Tag Archive: Somerset Baptist Church Mt Perry

Why and How I Started Christian Schools — Part Two

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Why and How I Started Christian Schools Part One

In August 1989, Somerset Baptist Academy (SBA) — a ministry of Somerset Baptist Church, Mt. Perry, Ohio — opened its doors to fifteen students. SBA was a tuition-free kindergarten-through-grade-twelve, non-chartered private school. SBA did not accept students from outside the church. Parents were required to:

  • Pay an annual book fee
  • Agree with SBA’s policies and code of conduct
  • Agree with SBA’s use of corporal punishment
  • Regularly attend church
  • Regularly tithe and give offerings

The day-to-day operation of SBA fell to me as the pastor of Somerset Baptist Church. My wife, Polly, taught the younger children, along with teaching the older students English, spelling, and writing. Several church members helped teach subjects such as history and shop. I taught the math, science, history, computer, and Bible classes for the older students. Physical education consisted of playing games outside and taking hikes. Former students have fond memories of playing kickball in the church’s gravel parking lot.

Our mobile home was parked fifty feet away from the school/church. A dear older woman in our church cared for our younger children while Polly and I taught our respective classes. Polly was eight months pregnant when SBA opened its doors. She would give birth to our first daughter in September 1989, our second daughter in 1991, and our fourth son in 1993. That’s right, Polly had three babies during the five years SBA was open. Both of us got up early, stayed up late, and spent years “living” on 5-6 hours of sleep a night. Add my pastoral duties to the mix, and Polly and I worked non-stop seven days a week. We worked this way because we sincerely believed God wanted us to train the church’s children in the ways of God. It was our duty to prepare the next generation for service.

SBA was a one room school. All the students met in a large basement room. The room was outfitted with desks given to us by the local school district, a teacher’s desk, and a large chalkboard. In another room, students had cubbyholes to keep their books and hooks on which to hang their coats. There was no kitchen to speak of, so students were expected to pack their lunches. In the winter, the building was heated with wood and coal. Older students were expected to help stoke the wood stove and, if necessary split wood. The highlight of the one school year was when the well-casing wood stove vent pipe plugged up and filled the building with dense smoke. It took us two days to clean the building and make it ready for the students to return. (For you not familiar with well casing, it is the steel pipe used in drilling oil/gas wells. There were a lot of such wells in the area, so one member found a long section of pipe and adapted it for use with the school’s wood stove.)

Of the fifteen students, only three had previously attended a Christian school — my two oldest sons and one church girl. The other twelve had been public school students. All of the students came from poor working-class families. (The highest paid man in the church made $21,000 a year as a certified GM auto mechanic. None of the women, save one, worked outside of the home.)  Many of them had previously not done well in school. Using a one room school approach allowed us to teach students at their academic levels, and not their age/grade levels. For example, I taught math. All of the students were required to take timed mathematics facts tests. Students hated these tests, but they knew the only way out of them was to pass them in the time allowed. There were several high school students who had third grade math proficiency. They had a hard time with these tests. I didn’t cut these students any slack, expecting them to master the addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division tables.

To this day, I believe that our one room school approach helped students who were struggling in various academic areas. This approach allowed us to give them one-on-one attention. I determined at the start that SBA would focus on the basics: reading, writing, spelling, English, and arithmetic. My belief, then, and today: teach a child to read and he or she can master anything. According to what former students have told us, we succeeded on this front. Polly, in particular, was mentioned as the one person who helped them the most when it came to reading. She was, and remains, a gem!

The first school year, I decided we would go old-school and use McGufffey Readers for grades 1-6. Dumb idea. Students struggled with the arcane language and illustrations. Older students used Mennonite textbooks published by Rod & Staff. For several single student classes, SBA used self-directed study programs. After the first year, we did away with the McGuffey Readers and started using Rod & Staff materials throughout the school. I taught the older students an introduction to computers. This was a hands-on class. In this regard, we were ahead of what local public school students were taught about computers.

Annually, students took the Iowa or Stanford achievement tests. I believed the tests would provide evidence for student progress. Year to year, every student improved, so whatever SBA’s shortcomings were, students were getting a good education. Good, with respect to the things we taught them. Students received a narrow, religiously-defined education, so there were holes in their educations when compared to public school programs. This was especially true when it came to higher math and science.

Religion, of course, was central to the life of SBA. Students were required to memorize passages from the King James Bible, The Westminster Confession of Faith, and the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith. School days were opened with prayer, though readers might be surprised to learn that students did not recite the Pledge of Allegiance. I was opposed to such recitations because I believed our allegiance belonged to God alone, and not the State. While a large U.S. flag hung on the wall in back of the church’s platform, a pledge to that flag was never uttered in the eleven years I was pastor.

As a non-chartered private religious school, SBA was exempt from state regulation. Local schools were required to give us the records of students enrolled at SBA. Outside of this, SBA had no contact with state or local officials. SBA did, however, run into a problem with the EPA. One day, an EPA investigator showed up and told me that since there was a school operating at the church, its water supply would be designated as a public water supply. We had to drill a new well ($2,000, paid by Polly’s parents), and submit water test reports every three months. One time, I thought the testing bottle had some contamination, so I washed it out with rubbing alcohol. Guess what happened next? Yeah, stupid move, Bruce. After submitting our next sample, the EPA notified us that we had a contaminant in our water supply. I explained what happened — silly, stupid me — but the EPA still required us to publish a notice in the local newspaper saying that our water system had failed its latest test and the steps we were taking to remedy that problem.

In my final post, I want to talk about how we handled discipline and what became of the children educated at Somerset Baptist Academy.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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.

Tales From the Appalachia Foothills: The Perry County Dump

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.

From time to time, I want to share a few short stories from the eleven years I spent pastoring Somerset Baptist. I hope you’ll enjoy them. Today’s story is titled, The Perry County Dump.

In 1985, we bought an old abandoned brick Methodist church building five miles east of Somerset. Built in 1831 and located on the top of Sego Hill, the building had been abandoned years earlier. Purchased for $5,000, the building needed extensive repairs. One of the first things we had to do was haul away truckloads of junk that had been left behind by the Methodists and debris that had accumulated from the years of being left open to the elements.

Being fairly new to the area, I asked one member where the landfill was. He told me, I’ll haul everything to the “Perry County Dump” and it won’t cost anything!” I thought, “great!” Over the next several weeks, this man — who later would drive one of our bus routes — dutifully hauled numerous pickup truck loads of junk to the dump. Finally, the last load was delivered to the dump. I thanked the man for hauling everything away, and then moved on to helping another congregant level the floor in the main building.

Later that year, I was tooling down a gravel/dirt road south of the church and came upon a ravine where someone had been illegally dumping junk and refuse. As I looked more closely at the littered ravine, I noticed several items that looked just like the junk hauled from the church. Sure enough, what the man had call the “Perry County Dump” was actually an illegal dumping site. This man didn’t think twice about doing this. It’s what he had always done, and “no one ever said anything,” he told me! Needless to say, I said something, telling him that it was NOT okay to dump junk at the “Perry County Dump”; that in the future anything hauled for the church would have to be taken to the real landfill. The man never understood “why” he couldn’t use the “Perry County Dump,” but he agreed to use the landfill in the future.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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.

