Cowboy Church Lassos Worshipers

 A Feature by Susan Passi-Klaus* 


Once a month, the folks at Pine Mill (Pa.) United Methodist Church have a “rootin’ tootin’ good time.”

Pastor Alice Pedone wasn’t sure how to respond when she was contacted by owners of a nearby stable and several church members about hosting a monthly worship service just for folks on horseback.

“I wasn’t sure what Cowboy Church was, but I was pretty sure it involved horses and denim,” she says with a laugh.

It didn’t take long for Pedone to get on board with the idea, and soon she was gifted with a wide-brimmed white hat. Her standard black robe has also now been replaced by a denim jacket, which works nicely with her crisp white collar.

Every third Sunday of the month, cowboys, cowgirls and Western wannabes saddle up for the two-hour ride through lush valleys and tree-covered mountains to reach the Pine Mill Grove Pavilion next to the church. When they arrive, they find hitching posts for their horses, along with water and fresh hay. The congregation treats the riders to a hearty breakfast. Then members and guests make their way to the outdoor pavilion, where Pastor Pedone invites folks to come on in and sit a spell.

Large youth involvement


The congregation of Sunday riders takes a seat on the nearest hay bale as the cowboy band plays verses of “Amazing Grace” or “Stroll Over Heaven With You” on their fiddles. In the wide-open space of a nearby grove, children chase one another and play hide and seek while their parents settle in for a sermon delivered Western-style: plain and straightforward.

One participant, Jan Mangels, sums it up this way. “There is something truly unique about the experience,” she says. “You go back to the basics, and you don’t have the distractions of everyday life. This gives you the ability to have a closer relationship with God, the community and nature. It is really spiritually uplifting.”

In good weather, Pine Mill’s Cowboy Church draws 80 or more worshipers, significantly more than the usual Sunday attendance of 23 people. Not only are adult worshipers coming in droves, so are children and teenagers.

“About half of our congregation is youth now,” Pedone says. “And they’ve added so much to the worship experience.”

“It’s a wonderful way to engage folks that aren’t comfortable in a traditional church setting,” she says. “I think it’s important to meet people where they’re at because it’s what the Savior did. So whether it’s the church food pantry, the free community dinners or Cowboy Church, we try to meet people of all ages where they’re living and struggling so they can find God within their day-to-day life.”

Kimberly Brennan had her son, Ryder, baptized at the gathering.

“I’d like to see generation after generation continue to do this for years and years to come,” she says. “It’s refreshing, relaxing, and there is a spirituality which is taken to the next level.”

‘Right out of the barn’


Cowboy Church was Leon Eldred’s idea. A fan of a RFD-TV Network’s “Cowboy Church” program, Eldred thought Western worship would be an exciting new way to have church and to bring the community closer together.

“Now it just keeps growing,” Eldred said. “I had no idea it was going to get this big. People are traveling from miles and miles away to be a part of this; one family comes from 50 miles away.”

One regular worshiper said it was the first time he had been to church since the day he was married, more than 40 years ago.

“We’re busy most Saturdays and Sundays,” said Clarence Meyers, owner of C & S Stables. “But Cowboy Church is one way we can get to church on the weekends.

“You go to almost any other church and you have to be all dressed up and proper, but at Cowboy Church you can be who you are and don’t have to dress any way special,” he says.

“In fact, you can come right out of the barn and into church and not be worried about what other people think, which is just the way God would want it.”

*Passi-Klaus is a public relations specialist and writer at United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn. Denise Giles, granddaughter of a Cowboy Church founder, also contributed to this story.

UMTV is featuring a video version of this story. Click here to see the Cowboy Church in action and to hear the people involved. A copy of the script of that version of the story is also available there.