Fort Worth Stock Show

Doing church the cowboy way

A worshipper is moved to raise her hand as the band plays at Cowboy Church at the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo.
A worshipper is moved to raise her hand as the band plays at Cowboy Church at the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo. Star-Telegram

The music is in unusual arrangements — think The Old Rugged Cross set to a swing beat — and everyone comes dressed in boots, jeans, work shirts and Western hats.

For a decade now, the Cowboy Church has been meeting the spiritual needs of worshipers away from home at the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo.

Cowboys and cowgirls, from ranch hands to ranch owners, appreciate these services that connect with their culture, said Russ Weaver, 62, who has been pastor of the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo Cowboy Church since it began.

“It’s in the way we dress, how we talk and the stories we tell,” said Weaver, who is pastor of Shepherd’s Valley Cowboy Church in Egan.

This year, Bunk Skelton — a pastor at a cowboy church near Amarillo — put together a four-piece praise band that does songs many Protestant congregations would recognize in arrangements they might not. Besides The Old Rugged Cross, they play God Is Good, Just a Closer Walk and others on six-string acoustic and electric guitars, fiddle and stand-up bass.

The prayers follow a familiar tone. But Weaver leads prayer and delivers his sermon using ideas that are familiar in rural areas.

“Urban churches try to bring in culture from outside Texas, or from Texas cities into the rural areas,” Weaver said. “We don’t think that way. The theology is the same, but the stories are different.”

That does the trick for Tom Moorhouse, 68, a rancher from the Guthrie area who’s a cowboy church veteran.

“I remember hearing Russ’ daddy preach a sermon about ‘the donkey and the dude,’” Moorhouse said.

The scriptures from which the sermon was taken involved the donkey Jesus rode into Jerusalem, but the story revolved around the man who owned the donkey, Moorhouse said.

Waiting to take the Will Rogers Auditorium stage Sunday morning, Weaver said the service started in the west arena of the Richardson-Bass Building. After moving to the auditorium five years ago, it expanded from only one Sunday to all three during the show’s 23-day run.

His sermon challenged his flock to practice living like Christ by “ruminating” on the word of God.

“That’s a word that cattle ranchers recognize,” Weaver said.

Cattle chewing cud are ruminating, Weaver explained. So he encouraged the faithful to take in a lot of the Lord’s truth and then mentally chew on it.

“If you want to live like Christ, it takes practice,” he said. “If you live for Christ, it should show in the way you talk, the way you treat your spouse, the way you handle your horse, in everything you do.”

Cowboy Church

The Cowboy Church will gather at 10 a.m. Jan. 25 and Feb. 1 in the Will Rogers Auditorium, 3401 W. Lancaster Ave. Information: or 817-877-2420.

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