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Ron Aldridge has been a man of the cloth for 23 years, and it has only been during that time, he says, that he counts his life as a true success.
“I wasted my life until I was forty-four,” he said. “I worked, a lot of people would say I did OK. I owned my own business, the Shelbyville Mini Mart down at the bottom of 7th Street, and I reopened the Shelby Lanes that was down on Main Street at the old Kroger building.”
But in 1990, when he was working for the Budd Company (now Martinrea), he said he heard God calling him to the ministry, and he made a trip down to North Carolina to attend a spiritual awakening conference there.
“That’s when the Holy Spirit just really got a hold of me,” he said.
Aldridge, 67, said before that he hadn’t been filled with religious zeal, although he had been baptized at age 21 and had been attending church on a continuous basis all during his growing up years in Shelby County and even as an adult.
After graduating from Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., he immediately settled there as a local minister. Then three years ago, he started his own church, New Beginnings Fellowship in Charleston, Mo.
And it’s there, along with his wife, Sherry – whom he met at the seminary and whom he calls his ‘Godsend’ – that he measures the true worth of his success, he says.
“The only thing I worry about now is failing my Lord,” he said, in an emotional voice. “I want to finish strong for him, because when I look back at my life, I was a lousy son, because I was always out running around, driving my mom and dad nuts, and I was a failure as a husband, and I was even worse as a father.
“I took my kids to church, but I didn’t see them the rest of the week. I was really a failure as a human being until God got a hold of me in nineteen ninety, and I realized that it wasn’t about me, it was about him.”
Musing about his early years, Aldridge said he regrets not being more considerate of his parents, Elizabeth and Isaac Aldridge, and his two children, Sheila and Michael. He was driven, he said, by a need to prove himself, and the only way he could find to express it was to play fast-pitch softball, a recreation that he indulged in almost nightly, right up until he entered the seminary.
It was about that time, he said, that his minister where he attended church in Shelby County told him something that really shook him up and made him start thinking.
“I was miserable, because there was enough of God in me to know I shouldn’t be living the way I was living,” he said. “I was a decent person, but I was living for money and what I could get out of life. So I was talking with him [his minister] about it one night, and he said, ‘Ron, you’re trying to be good enough for God to love you.’ He told me, ‘You don’t have to earn God’s love – he loves you.’”
Aldridge’s church membership has doubled in the three years since he started it, he said. His ministry has a musical note – he sings a lot at church and has released four CDs, one of Christmas carols, one of gospel music and two contain songs he has written himself.
What’s more, he has moved his church from a borrowed space on the outskirts of the community to a building that he can actually see right from his porch.
“We [he and Sherry] would sit on the back porch and look out across the fields about a quarter of a mile, and there was a red warehouse,” he said. “At that time, we were meeting in another building, and we would talk about how perfect that building would be for a church.”
He chuckled when recalling what happened next.
“Then a man who owns about half the county took us for a ride one day and stopped at that warehouse and said, ‘Would you be interested in this building?’
“And we just looked at each other, speechless – it was just God’s hand.”
So, at a lower rent than he could have imagined, all of a sudden he had the building he had been longing for his church. That humble building, he said, is filled with more love than he had ever envisioned could exist within a church family, he said.
“I have such a wonderful, fantastic group of people here,” he said. “They are so loving, and they really live it. And you might be surprised, but I have ex-cons, I have recovering drug addicts. Jesus came to reach out to the lowly, and that’s what we are doing, trying to reach out to people that other people ignore.”
Those people have responded to that kind of ministry, he said, adding that their generosity enables him to keep the church going.
“One week, we really needed a couple of hundred dollars, and out of the blue, this couple sent us a check for three hundred and fifty dollars, and the woman said her husband said he felt like God was telling him to send me a tithe check,” he said.
Family in Shelby
Though he said he loves his children dearly, he says, as well as his grandchildren, Tres and Samantha, and brother, Louie, and sister, Betty, back in Shelbyville, it’s difficult for him to visit as much as he would like to because traveling is too expensive. So he keeps in touch with them by phone, as well as with other family and friends in Shelby County.
He grew emotional again when speaking of his family.
“I always looked up to my brother; he was one of the best fast-pitch softball players in the state,” he said. “I wanted to be just like him.”
His two grandchildren are his joy, he says.
“When he [grandson, Tres Holt] was born, I prayed a blessing over him, like in the [Bible] passage where Abraham blessed his children,” he said. “He is just an exceptional young man.”
Holt said he what he really admires about his grandfather is the way he embraces his congregation through his ministry.
“He really enjoys reaching out to people and helping them enjoy their lives,” he said.
Said Sheila Holt: “He really has a heart for people.”
W. A. Smith of Shelbyville, a retired real estate agent, a cousin whom Aldridge said he “loves like a brother,” made the observation that Aldridge is nothing like he used to be in his youth.
“He’s a person who’s changed a lot for the positive,” he said. “He sure has gone from one end of the spectrum to another.”
Said Aldridge: “From the world’s point of view, it may look like I don’t have much, but God has met all of my needs. I probably have less now financially as I’ve ever had in my life, but I’ve never been happier or more content, because I know that I’m right where God wants me to be.”
Full name:Ronnie Lee Aldridge
Education:Southeastern Seminary, Wake Forest, N.C.
Now Lives:Charleston, Mo.
Family: Wife, Sherry, daughter, Sheila Holt, son, Michael Lee Aldridge