Howdy, partner: In Lone Star State, gospel with a front-page twang

"Gospel with a little twang" was how The Dallas Morning News billed its front-page Sunday story on cowboy churches.

The writer, Charlie Scudder, had a whole lot of fun with that little bit of twang.

The result: a nice trend feature (accompanied by video interviews and an excellent photo gallery) that took readers inside two western-themed congregations in Fort Worth:

FORT WORTH — At high noon in the Stockyards Station, just after the
longhorn cattle drive down Exchange Avenue and just before the
gunfight show, a congregation comes to worship.

Pastor George Westby has been leading services here at the Cowboy
Church at the Fort Worth Stockyards for 23 years. His services attract
visitors from all over the country as well as a handful of regulars.

But just off Exchange Avenue, down in the old horse-and-mule barn
where there’s real manure and fewer vacationing families, a second
cowboy church is here for the same reason.

The Cowtown Cowboy Church, led by pastor Sonny Miller, started meeting
in spring 2013 on a dirt patch under the vaulted ceilings of the old

The newer church is part of the Western Heritage Ministry of the Texas
Baptists, a group of more than 200 churches statewide that embrace the
Gospel with a little twang.

Next, the Morning News provides a nut graf designed to put the Fort Worth churches into a larger context:

The fact that there are now two cowboy churches in the Fort Worth Stockyards is a sign of the times: Dozens of these churches have popped up in the last 15 years, constituting a rapidly growing constituency of new Western Christianity that embraces simple services over big-church productions.

That's a nice start, but I wish the Dallas paper had identified the source (or sources) of its information. Who said the trend is 15 years old? Who said the trend represents a "rapidly growing constituency of new Western Christianity?" Such attribution would be helpful and journalistically proper.

But that nitpick aside, this city boy liked that the reporter offers specific details on the denominational affiliations — or not — of the cowboy churches featured:

Westby’s church is a nondenominational congregation with a relaxed, indoor service featuring lots of music and no formal sermon. Miller’s, meanwhile, is associated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas and has been open for a little more than a year with a focus on ministry that goes beyond Sunday morning.

Keep reading, and the story gives more insight on the Baptist involvement, such as the fact that the Western Heritage Ministry sponsors team roping and barrel racing events "to attract more cowboys and cowgirls to their ministry without the pressure of a formal service."

From there, this quote makes me chuckle:

“We’re not going to beat you down because you’ve got a pack of beer in the back of your truck,” said Mike White, an elder at the Cowtown Cowboy Church. “The most important thing is they’re in church, here as a family, hearing the word of God.”

Later, the writer references Christians who have "drifted away from the herd" and a worship assembly that mixes "Hank Williams songs and readings from Proverbs." Did I mention that Scudder has a whole lot of fun with this piece?

Saddle up for a good read.

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