free of their parents’ fundamentalism, they embrace their true sexual nature. Some of them lose their faith, while others find ways to reconcile the Bible’s anti-LGBTQ stance with who and what they are. I do know this: the three people I mentioned in the post have turned into loving, caring adults. It’s too bad they had to spend years being beaten over their heads with the Bible by their pastor and parents. That any of them wants to have a relationship with me is a testimony to their kindness and character. I wouldn’t blame any of them if they spit in my face and told me to go to hell.

Were you raised in a church where your preacher railed against fornication in general and homosexuality in particular? How did things turn out people once they became adults? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven 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.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Life: It All Depends on Where You Are Standing

Photo by Ken Kistler, Public Domain

Photo by Ken Kistler, Public Domain

As you know, I spend a lot of time writing about my past: people, places, and events that are very much a part of the fabric of my life. I try to be as truthful and accurate as possible when I recount the past, but I am ever aware of the fact that I am giving an account of things as I remember them. Having read a good bit about the brain and memories, I know my retelling of my past may or may not be accurate. As best I can remember, I try to give an honest accounting of my life.

I have a younger brother and sister, and it is amazing how differently we each view events that happened in our childhood. Who is right? I’ve come to understand, we all are. The story we tell depends on where we were standing at the time.  As a 15 year old boy and the oldest son, my view of our parent’s divorce , is much different from that of my 11-year-old sister. The same can be said about many of our shared seminal experiences.

I live with a lot of guilt. I am prone to depression and I can be quite pessimistic. I have faced long, deep bouts of depression, times where I have felt that death would be too good for me. With my words, theology, and religious practice, I hurt people. Or so I think. I’ve come to have these feelings because I am looking back at my past with the eyes of a 58-year-old man. How could I have been Bruce Gerencser, the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist preacher? Who is that man, I ask myself. Thanks be to Zeus he no longer exists, having been slain by reason and maturity, but I still live with the memories of the past.

I am Facebook friends with several of the kids who were members of Somerset Baptist Church, a congregation I pastored from 1983-1994. I was their pastor through the formative years of their life. Not only did they sit under my preaching 3 times a week, they also attended Somerset Baptist Academy, a private Christian school I started in 1989. I often feel I hurt them and let them down. I think back to how narrow I was over things like certain kinds of clothing, music, physical contact between the sexes, movies,  and TV. If these children hated me, I wouldn’t blame them. Thankfully, they don’t.

When I talk to these former students, I hear their perspective on our shared experiences. All of them are in their 30s now and many of them are married and have children. Several of them are gay. Their religious persuasions run from atheism to liberal Christianity. None of them retained the fundamentalist Christianity of their youth. From their vantage point they recall things quite differently from the way I do. Several of them recall my wife teaching them to read. One man mentioned going back to the old church grounds and playing another game of kickball for old times sake. Again, what we remember depends on where we were standing at the time.

I recently re-read several posts I wrote about fundamentalist Baptist evangelist Don Hardman and his wife Laura. (please see Laura’s Light by Laura Hardman, A Book Review and The Preacher: The Life and Times of Donald A. Hardman, A Book Review)  As I read these posts I felt twinges of guilt and sadness. When I was a pastor, I had no closer friends than Don and Laura Hardman. I loved them like they were family. When they came to our church it was the highlight of the year. For 15 days we would focus on God and his Word. Every day Don and I would go out evangelizing and street preaching. The church loved the Hardmans and graciously gave of their money and food to help them.

From my vantage point as pastor of Somerset Baptist Church, I have nothing but good memories and feelings when I think of Don and Laura Hardman. I never saw them fight and I never had a cross word with them. Even when we parted company for a few years over my Calvinistic beliefs, we remained friends. In the early 2000s, the Hardmans came to Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio, a church I was pastoring at the time, and conducted a week long meeting. We had a great time, but I knew that I could not have them back. While they remained right where I met them in 1987, I had changed. My view of God, the Bible, politics, culture, and other Christian sects was evolving. Yet, we remained friends until 2008, when my deconversion permanently fractured the relationship.