I Thought Jesus Would Take Care of Me When I Got Old

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I started preaching at age fifteen, enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College to study for the ministry at nineteen, married my wife at age twenty-one, and took my first church job a few months before I turned twenty-two. I was young, full of life, and raring to go for Jesus. I also was clueless about what awaited me in the ministry. Little did I know, that life would not turn out as Polly and I envisioned; that our fairy tale would not be one of love, peace, and potluck dinners; that our vision of a future with a white two-story home with a boy named Jason, a girl named Bethany, and a white picket fence would turn into a 12’x60′ trailer, six children, food stamps, and a $200 station wagon.

It’s common for young marrieds to have all sorts of hopes and dreams. Polly and I thought that God would surely use us in a mighty way to bring countless people to Christ; that we would be respected and rewarded for our hard work; that our children would grow up, get married, and follow in our footsteps. As a young man, I believed Jesus would always take care of me. He, after all, gave me a wonderful wife, blessed us with children, and favored the work we accomplished in his vineyard. Though Jesus never personally appeared to me, I saw all my ministerial success as coming directly from him. Boy, was I wrong!

One Tuesday in the early 1980s, I attended a Buckeye Baptist Fellowship Meeting at High Street Baptist Church in Columbus, Ohio. I thoroughly enjoyed the monthly pastors’ fellowships I attended at various Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches. These meetings were a time for me to shoot the breeze with my ministerial colleagues and listen to what I considered, then, to be great preaching. On this particular Tuesday, one of the speakers was Charles Mainous, the pastor at High Street. Mainous was known for his virulent anti-government sermons. At the time, the steeple of his church was red, white and blue, church members carried firearms, and posted warnings on the doors warned government agents of this fact. I had heard him several times before, so I knew what to expect. During his harangue, Mainous said that it was a sin for pastors to pay into Social Security; that it was up to God to take care of his preachers, not the government. If Catholic priests could take a vow of poverty and be tax exempt, so should Baptist preachers. I thought, “he’s right. God called me, God leads me, God talks to me, and God gives me my sermons to preach. Surely, God can take care of me when I get old.” And so, following Mainous’ advice, I filed for exemption from paying social security taxes on my ministerial income (and housing) (IRS Form 4361). I was twenty-five years old. Still physically fit, playing competitive basketball in the winter and softball in the summer, I looked good, felt good, and thought of myself as downright invincible. Jesus and Bruce were ready to take on the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world!

I thought that I would one day set up a retirement plan and the churches I pastored would pay into it, providing for my care when I retired. Not that I ever planned on retiring. My goal was to keep preaching until I died. I even thought it would be an awesome sermon illustration if my appointed time to die (Hebrews 9:27) was right at the end of one of my sermons. What a way to punctuate my message, right?

I am, however, still here, and the only thing that died was my relationship with Jesus. What did change was that the youthful preacher named Bruce Gerencser came down with mononucleosis in 1991 and almost died. For the first time, there was a chink in my supposedly invincible armor. I was sidelined from preaching for over a month, and mono left me with physical problems that I deal with to this day.

In 1997, after a year of unexplained fatigue and muscle pain, I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. This forced me to reconsider the naïve notion that Jesus was going to take care of me. In 2000, I decided to opt back into Social Security. Unfortunately, the paltry wages I received from this point to 2005 when I left the ministry didn’t do much to improve the level of social security I would receive at retirement. My health continued to decline, and by 2005 I was totally disabled, unable to find meaningful, paying work that meshed with my disability. Since that time, we have been a one-wage-earner family.

I looked in vain for Jesus. He was there when I was healthy, but nowhere to be found when I was sick. Of course, he was just a figment of my imagination, but I really did believe he was a friend who would stick closer to me than a brother; a supernatural being that would take care of me no matter what I faced in life. You see, religious beliefs are not benign. They can and do have consequences; they can and do cause psychological and physical harm; they can and do make a mess of your life. At least, that was the case for me. Thanks to not paying Social Security for twenty years, the only retirement income I’ll have will be based on the secular work I did on and off while pastoring churches.

In seventeen days, I will file for early Social Security. Come June, I will draw my first check for about $600. I sent a message to Jesus, asking him to make up the difference, but he did not respond. “I know I am an atheist and all that now, but come on Jesus, I worked seven days a week for you, month in and month out for over two decades. Surely the laborer is worthy of his hire, as the Bible you wrote says!”

Jesus is too busy building imaginary mansions in Heaven (John 14:1-6) to be bothered with my needs. He owes me, as he owes billions of people before me, but he’s never paid on his promises. He promised, at least in my IFB-addled mind, to take care of me, and to be my BFF. Instead, as he is wont to do, Jesus left me to fend for myself. And that, my friend, is the point of this post. Each of us is responsible for our own lives. Deep down, at some level, I knew that, but I convinced myself that Jesus would come through for me in the end. The responsible thing for me to have done was to pay into Social Security. The responsible thing for me to have done was to demand the churches I worked for do a better job at providing for my future needs, and those of my family. Of course, I was Head Cheese® at most of the churches I pastored, so to some degree I am to blame for them not taking care of me. I allowed myself to become a cheap whore for Jesus. I allowed myself to be paid poverty wages with no promises for tomorrow.

During my time at Somerset Baptist Church, a man who had pastored a nearby church for decades died. He and his wife (and children), had lived in the church’s parsonage for thirty years. There was an unspoken promise — an assumption — made to the pastor’s wife: “we will take care of you.” Much to her horror, “we will take care of you” meant “you can live in the parsonage for two months and then you will have to move. Our nice, new, shiny young pastor will need the parsonage for him and his wife and children,” And just like that the aged preacher’s wife was out on the street, forced to move in with one of her children. I thought, at the time, “how awful,” but I never considered why she was in that position. Her husband was a church slave. He worked for paltry wages, supplementing his income with side hustles. Living in the church parsonage allowed him and his family to live frugally, yet keep working in God’s coal mine for slave wages. I am sure they had no thoughts of retirement. Jesus promised to care for them too. Imagine the dead preacher’s wife’s surprise when she found out that the people they had labored with and cared for had no interest in reciprocation. “Our pastor is dead. Time for a new one!” End of story.

Over the years, I have given numerous young preachers advice. I tell every one of them the same thing: be bivocational. Get a “real” job, one that allows you to adequately provide for your family’s needs. Don’t let paltry wages from the church keep you on the bread line. Expect the church to pay you a decent salary and provide the same benefits you would have in the secular world. If a church won’t pay you, then don’t pastor that church. (In retrospect, I should have been far pickier about the churches I pastored.) If a church can’t pay you as much as you need due to its size, then get a job and pastor the church part-time. And above all, DON’T let anyone convince you to opt out of Social Security. The government is NOT your enemy!

