KIRKSVILLE — The invitation said “cowboys, cowgirls and buckaroos are welcome and you can even bring your dog.” The NEMO Cowboy Church is being held in a sale barn and everyone is welcome.
Pastor Tom Rowland said they chose to start the church, which opened February 21, to reach the local population of Adair County who are interested in horses, rodeo, cattle-raising and a rural lifestyle. “Jesus preached in the temples, but He also went out into the world to preach to them as He found them,” Roland said. He said they had an offer of use of a vacant church building just up the road in Schuyler County, but when they found out the Kirksville Livestock Market was offering to let the new church use their facilities it seemed like the thing to do.
People come in the sale barn and sometimes they bring a cattle dog with them. Most wear jeans, boots and a hat. The music is country western style, although with a distinctly Christian message. The sale barn even smells a little like cow manure, which makes perfect sense. Everyone seems right at home.
Christy Hodgen is the greeter for the church. She is co-owner of a sale barn in Green City, 25 miles west of Kirksville. A self-described “cowgirl,” Hodgen moved to Missouri from Indiana and she said she has always had a “western mindset.”
“I always enjoyed working with my horses. It is a place where I can feel close to God.” She heard about the new church on Facebook and decided to give it a try.
“The whole aspect of a cowboy church atmosphere with cowgirls, horses, western wear, you don’t have to come to church all prim and proper,” Hodgen said. “It’s a place that appeals to the western lifestyle: freedom, open spaces … you can be yourself.”
She and her son, Stetson, have been coming since the church started, and she started volunteering as a greeter right away.
Several members of the saddle clubs in Green City, Queen City and the 4-H club in Kirksville have responded to the invitation to the new church. Roland has preached at some of the cowboy worship services at these clubs. He also works with a group called “Chariton Hills Chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Cowboys which sponsors a rodeo Bible camp for teenage boys and girls every summer in Bloomfield, Iowa.
Caleb Perkins, is the church’s worship leader. He runs a farm machinery sales company and has been a cattle auctioneer for several years. He joined with Pastor Roland back in January to plan the launch of the new church and he brings his family along for the evening services. His kids and their friends gather during the worship time for a children’s church session with the other little “buckaroos.” The Perkins family sees their involvement as an investment in outreach to the rural community of Kirksville and surrounding counties.
Perkin’s uncle, a cattleman named Gary Perkins, of Green City, said he just loves the “low key, laid back, come as you are, no pressure setting.”
“You don’t have to get dressed up. It’s a relaxed setting,” Perkins added. He attends Sunday services at First Baptist Church, Green City, but he said, “A lot of people that wouldn’t go to a Sunday church are willing to go to a sale barn for church.”
Rowland said the idea to start a western-oriented church has been in his mind for a long time. The association leaders asked him to consider starting it and he prayed about it. God said yes.
He is a rancher, has a fence-building business, is a youth pastor at Hartford Baptist Church and he does a lot of guest preaching in churches in the Thousand Hills Baptist Association. Many of the smaller, rural churches are pretty informal and western already, he said. “When I prepare for a message in the cowboy church, it is pretty similar to what I would preach in the country churches. But the gospel is very relevant to our rural congregations.”
“It’s a team effort,” he said. He appreciates those that are forming a great team for the Thursday night church.
They hope to meet every other week and believe there will come a day when the congregation will want to meet every week. But for now, bring your dog, wear your boots, jeans and a big hat and come on down to the sale barn for church.