FORT WORTH - Wearing boots and jeans and wide-brimmed hats, several hundred Stock Show enthusiasts took time from the festivities to worship Sunday at Cowboy Church services at Will Rogers Memorial Auditorium.
"If you want to be the real deal - a person God can use - you need to have an encounter with the living God," said Russ Weaver,a former calf roper on the pro rodeo circuit who now preaches the gospel. He is pastor of the Shepherd Valley Cowboy Church, which has been leading Cowboy Church services for five years during the Fort Worth Stock Show.
Weaver's church began in 1997, meeting in the old Walt Garrison Arena in Benbrook. Now about 1,200 attend services each Sunday in Egan, near Cleburne, and it's one of the largest cowboy churches in the nation.
Cowboy churches have proliferated in recent years, and Weaver doesn't have a down-to-earth explanation for it. "It's just something that has been blessed by God," he said. "It's got his stamp on it and he's going to use it. All we have to do is figure out what he has going on, and it works."
The services Sunday also were taped, and will be shown nationally on the RFD-TV network. Weaver and Susie McEntire Luchsinger, a Christian singer and sister of singer and television personality Reba McEntire, are hosts of cowboy church services on the network.
The many wearing cowboy hats kept them on their heads, removing them only for prayer. A collection was taken by passing the hat - cowboy hats.
Before the preaching, those attending were offered coffee and donuts. They clapped to lively music led by a three-piece band and a worship team.
Weaver praised stock show officials for deciding to include cowboy church services as one of the events. It gives rodeo entrants, people showing livestock, exhibitors and others a chance to attend worship, he said.
Among the worshippers was Shelly Powell of Fort Worth, a parking lot attendant at the stock show. Her bright vest, labeled "Event Staff," stood out among those in western attire.
"I was kind of down and out because I thought I had to miss church," said Powell. Then she heard about the stock show services. She took her break to attend.
"I've never been to a cowboy church before," said Powell, who usually attends Trinity Harvest Church inside the Northeast Mall. "I was surprised and very blessed. He (Weaver) preached the word of God."
Preston Smith of Fort Worth, a member of the Hills Church in Richland Hills, brought his family to church, all dressed in western regalia.
"The first time we ever attended cowboy church services was here last weekend," he said. "We loved the music so much and the message that we decided to come back." With him were his wife, Christiana, and their children, Hudson, 5; Parker, 4; Avender , 2, and Titus, 3 months.
Al McDaniels, who wore a shirt with the wording, "Smile, Jesus Loves You," was one of the Shepherd Valley church members greeting visitors. He said people from several states attended Sunday.
Kaitlyn Erwin and Erica Erwin of Ashdown, Ark., said they appreciated the opportunity to attend church. Their father is one of the exhibitors.
Weaver is president of the Cowboy Church Fellowship, which includes several churches sponsored by the Assemblies of God denomination. Weaver led a meeting of the fellowship Friday and Saturday and it included members from Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, Oregon, Kansas, Virginia and Florida.
During the Sunday service, Weaver recognized Al Worthey of Springfield, Mo., executive director of chaplains for the Assemblies of God denomination. "Cowboy churches are a way for a church to become relevant to a whole people group," Wprthey said. "They reach a lot of people outside the realm of the church. We don't talk about denominations in our cowboy churches."
Also attending was Weaver's mother, Delma Weaver of Egan, widow of the Rev. Jasper Weaver, an Assemblies of God minister. She has another son, Randy Weaver,who is pastor of a cowboy church in Montgomery, near Houston.
"I think cowboy churches are fantastic," she said. "We like to say that we minister to cowboys and people who will put up with them."