If I had it to do all over again, I would have been a bivocational pastor. I would have worked jobs that adequately provided income for my family. I would have put my wife and children first, not God. It’s not God who suffers when there’s no money. It’s not Jesus who suffers when the cupboards are bare and your children are wearing bread bags on their feet to keep them from getting wet in the winter. And don’t even get me started on the Holy Spirit. Why that dumb ass “led” me to do all sorts of stupid things, things that caused harm to my health and the financial well-being of my family. I should have listened for the beep-beep-beep of a Brink’s truck backing up to my house instead of just, with a wing and a prayer, “trusting” the triune God of Evangelicalism to take care of me.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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 Four Ws of the IFB

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The Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement began in the 1950s as a response to theological liberalism among American and Southern Baptists. Pastors pulled churches out of their respective denominations and declared themselves INDEPENDENT. In the 1960s and 1970s, many of the Top 100 churches in America attendance-wise were IFB churches. The largest church in the country was an IFB church — First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana, pastored by Jack Hyles. All across America, IFB big-shots held conferences to motivate and inspire preachers to do great exploits for God. A lot of emphasis was placed on church attendance. John R. Rice, an IFB evangelist and the editor of  The Sword of the Lord, is famous for saying, there’s nothing wrong with pastoring a SMALL church — for a while. Rice, Hyles, and countless other big-name IFB preachers believed a sure sign of God’s blessing on a church and a pastor’s ministry was increase in attendance — especially a steady stream of unsaved visitors filling the pews.

IFB churches used poor children as a vehicle by which to drive up attendance. Bus ministries were all the craze in the 1960s-1980s. IFB megachurches ran hundreds of buses, bringing thousands of people — mostly poor children — to their services. Churches ran all sorts of promotions and gimmicks to attract bus riders — world’s largest banana split, hamburger Sunday, and free bike giveaway, to name a few. Once at church, children were shuffled off to junior church programs. Teens and adults usually attended the main worship service. IFB churches often had programs to “reach” deaf people and the developmentally disabled (or “retard church,” as it was called back in the day). The goal of all of these programs was to bring hordes of unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines to the church so they would hear the gospel and be saved.

I pastored the Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio for over eleven years. I started the church in 1983 with sixteen people. By the end of 1987, church attendance neared 200 — quite a feat in a poverty-stricken rural area. Somerset Baptist was the largest non-Catholic church in the county. At the height of the church’s attendance growth, we operated four Sunday bus routes. Each week, buses brought in a hundred or so riders, mostly poor children from the surrounding four county area. We also ran a bus route on Sunday night for teenagers. For several years, Somerset Baptist Church was THE place to be. There was a buzz in the services as visitors got saved and baptized. All told, over 600 people put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ. And that was the primary goal. A good service was one during which multiple sinners came forward to be saved and repentant Christians lined the altar getting “right” with God.

During my IFB years, I attended numerous soulwinning conferences. These meetings were geared towards motivating pastors and churches to win souls for Christ. I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan in the 1970s. One of the songs we sang in chapel went something like this:

Souls for Jesus is our battle cry
Souls for Jesus we’ll fight until we die
We never will give in while souls are lost in sin
Souls for Jesus is our battle cry

Midwestern held annual soulwinning contests. The student bagging the most souls for Jesus received an award. Founded by Tom Malone, the pastor of nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church in the 1950s, Midwestern’s goal was to turn out soulwinning church planters. Students were required to attend church at Emmanuel. This provided the church with hundreds of people to run their bus routes, Sunday school, and other ministries. During the 1970s, Emmanuel was one of the largest churches in the United States, with a high attendance of over 5,000. (Today, Emmanuel is defunct.) Everything about the church and college revolved around evangelizing the lost. Students were required to evangelize door-to-door, seeking out lost sinners needing salvation. My favorite story from my days pounding the pavement in Pontiac came one Saturday when a young couple decided to give the two young men banging on their door a surprise. You never knew how people might respond to you when you knocked on their doors, but this couple so shocked us that we literally had nothing to say. You see, they answered the door stark naked!

What follows is the Four Ws plan many (most) IFB churches followed – Win them, Wet them, Work them, Waste them.

Win Them

The goal was to evangelize unsaved people. “Unsaved” included Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and countless other liberal or non-IFB sects.  My goal as a pastor was to go out into the community and knock on every door, hoping that I could share the gospel.

Wet Them

The first step of “obedience” we told new converts was to be baptized by immersion. New converts were encouraged to be baptized right away. Typically, IFB churches had/have a lot more new converts than they do new baptisms. There was a joke that went something like this: why do IFB churches baptize people the same Sunday they are saved? Because most of the new converts will never attend church again! IFB churches go through a tremendous amount of membership churn. It is not uncommon for churches to turn over their entire memberships every five or so years. I was taught not to worry about the churn. Just make sure more people were coming in the front door than were leaving the out the back door.

Work Them

Once people were saved and baptized, they were given a to-do list: pray every day, read the Bible every day, attend church every time the doors are open, tithe and give offerings, witness, and find a “ministry” to work in. Many IFB congregants were pilloried over not working hard enough for Jesus. Pew warmers were subjected to guilt-inducing sermons, reminders that Christians would want to be found busy working for Jesus when he comes again. No matter how much I tried to get congregants to join me in the work of the ministry, most of them showed up on Sundays, threw some money in the offering plate, listened to my sermons, and repeated the same things week after week. There was, however, a core group of people who drank the Kool-Aid, so to speak. Along with their pastor, they worked, worked, worked. The same group attended every service, gave most of the money, and staffed the church’s ministries. They were, as I was, True Believers®.

Waste Them

Eventually, the work, work, work pace wore out even the best of people, myself included. I have no doubt my health problems began back in the days when I believed it was “better to burn out for Jesus than rust out.” I worked night and day, as did the people who followed in my steps. Over time, preacher and parishioners alike ran out of steam. Ironically, the steam venting happened at Somerset Baptist around the time I embraced Calvinism. It was Calvinism, in many ways, that rescued me from the drive and grind of the IFB church movement. Over time, church attendance declined as we stopped running the buses and people moved on to other, more “exciting,” churches. Instead of being focused on evangelization, I set my sights on teaching congregants the Bible through expository preaching. We still were evangelistic, but gone were the days when we were focused on numbers. It was Calvinism that allowed me to take a deep breath and relax a bit — that is, until I moved to Texas be the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf. For the short time I was in Texas, it was Somerset Baptist all over again, with a Calvinistic twist. I hit the ground running, starting new ministries and churches. Seven months later, I crashed, moving back to Ohio to lick my wounds.

People aren’t meant to be worked night and day. Eventually, they burn out. That’s what happened to me. I truly thought Jesus wanted me to work non-stop for him. However, I learned way too late that we humans need rest and time away from the grind. Many of my pastor friends figured this out long before I did. I considered them lazy, indifferent to the lost in their communities (and some of them were). However, they understood the importance of maintaining their health and spending time with their families. While I eventually came to understand the importance of these things, I wasted the better years of my life.

Were you an IFB pastor or church member? Did your church follow the four Ws? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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.

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 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 ramshackled 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 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.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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.

1980s: My Weekly Respite From Fundamentalist Christianity

bruce gerencser 1987

Bruce Gerencser, Somerset Baptist Church, 1987

From 1983 to 1994, I pastored Somerset Baptist Church in Mount Perry, Ohio. It was here that I learned the ins and outs of the ministry. From 1986 to 1988, the church grew rapidly, and was, attendance-wise, the largest non-Catholic church in Perry County. Somerset Baptist was a busy beehive of activity. I preached a minimum of three times a week, taught Sunday School, preached at the nursing home, and spent hours each week counseling congregants and evangelizing the lost. The church operated four bus routes, covering upwards of thirty miles one way in every direction. Throw in youth activities, revivals, special meetings, and events, and, well, virtually every day of the week had some sort of church activity going on.

