Fort Worth Stock Show

Cowboy Church draws Stock Show visitors with western-style worship

Cowboy Church at the Fort Worth Stock Show

Shepherd's Valley Cowboy Church pastor Russ Weaver leads service Sunday
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Shepherd's Valley Cowboy Church pastor Russ Weaver leads service Sunday

Early on the brisk, sunny first Sunday morning of the 2016 Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo, exhibitors were busy grooming show animals and feeding livestock.

At the same time, pastor Russ Weaver was tending a different flock at Cowboy Church services in the Will Rogers Auditorium .

It was Weaver’s 63rd birthday, and the pastor of Shepherd’s Valley Cowboy Church in Alvarado stood onstage in the historic venue and talked about peace, salvation and joy. Mostly joy.

“This is the day the Lord has made,” Weaver proclaimed, “and He does all things well.”

Dwayne Williams sang Christian favorites including “Victory in Jesus,” “Just a Little Talk with Jesus,” and “Because He Lives.”

It may sound simple and a bit old-fashioned to devotees of multimedia worship, but to a growing number of North Texans, the old-time songs and gentle messages are comforting and joyful.

“It’s down to earth, and he tells you about the Bible in layman’s terms,” said Lorna Scott of Crowley. She and her husband Lon “Scotty” Scott were looking for a church five years ago when they came upon the Cowboy Church services at the Stock Show, which were in the John Justin Arena then.

“We heard singing, and we more or less followed the music until we found them,” she said. “We think it was meant to be.”

The Stock Show has offered Cowboy Church services on Sundays for about 15 years, show officials said.

Weaver, a native Texan and an ordained Assembly of God minister, arrived at his cowboy calling because “it’s the way I was raised,” he said. “My dad was a pastor, and he had good horses. My brother and I roped calves. I rodeoed in tie-down calf roping from 1980 through the mid 90s.”

Always, religion and roping complemented each other in Weaver’s way of thinking.

“The idea of having a cowboy church was founded in my truck, coming back from the National Finals Rodeo in 1980,” he said.

He organized worship groups and Bible studies wherever he was, and helped start a racetrack chaplaincy in Texas.

Cowboy churches include congregations from many mainstream denominations, Weaver said, and everyone crosses denominational lines easily because “this is a cultural outreach.”

Shepherd’s Valley’s brochure says it is the hub of many cowboy church ministries and the home of the Cowboy Church Fellowship of the Assemblies of God. It is the main filming location for RFD-TV’s Cowboy Church TV program.

“Our target group is rural, and farm and ranch people,” Weaver said. “But we have city people, too, who like to come out and get a little piece of country too when they go to church.”

The group’s new home is the former Diamond W Arena in Alvarado, on 153 acres, which will allow 1,100 people at a time to attend services. The church was founded in 1997 and has been in Benbrook and Cleburne before the move to Alvarado last year.

Country-loving cowboy church parishioners can even be from other countries, including Stefan Johansson of “south” Sweden. A black-hatted young man with a big smile, Johansson represents Kingdom Center, a large cowboy-style church complex near the city of Malmo.

“We come over and visit about twice a year,” he said. “People in Sweden come to cowboy church because it’s a very simple, relaxed, family atmosphere.”

The center has plenty of multipurpose areas for worship, family and youth activities, programs, study and celebrations, all with a western theme.

“We have a big teepee tent that 200 people can sit by a fire” Johansson said.

“I believe ours is probably the only cowboy church in Sweden.”