Living in Wyoming, I am more than familiar with cowboy church. Even pastoring a church with it’s roots in Orange County California, we here at the Vineyard in Pine Haven have hosted a Cowboy Poetry event. It is part of reaching our culture. So when I found this story about a city girl from Cleveland experiencing her first Cowboy Church service in Kearney Nebraska, I just had to share it with you. The story comes from the local Newspaper in Kearney Nebraska. I don’t want to share with you the entire story but just give you a taste because it is really a good down home type of article that I enjoy the best and so I hope you will go read all of her experience with the cowboys at the State Fair and the cowboy church.
A city girl’s first experience with cowboy church.
I’ve been in Kearney for eight weeks now, and this city in the belly button of Nebraska keeps offering me delights as tasty as that apple in the Garden of Eden. This week’s goodie: Cowboy Church.
I spent my life in Cleveland, where magnificent churches boast towering steeples, stained-glass windows, sculptor-carved pulpits, awe-inspiring choirs and thundering pipe organs. I move to Nebraska and what do I find? Cowboy Church. Sunday morning, I got up before 7, tossed on a pair of jeans, gulped down a bowl of Grape-Nuts and drove to the Buffalo County Fairgrounds for this annual event put on by the Kearney Church of Christ.
I’ve worshiped in some of America’s most sacred spaces — the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.; St. Bart’s in Manhattan; Christ Church in Boston; Grace Episcopal Cathedral in San Francisco; and the sprawling Boston Avenue Methodist Church in Tulsa, Okla., but I’d never worshiped with the ghosts of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans in the Exhibition Hall at the county fair.
Instead of pews, we worshiped on folding chairs. Sixty of them were set up in the center of that Nebraska-sized building, amidst displays of quilts, peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, cookies and bushel baskets tipped on end, with homegrown vegetables artistically spilling out of them. In front of drums and amps and instruments on an elevated platform was a simple table. A name, Austin, was scribbled on the side in black Magic Marker.
Stacked on the table were six sterling silver communion plates holding saltine-sized pieces of bread and six sterling silver trays holding thimble-sized glasses of grape juice. The communion pieces were far too lovely to be waiting politely amidst the dirt, dust and perspiration of the county fair, but this was Cowboy Church, and anything goes.
They passed out little white booklets with words and music of six gospel songs. We started off by singing three of them. We had Scripture and passed those silver communion plates among the rows.
Jay Towell preached a sermon without a single note. Instead of pastoral robes, he opted for black chino pants and a long-sleeved, grape-colored button-down shirt. He led the hymns, too, which were sung a cappella.
As I headed to my car, I thought about that worship service. The pioneers worshiped simply, in humble settings, when they first came to Nebraska and built soddies. Cathedrals are breathtakingly holy, but a church comes to life wherever two or three are gathered in His name, Towell said. He was right.
The power of simplicity with cowboy churches
In our day of PowerPoint presentations and professional pastors, musicians and mass marketing there is a power in the simplicity of cowboy church. Nobody thinks they are sophisticated so they do not try to be something they are not. They are just men and women of rural America who work hard, play hard, and worship hard. With backsides that are just as comfortable in the saddle as they are on a wooden pew, the have no need to be entertained. With an honesty and frankness that is communicated both in and outside the church, they don’t need lofty sermons and perfect theology. They just need to know that they have a friend in Jesus. I would suggest to all of you that if you ever get a chance, that you go and worship with the men and women of the west in a cowboy church. It will change your perspective of what is really needed in church.
Have you ever attended a cowboy church? Leave me a comment!