SPRINGTOWN -- Western Star Cowboy Church is not a fancy place.Off County Road 3696, the old metal building has no elaborate bells or steeples. Its only adornment is a big star on the front of the building.Every Sunday morning, the cowboy church draws farmers and ranchers, people born and raised in small towns around Springtown, many of whom left old churches because they did not like all the rules and edicts."The first time I walked through these doors, it just felt like home," said Katherine Thomas, who joined the church five months ago. "I knew I belonged here."So when Thomas learned earlier this year that pastor Bobby Bowden was diagnosed with cancer, she wanted to find a way to help.Today, she and other members will throw a fundraiser and festival to help raise money for Bowden's medical treatments. The all-day event in Springtown Square will feature live bluegrass, Christian and country music, raffles, games and a bake sale. Up to 4,000 are expected to attend."We are blown away," Bowden said. "I have always been a giver, not a taker. God is teaching me an important lesson on how to be on the receiving end of a gift."'We are a family here'Bowden and his wife, Mary, started Western Star Cowboy Church just three years ago in his living room with about a dozen friends and neighbors. Soon, the church doubled, then tripled, in size, and the group outgrew the living room. The congregation has 135 members."We were not looking for religion," Bowden said. "We were looking for a relationship with the Lord."Church members show up in bib overalls, wranglers and cowboy boots or dresses or slacks if they prefer. Coffee and doughnuts are allowed in the sanctuary, and a church band gives a gospel spin to favorite country music songs."The services aren't hellfire and brimstone," said Bobby Godley, a church elder who left a Baptist church years ago because he found it too strict. "You feel better when you leave than when you came in."To avoid pressuring people to give, no collection plate is passed. Instead, churchgoers can slip pocket change into a metal can in the back of the church.The church does not use money to pay for big salaries or new furniture. Instead, they donate money, clothes and toiletries to the Presbyterian Night Shelter in Fort Worth."The pastor doesn't judge you for your past. It doesn't matter what you wear, what you drive or how much you tithe," said Sarina Moose, who recently joined the church with her husband, Mike. "We are a family here."Cancer drugs expensiveIn January, Bowden went to a doctor because a pain in his left side would not subside. Twelve years earlier, doctors removed his right kidney after he was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma.Now, the cancer had returned, this time to his left kidney, and had spread to his lungs and liver. It could not be cured, doctors told him, but the tumors could be controlled with pricey chemotherapy drugs.After insurance, Bowden, a retired safety manager for a Fort Worth home builder, would owe $1,200 a month for the drugs.Without asking for Bowden's permission, Thomas set up a few plastic jars around town, at the grocery and hardware stores. The first week, she collected $400."I spent 32 years looking for this place," said Thomas, who lives in Paradise. "There's no way I'm going to let our pastor go."The Bowdens were initially hesitant to accept help."We are usually the ones helping, so this has been very humbling," said Bowden's wife, Mary. "Our church family and this town are full of love."Easter weekend, Thomas and members organized a citywide bake sale, and Brookshire's grocery store in Springtown let them set it up in the parking lot. Thomas made chocolate-dipped strawberries, and members made pies, brownies and cakes. The sale raised nearly $1,400.Wanting to do more, members decided to sponsor a fundraiser with a country or gospel band. They started making contacts, and 11 bands signed on. The fundraiser was moved from the square to the park across the street to accommodate crowds.Members have passed out hundreds of fliers and solicited raffle items from local businesses, including jewelry, a television, furniture and a guitar.Thomas said the entire community has reached out to help Bowden and the church."If there was ever a person who deserved more time here," Thomas said "it's our pastor."Sarah Bahari, 817-390-7056Twitter: @sarahbfw
If you go
The benefit for Pastor Bobby Bowden is from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. today in downtown Springtown, off Texas 199 and Farm Road 51.
Western Star Cowboy Church
Sunday gatherings are at 10:30 a.m. at the church, 790 County Road 3696 in Springtown, about 1.5 miles off of Farm Road 51.