Somerset Baptist was the perfect place for someone such as myself; a type-A workaholic who thoroughly enjoyed the non-stop busyness of the ministry. It was not uncommon for me to work sixty-plus hours a week, taking one vacation in eleven years. Even when I had to work outside of the church, I still pastored full-time, believing the church deserved to have all of me. Of course, I worked myself right into health problems, some of which are with me to this day. If I had to do it all over again, I certainly would have done things differently — or so I tell myself, anyway.

For five or so years, I would once a week play basketball at Somerset Elementary School with a group of men who had no association with the church. One man’s teen son rode the bus to our church, and through this connection I joined these men for a weekly game of hoops. I found that this game was a respite from Fundamentalist Christianity and the stress of the ministry. These men were not Christian in the least. Some of them were Catholics, but as is the case with many Catholics, their religion was in name only. Here I was, a Fundamentalist Baptist preacher in the midst of ten or so unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines, yet they welcomed me into their group, and every week I looked forward to the two hours we played basketball together.

The first week, the men were worried about whether their swearing would “offend” me. I told them, not in the least. You are not going to say anything I haven’t heard before. And so we played, week after week, year after year. Men would come and go, but the games never failed to provide me a moment in time when all I had to concern myself with was my defense and making shots. Physically, I would sweat off five to ten pounds in the two hours we played. Afterward, I would enjoy drinking a sixteen-ounce ice-cold glass bottle of Pepsi; sometimes even two. I still miss the days of popping the cap off a bottle of Pepsi using the car-door latch and guzzling it down. Good times . . .

I now see that this weekly game was a sanctuary I carved out for myself. No preaching, no evangelizing, no inviting anyone to church. Just testosterone and basketball. Many of these men were underground coal miners; physically strong brutes. Our games were quite physical. Each player called his own fouls, but they were rarely called, adhering to the no blood-no foul rule.

Five years into playing games, several of the men moved away or were divorced. This put an end to our weekly event. Thirty years later, I still have fond memories of our games; of being accepted as a man without any religious expectations. I will always be grateful for these men seeing beyond my Christian Fundamentalism and viewing me as a man, as their equal. All that mattered to them was whether I could play the game. There were other “games” I would play the rest of the week, but on basketball nights, all that mattered was the court, the players, and the score.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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.

Hearing the “Voice of God”

hearing the voice of god

Spend enough time around Evangelicals and you will learn that not only do they talk to God, they also hear God talk to them. In any other setting “hearing” voices will land you in the hospital on a 72-hour psych hold, but if the voice being heard is GOD, then hearers of this silent utterance are considered sane, rational beings. Evangelicals believe God not only speaks to them through the words in the Bible, he also audibly, yet silently, speaks to them during prayer and meditation and at random moments throughout the day. Evidently, the Christian God is able to carry on millions of silent conversations with his followers at the same time. Awesome, right? Too bad, this same God is not very good at making sure everyone he is talking to is hearing the same message.

Evangelicals say they hear the voice of God, but often different Christians hear different things, often wildly contrary to what God told someone else. I noticed this particularly during church business meetings. Members were expected to pray and seek the will of God on the matter of business before the church. After, “hearing” from God, members were expected to be of one mind — Greek for “agreeing with the pastor.” As anyone who has ever attended a Baptist business meeting will tell you, unity of mind is rarely on display. If everyone is supposedly “hearing” the voice of God, why are there so many competing viewpoints? What color should we paint the auditorium, the pastor asks? Let’s seek God’s mind on the matter! You would think that God would tell everyone BLUE. Nope. God, ever the jokester, whispers to various members different colors, sowing discord among the brethren.

Years ago, I started the Somerset Baptist Church — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregation in southeast Ohio. The congregation first met in an empty storefront. After a few months, we moved to what was then called the Landmark Building. We rented the entire second floor for $200 a month. One day, I was out and about and stumbled upon an old abandoned Methodist church building — five miles east of Somerset, on top of Sego Hill. I made some inquiries about the building, and found out that it was for sale. I told the congregation about my exciting find, asking that they would pray about us buying the building. After a week or so, I held a business meeting, thinking God had told congregants the same thing he told me: buy the building! Imagine my surprise when it became clear to me that the church was NOT in favor of buying the building. I was so depressed. How could they NOT hear God’s voice? I thought. Yes, the building was $20,000, a large sum for a fledgling church, but I believed God never ordered anything he didn’t pay for. Dejected, I called the Methodists and told them we wouldn’t be buying the building.

Several weeks later, the Methodists called me and asked me if the church had changed its mind about buying the building. Before I could respond, the man said, make us an offer, Bruce. I shot a quick prayer to Jesus, asking him what I should do. As sure as I am sitting here today, I heard him say, offer them $5,000. I thought, $5,000? The Methodists will never accept such a low offer. But, not wanting to disappoint Jesus, I made the $5,000 offer. The man said, we will talk it over. Sure enough, a few days later, the Methodists called to tell me that they accepted my offer! I thought, PRAISE JESUS, we are going to have our own building. All I had to do is convince the congregation that the voice they thought they heard at the business meeting was not God’s; either that, or in the intervening weeks God had changed his mind. Fortunately, the church heard MY voice, and we bought the building.

Silly story, I know, but I think it aptly illustrates the idea that God speaks to people. I wanted something — a church building — and I got my way. I heard the voice of God countless times during the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry, and, without exception, what God was saying perfectly aligned with what I wanted, needed, or desired. God’s will be done, as Evangelicals are wont to say, was actually Bruce’s will be done. 

In late 1993, Pastor Pat Horner and Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas, extended to me an invitation to become their co-pastor. I prayed about the matter, deciding that God wanted me to stay as pastor of Somerset Baptist Church. I “wanted” to move to Texas, but God said NO, or so I told myself anyway. Several weeks later, I was pondering the future of Somerset Baptist, and all of a sudden, I started crying. In that moment God spoke to me, telling me he wanted me to move my family to San Antonio, Texas so I could become the co-pastor of Community Baptist. Wait a minute, didn’t God “tell” you several weeks before that he wanted me to stay in Ohio? Yes, he did, but evidently, he changed his mind. Never mind the fact that the Bible says, I am the Lord thy God and I changeth not and Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. I called Pat Horner and asked if the offer was still open. It was. You see, God had told them that I was going to be their co-pastor, so me — uh, I mean God — changing his mind was just confirmation to them of what he said to them. Two months later, I packed up family and worldly goods and moved to Texas. My tenure at Community lasted all of seven months — an unmitigated disaster.

Another silly story, I know, but it again illustrates how crazy it is to think God “speaks” to anyone. God didn’t tell me not to move, nor did he tell me to move. There is no God, so the only voice I was hearing was my own. The NO and YES were in my mind and reflected the struggle I was having about whether I wanted to continue pastoring Somerset Baptist Church. I spent eleven years at Somerset Baptist, living in poverty the whole time. For five years, my family and I — all eight of us — lived in a 12×60 mobile home fifty feet from the church building. I was worn out, burned out, and tired of being poor, yet I loved the congregation. What was it then that caused me to change my mind?

