Wayne Bridegroom, the 60-year-old pastor of Central Baptist Church, said he's probably Modesto's "only evangelical pastor who's a Democrat." While he takes conservative stands against abortion and same-sex marriage, he also supports social justice issues to help the poor and promote the environment.
It all comes from his dairy farming roots and his longtime work on the west side of Modesto, he said.
Bridegroom was born in Turlock and lived on his family's dairy, first in Hilmar and later in Denair. He's the oldest of three children.
"I enjoyed working with my dad, whether that was putting up the alfalfa hay or the corn or milking the cows or plowing the fields, whatever. I also enjoyed sports a lot. I played Little League in Turlock and then was all-conference football and all-conference baseball in Denair.
"My dad was the starting left tackle for the championship Denair team in 1941, so football was a big deal in our household. My mom didn't want me to play because she was afraid I'd get hurt, but my dad said, 'Yes; he's playing.' "
Here's more information:
Family: Married to Beth, 61, for 39 years. Three children: Melissa, 34; Josh, 32; and Ben, 30.
Education: Bachelor of history from Wheaton College; master of religious education from Talbot Seminary at Biola.
Career: Central Baptist is his wife's home church from the time she attended Modesto High. In 1973, Bridegroom became assistant pastor of youth and Christian education there. In 1981, he became senior pastor.
Future: "There are four things that I really love, and I get to do all of them in this position. I love pastoring the church. I love history and ... delving into the historical facts behind the biblical passage every week. I would love to be a farmer. There's nothing like getting dirt under your fingernails. We have an acre behind the church that our Hmong people farm. And I have my tomatoes and garden at home. I love world missions. I get to enjoy that every week because we have four ethnic churches that meet here, as well as our English congregation -- Laotian, Cambodian, Hispanic, Hmong."
Greatest challenge: My education was basically oriented toward a white, middle-class church, and west Modesto is anything but white, middle-class. The greatest challenge is relearning how to do ministry. There's a lot of involvement with other congregations. The task over here is far too large for any one congregation."
Greatest passion: I have a passion for making disciples of Jesus. I have a passion to see justice done for the poor, particularly in west Modesto. And I have a passion for missions."
Personality: "I have been an overly serious person to the point of being called Mr. Sobersides. A personal crisis of depression brought me to a point of realizing I did not have to live the rest of my life that way, so I'm learning to become a person of joy and anticipation. It's a lot more fun."
Spare time: "High school football games. And I love travel and meeting people, finding out about their culture."
"Leading the Way" runs twice a month and profiles faith leaders in our community. To suggest someone, send the name and contact information to Sue Nowicki, P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352-5256 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.