Kendall County Cowboy Church – Boerne, TX

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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.

Sunday #3

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.)

Arrival

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.

Service Begins

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!

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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.

What’s Next? 

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.

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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints – Stone Oak Ward

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By Marcia Horn Noyes

Even though I have friends who are Mormon and some that have even left the Mormon Church, I know very little about the LDS faith. It’s been a curiosity of mine for some time and is one of the churches that I would be least likely to visit, so thus…a stretch for me. That’s due in part to my perception that I’d somehow be bombarded with questions and future missionary knocks upon my door. In this blog, you may be surprised at how wrong my perceptions have been.

Sunday #2 – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Stone Oak Ward, 645 Knights Cross, San Antonio, TX 78260

Why This Church?

You can’t live near the Stone Oak area of San Antonio without marveling at the architectural wonder of the LDS Temple located at Stone Oak Parkway and Hardy Oak Boulevard. Built in 2005, the building sits on 5.5 acres and has a gold temple spire that shines brightly under the Texas sun. As LDS Temples go, this is not where regular Sunday church services are held.

In trying to get some sense of what to expect at an LDS service, I called a Mormon friend who told me I should dress in a skirt and blouse or something like that. I mentioned not knowing much about Mormons, only that much of what took place was veiled in secrecy. I was quickly corrected and told that it wasn’t secret; it was sacred. To me, anything that is not completely transparent to other individuals is secret, but I won’t quibble on that nuance. Instead, today I attended my first LDS church service at the Stone Oak Ward (apparently churches are divided into Wards versus parishes or something else).

Preconceived Notions About Mormon Churches

  • People would be dressed more conservatively.
  • I wouldn’t be let out of the building without handing over my name, email and phone number (I already had a plan for this. I’d only give out my address, because the subdivision I reside in is behind iron gates).
  • The service would be rather austere.
  • The congregation might be rather “white bread,” as a friend of mine calls those gatherings of people who are predominately Caucasian and stay to themselves.

Arrival

Once again, I pushed the arrival time to the last minute. As I drove into the parking lot, I didn’t find the hoped for RESERVED FOR FIRST TIME GUESTS parking space. Oh well. The parking lot had many spaces still open though. When I parked, I looked down to find a Diet Coke sitting in the holder. That would surely earmark me as an outsider if anyone took a glance inside my teeny weeny Smart car. I’d first heard of the Mormons from learning more about the Osmond’s and at that time that they didn’t drink anything with caffeine – no coffee, no tea, no Coke, no TAB. I knew years ago I’d never become Mormon for that reason alone. If I gave up TAB, a whole Coca-Cola bottling plant would likely have to be shut down and that would cause hundreds to lose their jobs. I’m often told that I’m the only person that still drinks that stuff, so I’m keeping doors open by drinking TAB and not joining the Mormon faith. 

Unlike last week, this LDS church had no sign-in table for first-time guests, Phewww. As I walked in and took a seat in the middle of the back pew, an organ played in the background, giving more the feeling of a funeral instead of church service. Those sounds coupled with the sight of men outfitted in suits and ties, women in skirts and dresses, and children dressed to the nines, ushered in great contrast to what I’d previously experienced last week. With no windows, a center pulpit and hymnals in the back of pews, this felt similar to the Baptist church I’d been raised in, versus what I perceived the LDS church to be like.

One thing I had previously been told certainly held true today – families sit together, all of them. The sanctuary was filled with children, from babies to teens. I expected extreme reverence in this service, but instead a dull background noise of childish chatter, from little “uh-ohs” to cries and wails permeated the place. A parent quickly silenced the louder wails by ushering the unhappy child from the service.

Service Begins

Hymns seemed to be the music of choice. I’d not heard any of them; I guess hymn composers arose from many different faiths back in the late 1800s and didn’t share those diddys between denominations.

From the pulpit, first-time visitors were welcomed with one uttered sentence. That’s it – no raised hand, form to fill out, stand up request or even a neighborly acknowledgement. As out-of-place as I felt, that was a welcomed treat.

After an invocation, announcements about Ward and State business filled a little time, and apparently everyone “manifests their approval by raising the right hand” to signify agreement of those young men going into the priesthood and also those individuals leaving their positions within the church.

