From England to Oregon...

A Christmas interview with Pastor Samuel Aldridge of Willamina FMC ~~ Published as "Holiday Traditions - All about Hope" by News Register Journalist, Starla Pointer


The Christmas season is a busy time for a minister. By Dec. 25,

Willamina Free Methodist Pastor Sam Aldridge is usually worn

out.

But that neither dampens his enjoyment of the season, nor the

hope it gives him.

“It’s one of my favorite times of the year,” he said. “It’s about a

God who looks at all this bad stuff going on and says, ‘I’m going

to come and start the work of saving you.’”

He recited one of his favorite passages, Luke 2:29-32. In the

New International Version of the Bible, the quote says:

“Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant

in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have

prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the

Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”

“That so beautifully captures the waiting, seeing the gift God

has given us, the hope,” he said. “For me, this season is all

about hope.”

Aldridge marks Christmas both in church and at home. He and

wife, Rachael, have a tree, which Bramble, their youngest cat,

joyfully tries to un-decorate. They visit her family in California

some years, and spend a quiet holiday in Oregon others.

Wherever they are, there is sure to be Christmas pudding.

For Aldridge, who grew up in England and attended college in

Wales, it wouldn’t be Christmas dinner without the dense,

steamed fruitcake.

“I like it!” he said. “But I realize it’s an acquired taste.”

His mother mails several from England so he will be able to

indulge his taste, as well as good memories from previous

Christmases.

During his youth in Wakefield, an economically depressed coalmining

town in West Yorkshire, Aldridge and his family

celebrated a church-focused holiday.

“For me, life was built around the structure of the church,” he

said.

His dad was the town doctor, and his mother a gardener and

florist at the local stately home. Now retired, they split their

time between Yorkshire and Portugal.

The family belonged to the Church of England. There is no

separation between church and state in England, Aldridge said;

“the Church of England is the state.”

Every village has a C of E church “there to serve everyone,”

whether they participate in religious activities or not, he said.

The Aldridges attended a candlelight service in the village

church at midnight on Christmas Eve and a Christingle Service

at 9 a.m. Christmas day.

Christingle, popular in England, refers to a candle placed in an

orange, which serves as a holder. The orange is wrapped in red

to symbolize blood. Raisins and other dried fruit, representing

the fruits of God’s promise, decorate the exterior of the orange,

which symbolizes the world.

In addition to services and activities at the village church, the

holidays also are marked by Christmas specials on TV. Football

(soccer) matches are played on Boxing Day, Dec. 26.

Yorkshire’s population includes numerous emigrants from

India and Pakistan, Aldridge said, so the lights around town

celebrate both Christmas and Diwali, the Hindu festival of

lights.

In fact, Aldridge said, lights were placed in November for Diwali,

and Christmas symbols were added as December arrived.

For both holidays, the lights illuminated gloomy nights. Just like

the late fall and winter Aldridge now experiences in Oregon,

Yorkshire’s holiday season was usually “45 degrees and rainy,”

he said.

“I never had a white Christmas when I was growing up,” he

said.

Home from church services, young Aldridge and his family

members exchanged presents. They shared the Christmas feast

of turkey with potatoes, peas and carrots. And, of course, the

Christmas pudding, steamed, then “drowned in brandy and

lighted on fire in the middle of the table.”

The Aldridges burned an advent candle at home each Sunday

leading up to Dec. 25. On Christmas Eve, they decked out the

whole house.

Decorations remained on display through Jan. 6, Epiphany, or

the 12th Day of Christmas, when the Wise Men were said to

arrive with gifts for the Christ child.

“I enjoyed decorating the house,” he said, recalling those

boyhood Christmases.

His family had two Christmas trees. His mother and older sister

were in charge of one. “They made it sophisticated,” he said.

He and his other sister — the two youngest members of the

family — decorated the other with tinsel, cartoon ornaments

and whatever they could find. “A tic-tac tacky, cheap tree,” he

said, yet they were proud of their accomplishment.

Since they had a coal stove, not a wood-burning 􀁿replace, the

children hung stockings on their bedroom doors.

But their mother usually handed Santa pillowcases, instead,

when he arrived to deliver gifts. She knew Santa “could 􀁿t a lot

more into pillowcases than stockings,” he said.

These days, Aldridge and wife would need five pillowcases, or

stockings, for Christmas: one for him, one for Rachael and three

for the pets, Abigail, the dog, and Bramble and Gracie, the cats.

“They get Christmas treats,” he said of the pets. Especially

Abigail, who resembles a fuzzy Jack Russell-mix. “She’s my

little princess,” he said of the lap dog, who often accompanies

him to church.

Aldridge, 31, was assigned to the Willamina church in April 2018.

Previously, in his first lead pastor position, he spent 2 1/2 years

with the Falls City Free Methodist Church.

He also worked in McMinnville for a while when a church was

being planted there, and before that, at Newberg Free

Methodist.

He joined the Newberg church while studying for the ministry at

George Fox University’s seminary.

The Free Methodist denomination is similar in theology to the

United Methodist Church, Aldridge said. Both are related to the

Methodist churches of Britain and Northern Ireland.

They share a common ancestor, but the Free Methodists broke

o􀁼 in 1860 over the issue of slavery, he said.

“The church still has a strong abolitionist stance around the

world,” he said.

Although he now is a Free Methodist pastor and grew up in the

Church of England, Aldridge attended a Roman Catholic grade

school, then a Quaker (Friends) boarding school.

After finishing the equivalent of high school, he enrolled at the

University of Wales — not to study religion, but to earn a

bachelor’s degree in music.

On a break from the university, he traveled to the U.S. to work at

a Salvation Army summer camp near Eatonville, Washington.

He’d been to North America previously, visiting Arizona and

spending time as an exchange student in New York City.

At Camp Arnold in 2008, Aldridge met Rachael, a young woman

from a Salvation Army family. After he returned to England,

they dated long-distance for two years, sometimes flying back

and forth.

They also used Skype, in its infancy then, he said. But their love

endured despite frozen computer screens and an eight-hour

time difference.

He moved to the U.S. on a fiancé visa on April 27, 2011, and they

were married June 11, a couple days past Rachael’s 20th

birthday.

The choice of wedding dates was a one, he said, explaining, “It

helps me remember our anniversary.”

Rachael Aldridge is executive director of the Oregon Coast

Scenic Railroad, based in Garibaldi.

She started as a volunteer and worked her way up to leadership

of the nonprofit, which is dedicated to preserving logging

railroads. OCSR runs a steam locomotive 􀂀fleet on daily

excursions in summer and “Candy Cane Express” rides in

December.

Aldridge volunteered there first. He’s a long-time steam

locomotive fan who comes from a long line of railroad

preservationists.

“I qualified as a fireman on steam locomotives before I could

drive,” he said.

He spends his days o􀁼 helping to maintain, restore and run

OCSR’s rolling stock. “I love working on steam engines,” he

said, adding spending more time with his wife is a bonus.

Back in his church office, Aldridge spends most of late

November and December planning and leading services and

community activities that continue through Epiphany.

This year, there won’t be as many activities because of the

coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re still very busy in the church this season, even with the

freeze,” he said.

Aldridge will host three small candlelight services instead of the

usual, 150-person one. He plans to record his Christmas

message in advance and make it available online, instead of in

person.

He chose “Waiting” as the theme for his Christmas sermons

this year.

“People of God are waiting for God to address sin and evil,” he

said. “They’re waiting and hoping ... it’s all about hope.”


Written by News Register Journalist, Starla Pointer --

spointer@newsregister.com

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