Monday, June 9, 2008

So, what is a Presbyterian Doing in a Cowboy Church?

For those who don’t know what a Cowboy Church is I’ll share a little history. In the city of Nashville, Tennessee Dr. Harry Yates and his wife felt led to a new ministry that would serve the thousands of tourists that flocked to the Country Music Capital of the World every year. In keeping with the country/western theme of Nashville, he started the cowboy style services in the Silverwater Lounge of the Holiday Inn. Show business folk in the city found this simple come-as-you-are form of worshiping comfortable as well. Soon Yates’ Cowboy Church outgrew their meeting place and they moved to a larger place, added more services, and from there more Cowboy Churches were organized across the country and internationally as well.

Dress is causal at Cowboy Church and the theology is simple. Salvation is through Christ Jesus the Son of God, the Bible is our instruction book for life, and prayer opens a direct line from us to God. The services vary from traditional protestant to a more Pentecostal style. Either type is still a bit foreign to this lifelong Presbyterian, but I feel perfectly at home sitting in a folding metal chair in a large open sided horse stable worshiping with a small congregation. Our sanctuary overlooks the pastures of large equestrian center where horses meander by during the Sunday morning service. Horses having been a major part of my life for many years, this was an added plus.

I began attending the Thursday night service when I had horses at the stables. On Sundays I flip flopped from going to the huge Presbyterian Church in town where services were held in a new multi-purpose room that seemed more like a basketball court than a church, and a small country Baptist church with stained glass windows and a caring congregation. But, honestly, most Sundays I was not going to church at all.

When I learned Tar River Cowboy Church had added Sunday services I started going with a friend. My visits were sporadic, but I’d grown completely away from the large Presbyterian Church. I grew up in a small town and my home church is a small Presbyterian family-feeling church. I just could not find that family feel in the big church after I moved from home. I felt welcome in the country Baptist church, I not at home.

Again, I have to be honest and say what drew me first to Tar River Cowboy Church was pure laziness. I found myself liking that I could wear blue jeans and not feel out of place. I didn’t have to dress up for church. So, on Sunday morning when out of pure determination to “go to church” someplace, I chose the easy one.

Soon there were other things that drew me to the Cowboy Church. One was music. Their music were the same songs my daddy played on guitar when he'd sing me to sleep at night, and Mama hummed while she did the housework. I also found the prayer part of the service real and personal, like we were talking to God in a person-to-person conversation. Reverend Frank Eatman’s sermons didn’t seem so much like sermons as teachings. There are also some men who fill in and “lay preach” as we Presbyterians call it. Cowboy church calls it helping out Frank. These men are the real deal, too. They speak from their hearts, from God's word, to our hearts.

I have begun to look forward to Sunday mornings and going to worship God with the people that are Tar River Cowboy Church. I have begun to remember names, even if I have to write them down on sticky notes inside my Bible. I feel more and more like Tar River Cowboy Church was where I belong. Now, don’t get me wrong, if you ask me what denomination I belong to I’ll tell you I am a Presbyterian. Its kind telling you I am a Campbell. I grew up in Plymouth Presbyterian Church. I learned my Catechism there, was confirmed, married, had my children baptized, and attended the funerals of my sister, father and mother in that church. Those ties will never break. But, while I am living away from my hometown I think this little Cowboy Church in Franklin County, North Carolina feels right homey. And while I like going to church in my blue jeans, it’s the people that draw me there now: down to earth good people, Bible-believing, praying, loving people who are not afraid to stand up for Jesus even if they are standing in cowboy boots on the dirt floor of a horse barn.