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Natural Awakenings

Cowboy Churches: Faith Has Long Been Linked to Western Way of Life

Texas is the epicenter of a welcoming, come-as-you-are, 40-year-old faith movement that’s grown gangbusters in the past decade. From Colorado to North Carolina, wranglers meet in riding arenas and barns and baptize believers in horse troughs. No one passes a collection plate to the Stetson-and-spurs crowd, but they may set out a boot.

The back-to-basics approach works because, “The cowboy is a way more simple human being,” says Royce Gregory, pastor of the Life Brand Cowboy Church, in Ohio. Sermons are short and abound with Western allegories.

“We get people who will not go to church anywhere else, people who haven’t been in 30 or 50 years,” says Gary Morgan, pastor of the Cowboy Church of Ellis County, Texas.

“Churches, from the very beginning, were looking to restore the early church of Christ,” comments Kathleen Flake, a professor of American religious history at Vanderbilt University Divinity School, in Nashville, noting how the cowboy churches’ message is classically American. “It was just a matter of how literal they were about it.”

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