Evangelism Exposed

“Jesus wept.” Joh 11:35

Pastor’s sermons at home on the range

By E.A. TORRIERO, McClatchy
First published: Saturday, August 9, 2008

MT. VERNON, Ill. — Wearing a cowboy hat and preaching atop his horse, Pastor Steve Hamson gives a modern-day meaning to “sermon on the mount.”

With a Bible in one hand and the reins in the other, Hamson strikes the fear of God in his parishioners — more than a dozen of them on horseback. They put their hats over their hearts when Hamson prays for those who are missing because they “had to do hay.”

Across rural America, evangelical Protestants gather in barns, buildings and beneath the stars to worship Western-style. As the beach is to born-again surfers, the range is the mission field to Christian cowboys and ranchers.

Some Christians have questioned whether the churches only offer gimmicks and fail to provide a meaningful spiritual experience. But like suburban mega-churches that beckon teenagers with gospel rap and rock music, cowboy sanctuaries promote country-western worship while seeking to attract those who find traditional rural church settings unattractive.

The music has a twang, the lyrics beckon men to mosey on home to Jesus, and 10-gallon hats are passed around for offerings. Preachers tell corny jokes. Worshipers whoop and holler. Bands jam with banjos, mandolins, guitars, drums and sometimes a washboard. Sermons usually last just a few minutes.

“You don’t want to scare ’em off,” said Pastor Susie Deeters, who along with her husband, John, runs the Ranch House Cowboy Church in a converted Baptist church building in De Land, Ill.

In the Wild West days, cowboys usually were not atheists; they saw God in nature. Indifferent when it came to evangelical Christianity, “They were less Christ-centric and more aware of God’s providence in their surroundings,” said Ferenc M. Szasz, author of “Religion in the Modern American West.”

Today, crowds flock to tourist areas like Branson, Mo., for foot-stomping worship from cowboy bands. Many have never saddled up but love country gospel and wearing Western garb.

Another movement that grew out of a Baptist outreach to Texas ranchers spread like wildfire, spawned megachurches and sends missionaries to Africa.

Hamson admits that preaching from a horse is a learned art. “You have to pay attention to the horse, and you can’t hold notes,” he said.

After a closing prayer, folks rode off to the cowboy ditty made famous by Roy Rogers and Dale Evans: “Happy trails to you. Until we meet again.”

August 9, 2008 - Posted by | Evangelical Tricks

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