We heated our mobile home with coal and wood. We also heated the church and school building the same way.  We were running out of wood, so I asked a man in the church if he could get some wood for us to burn, He said, sure. Several days later, the man dumped a pickup load of wood in the parking lot and quickly left. I thought, it would have been nice if he had stacked it, but okay, he at least got the wood for us. I gathered up some of the wood, took it inside and put it in our Warm Morning stove. I quickly found out that wood was unusable — too wet and green to burn. At first, I was angry over the wet wood, but then I began to cry. This one event — not a big deal in and of itself — pushed me over the proverbial edge. I was done. Is it any surprise, then, that God changed his mind and told me he wanted me to move to Texas? A good salary and a new 14×70 mobile home awaited me. A congregation thrilled over the prospect of me being their co-pastor awaited me. A young, fast growing congregation awaited me. New challenges and opportunities awaited me. I said NO to all of this because I had a sense of loyalty to the people at Somerset Baptist. Most of them had been members for years and walked beside me as we built the church. I felt guilty over thinking about leaving them so I could have a better life; so my family would no longer have to live in poverty. But when the wet, green wood was dumped in the parking lot, my thinking changed. Enough, I thought, and God agreed with me.

Now, I am sure that my critics will pick these stories apart, suggesting that I was the problem, not God; that the voice I was hearing was self, and that if I had been more spiritual, I would have heard God’s voice and he was would have directed me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. I don’t believe that for a moment. There is no God, so I couldn’t have heard his voice. All my decisions reflected were the struggles I was having over life and the ministry. The voice I heard was my own, giving life to my wants, needs, and desires.

Bruce, I don’t care what happened in your life, I KNOW God speaks to me. How do you KNOW it is God’s voice you are hearing? What evidence can you give for such a claim? Why do God’s silent utterances to you almost always match your own wants, needs, and desires? Have you ever stopped to think that maybe, just maybe the voice you are hearing is your own? Yes, the Bible contains stories about God speaking to people — from God speaking to Moses from a burning bush, to God telling Abraham to murder his son Isaac, to God speaking to the crowd at Jesus’ baptism. Jesus told his disciples: my sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. How can any of us know that it is God speaking? There’s absolutely zero evidence for God speaking to anyone. Evangelicals are free to believe that they have heard the voice of God, but they can’t expect non-believers to accept their stories as true without some sort of verifiable proof.

Believing God speaks to you is a matter of faith, a faith I do not have. Most often, hearing the voice of God is harmless, but there are times when hearing his voice leads to dangerous, harmful behavior — including murdering your children and taking a twelve-year-old girl as your virgin bride. Evangelical missionaries John Allen Chau and Charles Wesco lost their lives because they believed that they had heard the voice of God commanding them to go reach the lost for Jesus. Why would God tell these men to leave their houses and lands and go to the mission field only to kill them days later? What a cruel, schizophrenic God. Or, perhaps God has nothing to do with this; perhaps the only voices these men heard were their own; perhaps their deaths rest on the shoulders of the myriad of pastors, professors, and parents who whispered in their ears about the wonders of serving God in a foreign land and the rewards that would await them if they became missionaries.

Think I am wrong? Just ask God to tell me.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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.

Questions: Bruce, Have You Ever Seen Someone Who Was Demon-Possessed?

questions

I recently asked readers to submit questions to me they would like me to answer. If you would like to submit a question, please follow the instructions listed here.

Geoff asked: Bruce, in your many years of pastoral ministry have you ever come across what you would consider demonic possession or any strange paranormal stuff? Have you ever heard of anything that you would consider legitimate?

I had no exposure to or experience with demonic possession until the mid-1990s. Before then, I didn’t put much stock in demon possession. I thought it was an excuse used to cover up bad or bizarre behavior. In 1994, I left Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio and moved to San Antonio, Texas to become the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church. Community’s other pastor, Pat Horner, was a big believer in demon possession. He even believed that Christians could be oppressed by demons. This openness to all-things-demonic caused congregants to believe all sort of outlandish things. One woman thought that every time she heard a coyote howl, it was her unsaved husband. Another woman believed in generational curses; that demonic possession and oppression could be passed down from generation to generation. What I learned during the short time I was at Community was that if a pastor believed in demonic possession, so would his people. I remember in the early 1990s when I embraced Calvinism, I thought I would have mutiny on my hands, but what I found was that church members changed their beliefs to fit mine (with a few notable exceptions). Most Evangelicals believe whatever their pastor believes. Their theology is borrowed from the men who teach them. This is not surprising since Evangelicals are taught to seek out like-minded churches. What’s fellowship? It is a bunch of fellows in a boat rowing in the same direction. Diversity of belief is discouraged or condemned.

I have attended a number of charismatic churches where the “gifts of the Spirit” were supposedly in full operation. These full-gospel churches had all sorts of demonic activity going on their midst; or so they said, anyway. Again, if you are looking for demons, you will find them. There’s a religious version of McCarthyism practiced by many Evangelical pastors and churches. Here a demon, there a demon, everywhere a demon.

As an atheist, not only do I reject the notion of the existence of the Christian God, I also reject the belief that there is a tangible, real Devil. People can’t be demon possessed because there are no demons to possess them. The behaviors that are called demonic possession are either fake, learned behaviors, or signs of mental illness.

I have never seen any sort of paranormal activity. I have experienced several things for which I have no explanation. When these things happened, I attributed them to God or Satan. Now? I am content with saying, I don’t know. I take the same approach with prayer. Almost all of my “answered” prayers came from human intervention. The few I can’t explain? I don’t know, but they are not enough to convince me that there is a God. Evangelicals see God in the unexplainable, but I all see a question without, so far, an answer.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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.

John

blood of jesusMy mom’s parents, known to me as Grandma Rausch and Grandpa Tieken, divorced in the late 1940s. By all accounts, their marriage was an alcohol-fueled, violent brawl which caused untold heartache and pain to their two children. My mother, in particular, faced the indignity and shame of being sexually molested by her father, a deep wound she carried all the days of her life.

My grandfather’s name was John. My first recollections of him come from when I was a young child. On Christmas day, both sets of my grandparents would come to our home, often arriving at the same time. Instead of figuring out a way to avoid family conflict, both John and Grandma Rausch were determined to be the grandparent of choice. Every Christmas, they would square off, each in his or her own corner. The bitterness of their divorce carried over into our family. As a child, I didn’t have a clue as to what was going on. All I knew was that Grandpa and Grandma didn’t like each other. As I got older, my grandparents finally figured out it was best if they steered clear of one another, so every year we had two Christmases and two Thanksgivings.

I saw a lot more of Grandma Rausch than I did Grandpa Tieken (John), and she became my favorite grandparent. My dad’s Hungarian parents died in 1963, weeks apart. I was six when they died, so I have very few memories of Grandpa and Grandma Gerencser. (Please see My Hungarian Grandparents, Paul and Mary Gerencser.)  Grandma Rausch, on the other hand, was very much a part of my life, all the way until she died of cancer in 1995. She bought me my first baseball glove and took me to my first baseball game, and she was the only grandparent to ever attend my Little League and Pony League games. I remember to this day hearing Grandma screaming at the umpire, telling him in no uncertain terms that the pitch to her grandson was NOT a strike. Not that it mattered. Strike or ball, I was a terrible batter, so it unlikely that I would have hit the pitch. Grandma Rausch, a stickler for proper grammar, would write me letters during my preaching days. I loved getting letters from her. I always appreciated her interest in my life and support of whatever it was that I was doing at the time. Grandma Rausch had her faults. She was an alcoholic until age sixty-five, when, due to health concerns, she quit cold turkey. Warts and all, I never doubted Grandma loved me.

