Cowboy church in Texas welcomes all

Friday, January 4, 2019

BRONTE, Texas (AP) — Just after sunset on a chilly December night, a stranger rides into town.

The Dallas Morning News reports Jerry Andrews coaxes his bay gelding, Speck, to a left turn at the only stoplight and down Main Street toward the old Texas Theater.

He has been riding for days from his home in southwest Oklahoma to San Angelo, nearly 300 miles, because God told him to deliver a Christmas gift to a friend in need. It would have been quicker to take a bus, but Andrews had no one to take care of Speck. Instead, he decided to make the journey on horseback.

Now, just starting his long trek back home, Andrews decides to stop at the only cowboy church in Coke County.

It was Saturday night, when the faded downtown would normally be empty, but there’s a crowd at the old theater when he arrives. It’s Christmastime, and the congregation has spent all day as a centerpiece of a community celebration.

Folks there have heard a lone rider might be arriving, and they welcome Andrews as he swings a leg over the large green duffel bag on Speck’s back.

The preacher asks Andrews if he’s tired, if he needs a place to stay.

“I’m past tired,” he says.

Caring for the weak and weary is part of the Christmas message at any congregation, but here at the Coke County Cowboy Church, it is regularly put into practice. Members gather donations and cook meals for hungry families on holidays, and they actively evangelize to neighbors with personal stories of jail time, poverty and addiction.

In rural West Texas, hard times are easy to come by. Pastor James Brunson has been there, and it’s why he prayed to bring this kind of church to his hometown. He just never expected to lead it.

Fifty miles southwest of Abilene, Bronte (pronounced BRONT) sits in the Concho Valley surrounded by rough ranch land. Just 3,300 people live in the whole of Coke County, fewer than a thousand of them here in Bronte.

While there are seven other places to worship in town, Brunson says his cowboy church is growing. Across Texas and the Western states, in communities where traditional churches sometimes struggle to survive, cowboy churches have become increasingly popular.