Following that, a number of young boys got up in suits and ties and white starched shirts to pass around the Sacrament. (We call it The Lord’s Supper in the Baptist Church, and I believe also in Presbyterian services). The young men passed around freshly baked pieces of bread. Since I’m not Mormon, I didn’t know if I was supposed to partake, but since I currently eat a very low carb diet, I figured abstaining would be best. Once done, I contemplated what lie under the remaining white lace – grape juice or wine? What else could it be? Well, apparently neither grape juice nor wine; the LDS Church uses water to represent the blood of Christ – no Red Table Wine, Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon!

Young women seemingly take their place in church by leading the music. The music leader today seemed very uninterested, and not into the hymns at all. As she missed the downbeat with her hand I wondered if the church cycles through the young girls performing this role. Perhaps this young lady just wasn’t a music lover, or maybe a lover of hymns at all.

After the Sacrament and music, a series of speakers, young and old took to the podium. We heard from local and state youth about the missionary work and then a High Council Speaker who quoted often from the D&C, which I had to look up to find that it meant the Doctrine and Covenants. I’m not sure that is the Book of Mormon or not, but the D&C does contain the revelations given to LDS Founder Joseph Smith.  The High Council Speaker’s delivery was more read-out-of-the-book and less inspirational than what I expected, so I took to watching the members. Immediately, the extreme care and concern expressed between siblings struck me as sweet – school-aged boys holding pacifier-sucking baby brothers in their arms while young teens stroked the hair of younger girls in their families.

Post Service Commentary

For me, this sign of brotherly and sisterly love was worth seeing in person and well worth my time. Only one pulpit impression though: What do nursing home residents say when asked what they most regretted at the end of their lives. The answer: Not living up to their full potential. Impactful, powerful and something I think about often. As I slowly inch past that 50 year life mark, it’s something that comes to the surface more and more.

Most of my perceptions of the LDS Church were completely shattered today. Oddly enough, this church never had an offering passed. A church with no offering plate. Very odd! And even odder still, never once was I greeted, or introduced to anyone, going in or out of church. At this church, I walked in and out without one person shaking my hand or saying “hello.” So how does the LDS Church increase its growing San Antonio membership. My only guess is that those increases come from its well-known missionary outreach.

What’s Next? 

I take off my dress clothes, put on my boots and head to a Cowboy Church in Boerne. Thanks, Neal Barton for pointing me toward this church. Never knew Cowboy Churches existed. Neal tells me they baptize in a horse trough. That I gotta see! Cowboys must get up early; this service begins at 10:30. So, I’m going to saddle up and hope they have an up-front hitching post for first-time guests!

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Crossbridge Church – San Antonio

By Marcia Horn Noyes

As someone who loves to experiment with new foods, new recipes, new running routes and all things new, it’s not surprising that an idea to try out a different church every Sunday would pop up. I’ve always considered myself an open-minded person, but I wanted to do something that would help me truly understand the different ways people worship God, while simultaneously testing my comfort zones.  As many know, I stretch my physical limits to understand how much mileage and speed my body can take. To stretch my spiritual limits I’d need a different test — one that would test my preconceived ideas, my own judgments and rather I could get past that uncomfortable feeling from showing up at a new church service every week, rather I knew anything about the denomination, or not.

Upon hearing what I planned to do, a loved one cautioned that attending one service is simply a small snapshot view of what a particular church is all about. To truly experience a church, you must be involved in that church. To that statement, I agree, so I want to make a point that my comments are simply my own observations, not judgments on any given denomination or church, and they are for only one given Sunday – a small slice of time. I believe there is no right or wrong way to worship God, only a different way. This year, I want to experience them all. I hope you enjoy the journey with me and experience a few new things along the way.

Sunday #1

Crossbridge Church, 25700 Overlook Parkway, San Antonio, TX 78260.

Why This Church?

Now living in zipcode 78260, I decided to simply start with the churches around me. I got out later than normal to run this morning, so I didn’t have the luxury of going to just any church. I had to go to one that had a service at 11:00 a.m. Crossbridge Church fit the bill. Additionally, I thought a non-denominational church wouldn’t stretch my limits too far right out of the gate, thus prompting an end to something that had just begun.

Preconceived Notions About Non-Denominational Churches

  • Assumed that the bible is used frequently and often quoted
  • Expected moderate attendance
  • As a non-denominational church, I also expected to be sitting on chairs versus pews 

Arrival

Hadn’t planned it this way, but of course, I arrived a few minutes late. Felt somewhat redeemed by the numbers of other cars turning into the parking lot with me. Looking at the full parking lot, an initial wave of anxiety surfaced. Having to walk a long way would surely add to my tardiness. However, I immediately saw a parking spot sign up front:  RESERVED FOR FIRST TIME GUESTS. I smiled and whipped the car in thinking, Wow, if every church I visit this year has an up-front parking spot, I can be a Last Minute Lucy every Sunday. 