I can’t say the same for John or his third wife Ann. (Please see Dear Ann.) I would love to write of my grandfather’s love and support, but alas I can’t remember a time where he told me he loved me or unconditionally supported what I was doing. On those rare occasions he “supported” my work in the ministry, there were always strings attached or criticisms heaped upon me when I didn’t meet his expectations.

I have two good memories of John, and that’s it. I am sure there were more, but I only remember two. Perhaps other good memories were drowned out by John’s violent temper and frequent criticisms of my mom, dad, and me personally. John, a pilot and mechanic, was the co-owner of T&W (Tieken and Wyman) Engine Service at Pontiac (Michigan) Airport. My first fond memory of John was when he took me up in a twin prop cargo plane he had just overhauled. My other fond memory dates back to the summer of 1968. For my eleventh birthday, John took me to watch the Detroit Tigers play the Cleveland Indians. This was the year the Tigers won the World Series. On this day, I felt close to my grandfather. Just a grandfather and his oldest grandson enjoying their favorite sport. Alas, this would be the first and last time we did anything together.

John married Ann in the late 1950s or early 1960s. She had a son by the name of David from a previous marriage. Dave was my uncle, but only a few years separated us age-wise. Dave was an avid fisherman and played baseball for Waterford Township High School. One summer, I remember us sitting around the dinner table eating and Dave saying something his stepfather didn’t like. All of a sudden, John stood, doubled up his fist, and hit Dave as hard as he could, knocking him onto the floor. Dave said nothing, but the message was clear: No one back talked to John Tieken. Dave and I became closer when I moved to Pontiac to attend Midwestern Baptist College. Dave was married and worked as a foreman for General Motors. I have fond memories of Dave helping me put a clutch in my car — he the teacher and I the student. Sadly, Dave was murdered in 1981.

Ann attended Sunnyvale Chapel, a generic Evangelical church. In the early to mid-1960s, John got “saved” and began attending church with Ann. He soon became a Fundamentalist zealot who was known for his aggressive witnessing. I can’t tell you how embarrassing it was to watch John corner a waitress so he could tell her the “truth” about Jesus and her need of salvation. John loved the Christian gospel. In his mind, when Jesus saved him, all his past sins were washed away and everything became new. He believed that whatever he did in the past was forgiven and forgotten. Forgotten by God, perhaps, but for those who were psychologically and physically harmed by him, no forgiveness was forthcoming. And John didn’t care. Jesus had forgiven him, and that’s all that mattered. My mom, late in her life, confronted her father over him sexually abusing her. She hoped he would at least admit what he did and ask for forgiveness. No admission was forthcoming. John told his daughter that his sins were under the blood and Jesus had forgiven him. Jesus may have forgiven him, but my mom sure hadn’t.

There’s so much more I could share here, but for the sake of brevity, I want to fast forward to 1980s. From 1983-1994, I pastored Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio. John and Ann were quite proud of the fact that their grandson was a pastor. In their eyes, I, unlike my mother, father, and siblings, was doing the right things: serving the Evangelical God, preaching the gospel, and winning souls to Christ. For a time, they even financially supported me through donations to the church. These donations abruptly stopped when they didn’t get an annual donation statement when they thought they should have. That was the Tiekens. Much like their exacting God, displease them and judgment was sure to follow.

John and Ann came to visit the church twice in the eleven years I was there. One Sunday, John thoroughly embarrassed me in front of the entire congregation. The building was packed. This was during the time when the church was growing rapidly. After I preached and gave an invitation, I asked if anyone had something to share. John did. He stood and told the entire congregation what was wrong with my sermon. I wanted to die.

The last time John and Ann came to visit was in 1988. We were living in Junction City at the time. After church, we invited them over for dinner. In the post Dear Ann, I describe their visit this way:

Grandpa spent a good bit of time lecturing me about my car being dirty. Evidently, having a dirty car was a bad testimony. Too bad he didn’t take that same approach with Mom.

After dinner — oh, I remember it as if it were yesterday! — we were sitting in the living room and one of our young children got too close to Grandpa. What did he do? He kicked him. I knew then and there that, regardless of his love for Jesus, he didn’t love our family, and he would always be a mean son-of-a-bitch.

A decade later, John died. Upon hearing of his death, I had no emotions; I felt nothing. I had no love for the man. After all, his wife a few years prior had called to let me know that I was a worthless grandson. In fact, according to Ann, the entire Gerencser family was worthless. My sin? I couldn’t attend John’s seventy-fifth birthday party. Ann’s vicious and vindictive words finally pushed me over the edge. I told her that I was no longer interested in having any contact with them. And with that I hung up the phone. Whatever little feeling and connection I had for John and Ann Tieken died. I learned then, that some relationships — even family — aren’t worth keeping.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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.

Reliving the “Good Old Days”: Do You Have Any Change?

somerset baptist church 1983-1994 2

Our hillbilly mansion. We lived in this 720 square foot mobile home for five years, all eight of us.

Several weeks ago, Polly and I were reliving what we call the “good old days.” The “good old days” span the first seventeen years of our marriage, including the eleven years I spent pastoring Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio. Somerset Baptist, for a few years, was a fast-growing Independent Fundamentalist Baptist congregation, developing from a handful of attendees to over two hundred in attendance. Located in rural Southeast Ohio, in the northernmost county of the Appalachian region, Somerset Baptist was made up primarily of poor blue-collar workers or people who were on public assistance (it was not uncommon to find food stamp coupons in the offering plate). The highest total annual offering was $40,000. Most years, the offerings were in the $25,000 range. I pastored Somerset Baptist full-time, receiving what meager salary the church could provide, supplementing my income with jobs pumping gas, delivering newspapers, selling insurance, and taking in foster children. We literally lived from hand to mouth, rarely having two nickels to rub together.

We mostly drove cheap cars. I did all my own repair work, so I would buy junk cars, repair them, and keep them running until they were worn out. During the “good” years, we bought a new car — a 1984 Plymouth Horizon ($6,000) This car has a story unto itself, which I will tell at a later date. I drove the car for two years, putting 102,000 miles on the car. That’s right at 50,000 miles a year. By the end of second year of the loan, the car was worn out.

Thanks to us having a large family, we were eligible for food stamps and energy assistance. This fact thoroughly embarrassed us. We would drive to Columbus, where no one knew us, to do our grocery shopping. When the government offered free cheese or peanut butter to welfare recipients, I couldn’t bear to stand in line to get it (the “why” is yet another story for another day). Polly was embarrassed too, but she really loved what she called “welfare cheese,” so she would swallow her pride and stand in line with the other poor people.

somerset baptist church 1983-1994

Our son Jaime, and our two girls, Bethany and Laura.

I had grown up poor so I knew a good bit about poverty. Polly, on the other hand, was raised in a middle-class home where new cars, home ownership, money in the bank, and annual vacations were common. Polly’s dad worked for the railroad, and when he got the itch to go to college to study for the ministry at age thirty-five, he found a well- paying job at General Motors’ Pontiac Truck and Coach plant which enabled him to study without depriving his family. Neither of us knew the first thing about handling money responsibly. Both of us thought a life of poverty was God’s will for us, so we hunkered down and endured. Boy, did we endure!

