Worshippers — many clad in blue jeans, Western shirts and cowboy hats — wiped the mud off their boots and entered a barn-like metal structure on the western edge of town along U.S. Highway 67.
It became clear this was a different kind of church before even walking in the door. Cowboys greeted members and guests with a “Howdy” and a big hug. The church’s motto is “The Lord is our Trail Boss.”
Inside, the corrugated metal walls were painted a sunny yellow. Exposed ductwork hung from the ceiling. There wasn’t a stained glass window in sight. The rustic cross on the wall was made of peeled cedar posts. It was simple. Humble. Beautiful.
Instead of a choir singing classic hymns, a nine-piece band with fiddlers, guitarists, a drummer, and a harmonica and tambourine player sang the words to “Amazing Grace” but set to the tune of “Ghost Riders in the Sky.
”An instead of a fancy baptismal, a common silver metal watering trough stood on a wooden platform with cinder blocks for steps and a yellow hose to fill it full of water.
Clapping is not only allowed in this church, but is encouraged and appreciated. Rather than a traditional, structured service with responsive readings, hymns, an offering and a sermon, cowboy churches offers a straight-shooting approach — rousing music for the first half-hour and the preacher’s message from the Bible for the second, interspersed with prayers of gratitude.
Most cowboy churches such as the one in Glen Rose have sprung up in recent years and are growing in popularity not only in Texas and the West, but also across the nation.
The Texas/American Fellowship of Cowboy Churches, based in Waxahachie, estimated there are about 200 cowboy churches in the state and nation that follow its “strategic plan” of being “biblically sound, common-sense based and culturally relevant.” Some hold services in buildings, while others meet at rodeo or livestock exchange arenas.
Rob Nolen, the fellowship’s executive director, noted that cowboy churches are giving birth to a “revival and an awakening that is spreading throughout the American Western culture.” The churches are spread from Arizona to Tennessee.
Happy Trails is interdenominational and is affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas. It follows the Christian version of the cowboy code: love your Creator, your family and your community and walk in parallel with the lifestyle of Jesus.
Or, as pastor J.J. Jennings put it in his message last Sunday: “Be the go-to guy for God.” In other words, do right, help your neighbor and live by your word.
Working cowboy, poet and guitarist Tater Paschal got the congregation moving with praise songs set to country-Western beats.
“Are we going to do that in ‘G’?” he asked a fellow band member as they prepared to play the well-known hymn “Old Rugged Cross.” “I like G because that stands for God.”
After the musical part of the service, Jennings took the stage. He was dressed in a dark brown Western shirt, pressed jeans, a straw cowboy hat, boots and spurs. They clinked as he paced back and forth across the stage, delivering the message of Esther in a folksy, conversational way.
In the Old Testament, Esther was the “go-to guy” for saving the Jews from persecution, Jennings noted. She was called to help her people and she delivered despite the risk of death.
“God’s got other go-to guys on this Earth,” Jennings said. “Do you know who they are? All of y’all.”
After his message, four teenage boys stood up and walked over to the trough to be baptized one by one. The climbed the cinder block steps, lowered themselves halfway into the water and then were immersed. They dried themselves off with towels and smiled. Family and friends snapped pictures. People applauded and went up to congratulate the young men.
Jennings said the young church already has baptized 40 people.
“That’s what it’s all about,” he said.
Services begin at 10 a.m. each Sunday. The church is located at 1497 W. Highway 67. Call 897-1217 or visit www.happytrailscowboychurch.com for more information.