As a further welcome, this church also had an outside “new visitor” sign-in table, and the attendant handed me a packet of information about the church. I slipped into the service and found a seat next to a couple in a back row. Everyone was already standing and swaying to the music from the rock band playing on stage. Can’t say I’ve ever heard that particular song before, and it didn’t rhyme in many places; also seemed to go on forever while various people in the crowd raised their hands in the air. I’d forgotten my phone and my watch, so I’m not sure how long this lasted; just felt really long, probably because I didn’t know the song.

The church indeed had single chairs scattered about and the service was well attended by those in the 35-55 age group. I imagined this church to be much like the one my high school friend pastors in Spring, Texas called The Church at Creeks End. I’d previously seen a video where my friend Bobby Martin drove a Harley on stage, so this church felt like a small version of what I imagined his church to be.

A bit more theatrical than what I’m used to, the church had rows of Unistrut hanging from the ceiling to fasten various production lights. Took me a while to notice that the sanctuary also doubled as a gym, or the other way around. Basketball backboards had been covered in black cloth and once I saw that, I then noticed the gym markings on the floor. Definitely overdressed in my sundress with arms covered in a black sweater, most everyone else had on jeans and or leggings with boots.

Service Begins

After the intro song, a man in jeans made a quick introduction and invited the children from the back rooms to make lines around the crowd. The overhead video screens then switched on to Pastor Kirk Freeman standing in a vat of water that resembled a large mortar without the pestle. I’d arrived on a day when a few of the youth would be baptized, while the younger kids watched and listened to each of their testimonies. Each gave moving testimonies while standing in the water, but I enjoyed most when the very tall guy stepped into the water. The pastor smiled and said, “I usually put baptism limits on anyone over 6’2”. But just as he said that, a football player who had just been baptized, jumped back in to help the pastor dunk the guy. Of course, the pastor then said, “WE baptize you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.”

After that, people were asked to introduce themselves, and I met Ashley and Brennan, a married couple on my left, as well as Chris sitting in front of me. Since this was the second in a “Future Family” series the pastor gave, another couple was summoned to delivery testimony about their parenting. I laughed most when the woman said, “I was a really GREAT Mom, until I had kids.”

One big difference became apparent midway through the service when the ushers began taking the offering. I’d always experienced the offering being passed after the sermon and quickly wondered why this church chose to do it differently. Would the sermon be so bad, that no one would give money after the message?

After the baptism and offering, Pastor Kirk Freeman popped on stage donning blue jeans and a long-sleeved shirt with the tails out. Can’t say I’ve ever been in a church where the pastor wore jeans, but I’ve heard it is to align with the general feelings younger people have about attire. Again, I don’t know; can only share what I’ve heard. The pastor also didn’t use the Bible to read passages; instead he used an iPad mounted on a stand. That was a new one on me. He highlighted biblical passages on the large overhead screen and I noticed him using the NIV and NLT versions of the Bible. It threw me when one was marked as the KAV version. I’d not heard of that version, but he quickly pointed it out and said it was the Kirk Amplified Version of the Bible, because he couldn’t find the exact words he wanted to convey from any of the other biblical texts. That made me smile.

Having just run three miles before coming to church, it warmed my heart when the pastor used a photo of Olympian Derek Redmond on the overhead screens and told the story of Derek’s father jumping through security to help his son limp to the finish line after he severed a hamstring in the 800 meter semi-final. And, I loved how he relayed that illustration to what God does for us.

No invitational was given at the end of the sermon. The pastor simply said, “Go in Peace” and everyone filed out. No hymns, no invitational, just a dismissal – a bit different than I’m accustomed to but not bad, just different.

Post Service Commentary

I enjoyed my time at Crossbridge Church. I can see why people come here. I saw many hugs and welcoming faces and I certainly felt a spirit of family. My thoughts about the chairs was spot on for this church and it was much like I expected with quoted passages from the bible, as well as a few bibles sitting next to people on the floor.

This church had a greater attendance than I initially expected, and I was a bit surprised by the dress and the heavy use of technology, but it is 2014! Technology is a tool and churches are making heavy use of it. I’m looking forward to that first church that passes down an iPhone® with a Square® credit card payment device attached. No more basket passing, just a swipe of your credit card for donations. Now that would be technology at its best.