Polly and I had six children during our years in Southeast Ohio. The first child’s birth was covered in full by insurance. The next five children were covered by state medical insurance. All told, we had private health insurance three of the first seventeen years of our marriage. The rest of the time, we either did without — thank you, oh Great Physician — or were covered by state medical insurance.

In 1989, we purchased an old, beat up 12×60-foot trailer and parked it fifty feet from the church building on the far end of the church parking lot. By then, the church had stopped running its four bus routes and attendance was less than one hundred. There were eight Gerencsers by then, so try to imagine us all living in 720 square feet. Try to picture the amount of laundry and pails of soiled cloth diapers Polly washed. Polly and I had one bedroom, the three oldest boys had another bedroom, and our daughters and youngest son had a bedroom the size of a large closet. Playing, for the children, meant going outside. Our children were four-season players, complete with bread bags on their feet in the winter so their feet didn’t get wet. Somehow we survived. That’s what Polly and Bruce Gerencser and munchkins did — we survived.

Our youngest children have very few, if any, memories of our “Somerset days.” Our oldest sons, however, have lots of memories. They, themselves, could write a book about their experiences as the pastor’s children living in the poverty-sicken hills of Perry County. To this day, my oldest sons remind me that Christmas comes in March. As children, they got very few gifts for Christmas, and most of the gifts they received were courtesy of their grandparents — my father excepted, who never sent one card or gift, ever. Christmas, then, was when we received our federal income tax return. Thanks to the earned income credit, we yearly received a large tax refund. We used this money to pay bills and buy our children clothing, shoes, underwear, and a few non-essential gifts. This was the one time of the year we had a large sum of cash. The rest of the year was spent raiding change jars and searching cars for spare coins. Ah, the good old years.

Several weeks ago, we had one of those oh-so-rare occasions where we were very low on money. Polly often laughs and tells me that I have a knack for pulling money out of my ass! On this particular day, my ass was broke. We needed bread and I had a hankering for a grilled steak. The checkbook was empty and I had $6.00 to my name. Off to Bryan we drove, stopping at Chief — a local grocery company — to see what we could get for $6.00. Polly dug through her cavernous purse and checked places were change collects in the car. She scraped up $1.48, giving us a grand total of $7.48. This gave us just enough money to buy one loaf of cheap bread and a one-pound sirloin steak (split three ways). Woo Hoo!

somerset baptist church 1985

Somerset Baptist Church, Mt Perry, Ohio, Bruce and Polly Gerencser and kids, 1985

As we got back in the car, both of us laughed about our change-fueled forage, reminding us of our days in Southeast Ohio. The good old days, we both said. I added, yeah except for the fact we are driving home in a $30,000 automobile, a car that cost more than most of our other cars combined.

The “good old days” certainly helped to make us into the people we are today, but neither of us has any desire to relive them. We are grateful for Polly’s job and its benefits. Above all, we are thankful that our children escaped the poverty of their youth and have solid, well-paying middle-class jobs. Some of them are in management positions, and all of them, save one, own homes without wheels. They, too, have fond memories of their days living as sardines in a 12×60-foot trailer, but they have no hankering to relive those days. Instead, they regale their children with stories that almost sound unbelievable — that is, except to we who lived them.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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

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

Why I Became a Calvinist — Part Three

six point calvinist

I pastored Somerset Baptist Church in Mount Perry, Ohio, from 1983-1994. In 1988, after being exposed to what Calvinists call the ”doctrines of grace,” I abandoned my Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) theology and embraced Evangelical Calvinism. By this time, I had begun preaching expositionally (verse by verse through books of the Bible). This allowed me to preach through the books loved by Calvinists: Ephesians, Romans, John, and First John. One Sunday night, I talked about limited atonement (particular redemption) in my sermon. Afterwards, a man in the church passed me a note that said, Did I just hear you say that Christ only died for the elect? I later explained to him how my theology was changing. For a short time, I would be preaching John Calvin in the auditorium and he would be teaching teens IFB theology in the church basement. Eventually, we had a parting of the ways.

Outside of this man (who was a dear friend), every other regular attendee went along for the ride, believing that I had their best interests at heart — I did — and I would always tell them the truth — truth being my peculiar interpretation of the Bible. Not only had my soteriology changed (doctrine of salvation), so had my eschatology (end-times, future events). As an IFB preacher, I was a dispensationalist. I believed that the return of Jesus was imminent; that Jesus was coming soon in the clouds to rapture away his people. And then God, for seven years, would rain holy hell upon the earth, culminating in Jesus returning to earth again (yes, a second, second coming). After Jesus’ return, he would reign on earth for a thousand years. At the end of these days, Satan would be loosed for a season, causing many of the people on earth to rebel against God one last time. God crushes this rebellion, destroys Heaven and Earth, makes a new Heaven and Earth, judges all humanity, sending non-Christians to the Lake of Fire and Christians to God’s eternal kingdom. And all God’s people live happily ever after. Not God’s people? Eternal punishment and torture awaits. Got all that?

As a Calvinist, my eschatology was simple and direct: some day God will pour out his wrath on earth, judge the living and dead (general resurrection and judgment), make a new Heaven and a new Earth, and usher in his everlasting kingdom. The joy of the Lord awaits the elect. The non-elect are cast into the Lake of Fire, a place reserved for the devil, his angels, and the whore of Babylon (Catholic church).

After several months of preaching the wonders of Calvinism, I gathered a core group of church members together and asked them to attend a Wednesday night class so I could teach them the finer points of the doctrines of grace. So, for three months, ten or so faithful members, including my wife, gathered with me as I took them through the five points of Calvinism: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and the Perseverance of the Saints. Once these people were thoroughly indoctrinated, I knew it would be smooth sailing from there. These were the people who gave the most money and did most of the work. Most of them had been with me from our first service in July 1983. They were the core group that would stand with me no matter what.

fellowship tract league

I stopped using tracts such as this one from Fellowship Tract League in Lebanon, Ohio. As a Calvinist, the word MAYBE goes after ALL THIS I DID FOR THEE.

Over time, I changed out the printed literature we were using, moving from Chick Tracts and Fellowship Tract League literature to materials printed by Chapel Library. I also purchased Calvinistic books and made them available to the church, hoping that they would read them and better understand the doctrines of grace. Sadly, most congregants perfected me just telling them what to believe. Just give is a book report, Preacher.

In August 1989, we opened the doors of Somerset Baptist Academy to fifteen students, ranging from kindergarten to tenth grade. The school became yet another vehicle to indoctrinate people in the “true” gospel. Children were required to memorize the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith and read biographies of Calvinistic missionaries and preachers. For a time, we primarily used — I shit you not — McGuffey Readers. After one year with the McGuffey Readers, I decided that was a big mistake — thank God! We began the second year of school using books published a Mennonite/Amish publisher Rod & Staff. We also used PACES (self-study materials) for some of the high school students.

On Sundays, I stopped giving invitations and got rid of our hymnbooks, putting in their place Gadsby’s Hymns — a nineteenth century collection of 1,100 Calvinistic hymns. After a year or two of grinding through Gadsby’s Hymns, I decided to let some of our loved and cherished Arminian hymns back into the church (I know, proof that I was not a True Calvinist®.) Every change I made was framed in “Biblical” terms. The Bible says __________________, so this is why we are doing this and no longer doing that. Congregants genuinely believed that I wouldn’t lead them astray, but I do have to wonder how many of that original group really understood the depths of my changing theology and practice. As I will share in the next post, word got out that I was now a Calvinist, and this brought to the church new people who were specifically looking for a Calvinistic church. They knew Calvinism inside and out.

