by Marcia Horn Noyes
I think the website tagline says it all: Where Cowboys can be Christians and Christians can be Cowboys. I’ve been excited about visiting one of these churches all week. Before my friend Neal Barton, the news director for KETK-TV in Tyler, TX, mentioned that I should check out a Cowboy Church, I would have laughed at the concept. When he explained that baptisms take place in a horse trough, my next question was whether hay bales were used instead of pews. He assured me, they had chairs. DARN!
After checking out the website for the Cowboy Church in Boerne, I began talking to others around Austin and San Antonio about my eagerness to visit one of these churches. Oddly enough, everyone I spoke to had heard of this type of church and had also wanted to attend a service — curious about what it’s like. Today, I’m happy to be their eyes and ears.
Looking back on my own farming community childhood, I often thought it odd to see men who only wore jeans, cowboy boots, hats or overalls during the week to be dressed up in their best clothes on Sunday. Honestly, these men just looked so uncomfortable. So it’s no wonder that a church that encourages worship in cowboy boots, jeans and Stetsons would have taken off like an American Quarter Horse coming out of the chute in a calf roping competition.
Kendall County Cowboy Church – Kendall County Fair Grounds, 1307 River Road, Boerne
Why This Church?
Simple: This worship concept is down right intriguing.
Preconceived Notions about Cowboy Churches
I have none, but I do have many questions, such as:
1. Do they sing hymns and if so, are they Western hymns?
2. What could the offering plate be — a Western hat or a cowboy boot?
3. Do they utilize an auctioneer to bid up the donations?
4. Upon leaving the building, are people calf roped from the pulpit if they haven’t been saved?
5. Do they take their hats off when they pray? (You know I’ll have my eyes open checking this question out.)
Yep, you guessed – late again. I kind of got lost, but as I drove into the gravel lot, I saw that trucks comprised about 90 percent of the parking area. And unfortunately, no hitching post for first-time guests, but I quickly found a spot for my Smart Car – beside a truck.
The pastor stood outside the doorway and greeted me as I walked over from my car. “Howdy, how are you today?” he asked. My response, “Late.” He proceeded to say it didn’t matter because they typically start a few minutes late and that I was right on time. He quickly introduced me to two other gentlemen with warm, strong handshakes. Then other women introduced themselves and said to pull up a chair from the back of the room since they’d run out of pew space, which they typically did each Sunday.
As expected, this was one friendly crowd, and I quickly noted the jeans, cowboy hats and caps that populated the Kendall County Fair Ground building in which services were held.
A band played as everything began — complete with a young girl, an older woman on keyboard, a few men and even the pastor standing behind the group singing, I wondered if they would break out into Western hymns. I learned later that some Cowboy Churches do have the talent to pull that off and it really adds to the services. The pastor’s daughter led the hymns and you could tell she had a great voice. The crowd sat while some hymns were sung, and when I caught a glimpse of several men sitting with one leg across the other with their cowboy hats perched atop their knee, I broke out into a wide smile followed by a swirl of memories of days gone by.
During the announcements, I learned that the congregation is trying to raise enough money to have a building of their own. With one eye open, I took a quick survey of the group when the pastor took off his cowboy hat to pray; all the other men followed suit.
Like the first church I visited, the offering came early, right after the announcements. The church seemed apologetic for having to do a financial offering, but the speaker had some wonderful thoughts around that and told the crowd that if any of them were having financial difficulty they should contact the church for help. And I know you are all wondering just what was passed for that offering. Well, it was a tin bucket. Very fitting for a Western church.
The children’s sermon followed with the children coming forward to the front of the room, one with a small dog in tow. Pastor Steve gave a children’s message about loving everyone, even when you don’t like them. At one point he says that he often tells his daughter, “I don’t like you very much today, but I sure do LOVE you.” Then you hear his daughter pipe up, “Feeling is mutual, Dad.”
After a bit more singing of hymns that I’d not heard before, Pastor Steve Gross gave a sermon with his cowboy hat on. He spoke about being an authentic Christian and living the life of Christ. He said a couple of things that stuck with me. He said that you can always quickly find out who your real friends are by doing one thing — move. Whoever shows up to help you move are your true friends. I thought of our friend Stewart MacCallum who has always been there whenever Mike and I needed to move. Stewart and his truck were always there. When Mike died, he was there every step of the way – from numerous calls, flying over to Georgia for the first memorial, speaking at the Colorado memorial and then checking in on my kids. That’s a deep abiding friendship and the pastor wanted the congregation to know that God wants us to have that same type of commitment to him.
I also loved the story the pastor shared about former Spurs player David Robinson who mentored Tim Duncan. Even as a star player, Robinson gave of himself to mentor and help Tim Duncan quickly become the player he is today. Later today, I heard a story that’s often been repeated around San Antonio that I’d not heard before. Robinson gave up part of his salary so the team could bring Tim Duncan to the San Antonio team. WOW.
Finally, the pastor concluded the sermon and then gave the invitation while we all sang the hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” That one I knew!
Post Service Commentary
This church lived up to all my expectations. By far, it was one of the friendliest churches I’ve visited. The relaxed atmosphere helped me feel welcomed and I’m guessing that this church will continue to grow quickly. The only thing that would have made it feel more Western would have been bales of hay for pews. I’d not heard of Cowboy Churches before embarking on this journey; this is one that I’m really glad I visited and would love to learn more about the origination of this Christian Fellowship.
Haven’t had time to pick a church for next week. I have had offers to get more information about the three types of Jewish synagogues and to check out an Episcopalian church. Probably the two closest to me are Lutheran and Presbyterian, so I’ll just have to see what pops up during the week. Stay tuned.