The Duncan Banner

October 7, 2011

Cowboys mix lifestyle, religion for spiritual fulfillment

Toni Hopper
The Duncan Banner

DUNCAN — Like gophers on the prairie, cowboy churches are popping up across the country. Campfire rumor has it that more than 200 have sprouted up in the last decade throughout Oklahoma and Texas.

Duncan’s Chisholm Trail Cowboy Church formed almost four years ago and it’s been growing steadily.

Yet the popularity of cowboy church start-ups is making it hard to find a permanent pastor, since their first and only one retired recently because of health reasons.

Tom Stewart, one of the founders of the church, said it’s important to find the right person.

“This is a new movement, and we just want one who can preach from his heart,” he said. “We’re just trying to find a cowboy preacher.”

All those who attend describe the atmosphere as friendly, loving and sociable.

“The way we look at it, everybody’s welcome. Most wear blue jeans and western hats and we don’t care how you’re dressed just as long as you show up,” he said.

Stewart and his wife, Connie, are teen leaders for the church. They are at the “great grandparent” stage in their life. A recent trip to Six Flags over Texas meant corraling about 30 youth, but they don’t mind the energy level youth bring. They also host the youth group at their home each Wednesday evening.

“We started the teen group. At any church, the teens are the growth of your church. Me and my wife want to see the church grow and keep on growing.”

Since returning to church, Tom said he’s only missed one Sunday.

“I’d quit for two or three years at the church we were going to before. But when we got started at this church, I missed one Sunday — for a triple bypass surgery — but was back the next Sunday.”

They, along with Leroy and Cookie Anderson, Joe and Kathy Sides, Burl and Mary Jenkins and Kelly and Cindy Johnson, comprise the founders of the church. Credit goes to Steve and Shellie Marcum for initiating the idea of a local cowboy church after realizing there was a need for the church, shared Stewart. Steve Marcum is director of missions at First Baptist Church. 

“We went to a planning stage meeting and it just bloomed from there. We had our first service in the arena at fairgrounds,” Stewart said.

“We have people coming to our church who would not go to another church. It really is a family-oriented church and feels like home.”

Lonnie Foster agrees. He joined within the first month of the church being organized.

“The church has touched people who normally wouldn’t go to a conventional church. There’s no dress code. It’s just pretty much a good honest Christian Bible-based (non-denominational) church,” Foster said.

“It just brought me closer to the Lord. My mother and daddy go there, my two boys go there and it’s just a family-oriented deal. You can just feel the love when you walk in the door. It’s sociable and people visit like it used to be 100 years ago probably. It’s a friendly atmosphere.”

Finding a cowboy preacher isn’t the only big project facing the church.  About a year ago, a donor, who wishes to remain anonymous, gave 20 acres of land to the church so it could build a permanent home. Right now members meet at the Stephens County Fair & Expo Center’s Conference Center.

The church is constructed, but they still need to add heating and air, windows, doors and finish the build-out on the 80 by 100 foot structure.

A pay as you go plan has helped the church remain free of building debt and allows it to help more members who need the financial assistance. The church is estimated to cost about $450,000 when complete and they’ve got about $200,000 invested already.

“It’s all paid for, we don’t owe nothing on it,” Foster said.

At the fairgrounds, they get attendance from 165 to 200 people, with some days wall to wall congregation. The new church will seat 280 people and have two classrooms, kitchen and bathrooms.

Outside Sunday church, the members get together for team roping benefits and more. Most of those are to help raise funds for people in the church who need some type of assistance, whether it’s with a funeral or medical. The new church will also have an outdoor arena.

“Whenver the Lord sees fit for us to be in it, we’ll be in it.”

Foster said members are hoping to be in the new church soon, but anticipates at least another year of fundraising to help pay for future stages of construction.

Meanwhile, the church members find enjoyment in just being around one another.

On the last Friday of this month, the church is hosting an autumn social event with an old fashioned cake walk, apple bobbing and ice cream.

“Everybody pitches in. A lot of the women do the cooking. We  try to get everybody involved,” Foster said. There’s also fifth Sunday luncheons, Bible study on Thursday evenings and children’s events.

“We like to get kids involved and they’re the future of our country,” he said.