As with virtually everything I do in life, I threw my body, soul (I had one back them, before Satan stole it), and mind into building a bastion of Calvinistic truth in rural Southeast Ohio. I read, studied, preached, evangelized, taught school, and visited prospective members — week after week, month after month. I was filled with zeal, believing that I had been lied to by my IFB pastors and professors. And now that I knew the “truth,” the whole “truth,” and nothing but the “truth” I made sure my wife’s preacher-laden family and my colleagues in the ministry heard this “truth” too. Surprisingly, Polly’s long-tenured IFB preacher uncle, the late Jim Dennis, actually agreed with me (though his outward practices suggested otherwise). Other family members chalked up my new beliefs to, Oh, that Bruce. There he goes on another tangent. Many of my colleagues in the ministry, believing that Calvinism was heresy, distanced themselves from me. The fifteen-church youth fellowship I had started in 1986 went up in smoke as pastors said they didn’t want to fellowship with a Tulip-picker or have a Calvinist preaching to their teens. Some of my friends ignored my changed beliefs, expecting that I would come around in time. I did, but not in ways they expected. These would be the friends who would abandon me after my theology and politics turned towards the left.

In the next post in this series, I will continue to talk about how Pastor Bruce becoming a Calvinist materially affected the church I was pastoring and how it altered my personal relationships with my wife, children, and friends.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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.

Testimony Time: The Blue Light Special at Somerset Baptist Church

blue light special kmart

Older readers might remember shopping at the stores of discount retailer Kmart and seeing what was commonly called a “blue light special.” Blue light specials were sudden discounts offered to shoppers during their shopping experience at Kmart. A store employee would roll a cart with a police-like blue light attached to a pole near the aisle where the sudden discount was going to be offered. At the customer service desk, another employee would announce to shoppers, for example, “ATTENTION KMART SHOPPERS! There’s a blue light special going on right now on GE light bulbs in aisle three!” The employee in charge of the blue light would switch it on. and with its flashing/rotating light, the blue light would guide customers to their exciting just-for-them discount on light bulbs. Woo-hoo!

For eleven years in the 1980s and 1990s, I pastored the Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio. I started this church in 1983, and remained its pastor until I resigned and moved to San Antonio, Texas in 1994 to become the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church. For a few years, Somerset Baptist was the largest non-Catholic church in Perry County. The church was known for its fiery redheaded preacher and its International Harvester-colored red and creme buses that bused in church attendees from Muskingum, Perry, and Fairfield counties. Reaching high attendances in the low 200s, this country church reached thousands of people for Christ.

The church also attracted more than a few people who had — in my Baptist eyes, anyway — screwy beliefs. One such person was the mother of a woman who was a member of the church (along with her husband and two children). I had visited this woman and her husband several times at their home, hoping that they would join their daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren in worshiping Jesus at the “fastest growing church in Perry County” — as the church’s sign said, anyway. I knew the woman had some charismatic tendencies, but I thought I could preach all that nonsense right out of her if she would only give me the opportunity to do so.

For those of you who are not aware of what charismatic beliefs are, let me describe them this way: all the miraculous spiritual gifts found in the Bible — healing, raising the dead, speaking in tongues, to name a few — are in force today. The favorite gift of charismatics is speaking in tongues — an unintelligible prayer language God gives to people who are filled/anointed/baptized with the Holy Ghost. As a Baptist, I believed that when a sinner was saved he received all of the Holy Ghost, and there was no more of Him to have. All Christians needed to do was utilize the power that was already within them. Charismatics tended to be an emotionally excitable lot, at least while worshiping Jesus. (I preached at several Charismatic/Pentecostal churches during my tenure at Somerset Baptist.) In their minds, babbling nonsense they believed was given to them by the Holy Ghost was a sign of God’s presence and power. Just turn on any of the dozens of national Christian TV channels and in short order you’ll see tongues-speaking on display.

The woman I mentioned above was a babbler, and this worried me a bit, but I thought that my Bible-saturated preaching would deliver her from charismaticism. Not only did this woman speak in tongues, she also believed that Jesus spoke to her, audibly. That’s right, this woman had conversations with a mythical entity she believed was the Jesus of the Bible.

As was our custom for many years, the church has a testimony time on Sunday evenings. This was time allotted for church members and visitors to stand up and share with everyone in attendance what Jesus had done for them over the past week. Sometimes, these brag-on-Jesus times turned into narcissistic, look-at-what-I-did-done-do for Jesus sessions. Often, testimony time was a time for congregants to lie about their relationship with God. One dear woman, who had been a smoker her entire adult life, stood up one Sunday and praised Jesus for delivering her from the filthy sin of smoking. We had a quite a praise-fest that night, thanking our Lord for delivering Sister R from her addiction. Years later, I learned that Sister R had, in fact, never stopped smoking, and that the only reason she said that she did was so she could have the appearance of a victorious Christian life like the rest of us. Oh, if she had only known that NONE of us, including her preacher, had victory over sin, she might not had felt compelled to lie. Sister R felt so guilty about not being as spirit-filled as the rest of us that she was willing to lie to her friends about her deliverance from smoking. Not long ago, Sister R died of cancer. I do hope that she found peace and rest. While her smoking most certainly contributed to her death, she had other qualities that deserved praise and admiration. Sister R was a kind, compassionate woman, but sadly, in the IFB church she attended, all that mattered was her sinful habit. As her dumb ass preacher used to say, smoking won’t send you to hell, but it sure will make you smell like you have been there! (Please read  Ken Ham, Answers in Genesis, Dinosaurs, and the SIN of Smoking)

On one particular Sunday night, the charismatic lady mentioned above decided to attend church with her daughter. She had visited several times before, and let it be known that she really liked my “old-fashioned” preaching. Prior to my sermon, I asked if anyone had a good word they wanted to put in for Jesus. Several people raised their hands, signifying that they wanted to brag a bit on their Lord and Savior. The charismatic woman excitedly raised her hand, anxious to let everyone know about a recent encounter she had with Jesus. When it came time for her to testify, she popped up  from her seat and said this (as recounted from thirty years ago):

I was asleep last night, and all of a sudden I awoke, feeling a “presence” in my bedroom.  As I stood to see this presence, my eyes saw a blinding blue light. Now, I knew that Satan could present himself as an angel of light, so I spoke to this light, saying, If that’s really you Jesus, please make yourself known to me. And right then and there I heard, Attention K-Mart Shoppers! (Okay, that last sentence was a bit of literary fiction, also known as preaching.)  And right then and there I heard a voice that said, it’s me, Jesus. Praise, the Lord. I knew then that the presence in my room was Jesus.

For those of you raised in the IFB churches, imagine my homicidal thoughts as this woman was regaling congregants with her version of a blue light special. I was oh-so-happy when she stopped testifying, and later let it be known among church members that her testimony was NOT an approved meeting with Jesus. We Baptists only talked to Jesus in English, and only while we were on our knees praying; and even then our talks with Jesus had to align with what the Bible said. In other words, ATTENTION CHURCH MEMBERS! There will NOT be any blue light specials at Somerset Baptist Church.

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.