Here I stand in 2015, no longer a Christian, now an atheist. My view of the past is clouded with the tincture of time. While I still have fond memories of evangelist Don Hardman’s protracted revival meetings, I have come to see that the preaching and the theology behind it was psychologically controlling and damaging. This is how I view much of my preaching as well, especially the first 15 years or so. Over time I matured. I began preaching expositionally and I turned from a Bible-quoting, hellfire-and-brimstone-preacher to more of a teacher of the Bible. Oh, I was still quite passionate about God, the Bible, and how we ought to apply it to our lives, but I was much more careful about using the Bible in context and letting the text speak for itself. While the Hardmans remained steadfast and unmovable throughout our friendship, my understanding of them changed. Again, my vantage point changed, resulting in me viewing the Hardmans differently.

Polly, my wife, and I have known each other for almost 40 years. Last July we will celebrated our 37th wedding anniversary. A year ago, I uploaded a bunch of old pictures to Facebook: family pictures; pictures from the Somerset Baptist Church, and pictures from Our Father’s House. As I uploaded these photos I began to weep. The memories of years gone by flooded my mind; memories of the people I pastored and the children I taught at Somerset Baptist Academy; memories of my wonderful wife and our little babies. Good memories. Wonderful memories.

Now, having a different perspective, I view the events recorded in these pictures differently. Is this maturity? I don’t know. Time changes how we view the past.  What were once wonderful memories are now clouded by what I now know about the emotional and mental manipulation I perpetrated on those who called me Pastor. As I have shared before, I am in a unique position. I am both a victim and a victimizer. I followed in the footsteps of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers who emotionally and mentally scarred my life. Victimized by their manipulation, I in turn victimized those who were members of the IFB churches I pastored. It’s an ugly cycle of abuse that I was fortunately able to put an end to during my latter years in the ministry and subsequent post-Jesus life.

So it is with Polly. While she and I walked side by side through the years we spent in the ministry, Polly’s viewpoint is very different from mine. I was the leader of the church and the center of attention. People, for the most part, respected me, loved me, and supported my work as a pastor. For Polly it was different. Like many pastor’s wives she was my gofer. She did what others didn’t or wouldn’t do.  No one in the nursery? Polly filled in. Entertain people every Sunday for 20 years? Polly did it without a complaint, even when her pastor husband forgot to tell her so and so was coming over for dinner. She quietly submitted to  a life as the helpmeet of a poorly paid, Type A, constantly-working, never-home, Baptist preacher.

Polly did without.  Our entire family did without, but Polly more so than me the children and I. She never said a word. She quietly lived in ramshackled houses and drove cars that were better suited for a demolition derby.  She made do with what she had. This much I know, I do WISH there was a heaven, because Polly deserves a huge mansion right next door to Dottie Rambo’s Log Cabin.

Video Link

However, since there is no heaven, all I can do is make sure that Polly has the best life possible for the rest of this life. She deserves it!

It should come as no surprise then that Polly remembers the past much differently from what I recall. One time I said, wouldn’t you like to go back to __________church? Immediately she replied, No I wouldn’t. I was surprised by her quick and negative response. I asked, why not? I then quickly learned, from where Polly was standing, that her view of this church was very different from mine. Who is right? We both are.

I have written a good bit about the abuse that went on, and continues to go on, in Baptist group homes. (please see Sexual Abuse in the Name of God: New Bethany Home for Girls, Teen Group Homes: Dear IFB Pastor, It’s Time for You to Atone for Your Sin and The Dogma that Followed Me Home)  The stories that some people share from their time in these facilities break my heart. I want to personally find these abusive miscreants  and beat the shit out them.  They deserve to have punishment heaped upon them. They hurt  people that I love and respect, and the fact that these dear friends of mine still suffer from the abuse received from men like Mack Ford angers me to this day. Every once in a while, someone will come along and leave a glowing testimony from their time in the same facilities. They loved their time there. They were helped and their life is the better for it. How can this be? Surely, someone is lying, right? Not at all. While it is possible that someone is lying or they are living in denial, more often than not, the difference is simply a matter of where the person was standing in relation to the person, place, or event.

Time shapes how we view the past. For me, I am finding that the further a person, place, or event is in the past, the fonder my memories are. I suspect that’s how we as humans cope with life. The tincture of time often brings healing, and it also allows us to gain enough distance from the negative things in our past that they no longer feel harmful or threatening. While time rarely heals all wounds, it does allow us the space and distance necessary to be at peace with those things that cut us to the quick. Perhaps that’s the best we can hope for.

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