Western wear during Cowboy Church only enhances the message

2007-08-12T00:00:00Z Western wear during Cowboy Church only enhances the messageBob Holliday bholliday@pantagraph.com pantagraph.com
August 12, 2007 12:00 am  • 

FARMER CITY - At the Cowboy Church, country music mixes with a gospel message and Sunday-go-to-meetin' clothes can be western shirts and jeans, cowboy boots and hats.

"Howdy," said Marcia Shelton as she welcomed about 70 people to a recent service, explaining everything they'd sing, say and do that evening would be in God's honor.

"We are like a family here," said Shelton, of Bellflower, who later sang a duet with daughter Amy Shelton of Rantoul.

"It's all in service to the Lord," added pianist Kathy Brake of Fisher. Her husband, Mike Brake, is the drummer.

The church, part of First Christian Church in Farmer City, is 11 years old. It got its start when Mel Reynolds, a long-time member at First Christian, visited a cowboy church in Nashville in 1996 and asked then-Pastor Bud McMasters if he thought the concept could work in Farmer City.

McMasters thought it would.

Gospel music predominates at the Cowboy Church. There's communion, and members take turns delivering a short message. Music sometimes is introduced by jokes, and is often met by applause.

Nobody tries to be serious.

Certainly not Ted Long of Stanford, who danced a bit in his cowboy boots after singing the first song of the evening.

Certainly not Ted Shaffer of LeRoy, who wore a cowboy hat as he strummed and sang.

Certainly not Evelyn Henry of Farmer City, who advised a would-be visitor, "Put on your jeans and boots and come on down."

A visitor will find they use cowboy hats to collect the offering. They'll find good-natured ribbing and a concern for the broader church community, with members asked to report birthdays, anniversaries and updates on those who are ill.

Henry, who books the volunteer musical guests, said some people attend the non-denominational church out of curiosity, but keep coming back.

"It (attendance at cowboy churches) has been a growing trend," she said. Congregants hail from Bloomington, Champaign, Gibson City, LeRoy, Mansfield, Bellflower and elsewhere.

Nearby DeLand has its own cowboy church, the Ranch House Cowboy Church. "We have a very interesting service," said De Land church leader Susie Deeters.

"It's church, but it's country-style." Henry said of the Farmer City church.

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