Jodi Lampley: Worshipping with Cowboys
If you are like me, odds are you’ve never heard of Cowboy Church. Just linking those two words bring to mind all sorts of images. What are you imagining?
I first learned about Cowboy Church from a family in my congregation, one that has been a source of incredible support for me as I have transitioned to Davidson County and Shiloh UMC. I can’t recall how many invitations I politely declined before I finally attended, but I can tell you that my Thursday nights with High Rock Cowboy Church has been an unexpected source of joy and fellowship over the past months.
Cowboy Church, as you might expect, is held on a farm. Located just outside of Denton, N.C. -- a town small enough to miss if you aren’t looking for it -- the barn holds eight or so horses and a straw floor, along with a small congregation of 30-40 on Thursday nights. My first foray into this community occurred on the first Thursday night of the month, a time traditionally set aside for a community meal and birthday celebration.
And so over hamburgers, peach cobbler, and sweet tea, I was introduced around to different folks. I was apprehensive at first. Over the previous two months I had experienced fully what it means to be “not from around here.” The folks at High Rock Cowboy Church welcomed me with open arms. Once they heard I played the guitar, they invited me back to play a couple of songs for the opening of worship. I quickly began to become familiar with faces of both humans and horses and greeted them with a smile and a neck rub (the horses, that is.)
The service isn’t complex in the least. There is about a half hour or so of fellowship time where folks set up chairs, greet one another, and hook up the portable sound system. Once everyone has moseyed in (and they do mosey!) Pastor Tom welcomes everyone. We have some music from a group or individual; it rotates each week. Then Pastor Tom preaches for about 30 minutes. They end by passing the hat (cowboy, of course) and having a time of prayer.
The goal of Cowboy Church is not to create a denomination or establish another church, but to create a space where folks feel comfortable and have the time to come. A number of folks do attend other churches on Sundays, but Cowboy Church is an important part of their faith. Others don’t have Sundays off or feel uncomfortable in a church building. On Thursday evenings, after the work of the day is done, they come to the familiar sights and smells of a horse barn in their t-shirts, boots, and hats. They come with the expectation of seeing one another and hearing the Word preached. Many times after worship, we all go to a local diner and eat together.
Pastor Tom is a Baptist Pastor during the week and has taken this ministry on as well. We tease one another each week about our hearty Duke/Carolina rivalry, and he encourages me and asks about my own ministry. It is a time of peace for me. I get to chat with some very real folks, pet some horses, and relax after a long week. I have a priceless insight into the hearts and minds of people from Davidson County, many of whom wouldn’t darken the door of a “regular” church. These folks are hardworking, and thirsty for the Word of God. I feel like it is a place that Jesus would visit, and perhaps even prefer to some of the churches I have seen in my 25 years here.
I am thankful for the ministry of Cowboy Church, both personally and as someone in full-time ministry. I hope that you will check out one near you some weeknight when you get the chance -- the hope is to one day to have at least one in each county in North Carolina. I promise you that you will be challenged and blessed by what you see and hear. You might even see me there.
Learn more about Cowboy Church in North Carolina.
Jodi Lampley D'10 is an alum of the Rural Ministry Fellows program and serves as Worship and Youth & Childrens’ Ministries Coordinator at Shiloh UMC in Lexington, N.C.