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Giddy up: ‘Cowboy churches’ growing in popularity

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Deacon Greg Kandra - published on 03/24/17

Well, ain’t this somethin’?:

The first thing you should know about Bryn Thiessen is that he’s the type of person your hip barber is trying to be… …Thiessen speaks in a drawl with a slight twang even though Texan inflection is not a native tongue of Alberta—it is both affectation and aspiration. He writes poetry and has a weekly service where he preaches to locals. His is the Cowboy Trail Church. He is full of catchy phrases and during a sermon in May he recites a poem about a horse named Termite that likes to eat wood and spins it into a parable about stubbornness and the banishing of evil. You know stubbornness, he says, if you’ve owned a Dodge. After addressing part of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah he takes a deep breath and looks at the crowd: “Now, how’s that for wordin’?” he asks. Thiessen’s cowboy church is one of dozens across the country, according to the Evangelical Fellowship for Canada, where a mixture of Christian faith and rural lifestyle meet. “The church is either a barn or a round corral,” he says. “A barn is where you’re fed and sheltered and someone cleans up after you. A round corral is where you’re exercising and growing. In either case, it’s a long building.” A cowboy church is a “seeker-sensitive” gathering, where the trappings of traditional worship are eschewed in order to entice people through the door. Often, cowboy churches meet on a weekday evening, because weekends are busy for farm families. There is no dress code: “When you go to a church with deep pile carpet, you’re not welcome if you’ve got dung on your boots,” is a common refrain. Services are held in settings from a barn to the side of a lake to a community centre. A handbook to starting your own cowboy church says “church words” are to be avoided, even in praying: “You need to launch your first service stirring up all the dust you can.” There has been an explosion of growth in the cowboy church movement over the past fifteen years. In a Texas Monthly article, one cowboy church pastor said cowboy churches were spreading like a grassfire. …While far from traditional, cowboy churches are not revolutionary in social acceptances. Marriages are to be between heterosexual couples only. I see fewer than a handful of visible minorities when I visit Cowboy Trail in Cochrane, Alberta. The churches are not known for a giving spirit—“We’re not need-meeters,” says Thiessen. “It’s western thinking. You have to pack your own load.” What draws a community to these churches is not the talk of cattle branding or the prayers for rain or the request for a healthy calving season. It’s that, as Thiessen says, “People want to find a place where they can live the life they think they remember.”

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