Prayer and worship, the cowboy way

An average of 75 to 80 people have been attending services at Cross Brand Cowboy Church for more than a year at the Williston Horseman's Park.

KAREN VOYLES/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Sunday, July 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, July 1, 2007 at 12:52 a.m.

Picnic tables take the place of pews. Wranglers are favored over dresses. Boots are practically a requirement.

This is not your usual house of worship.

This is Cross Brand Cowboy Church, a casual, non-denominational, independent Christian worship service held twice a month at a rodeo arena.

For the past year, Billy and Ginny Keith and Bob Johnston have been hosting Cowboy Church at Williston Horseman's Park, an arena in Levy County. Services are held on the second and fourth Thursday nights of each month. Families sometimes arrive directly from work in mud-spattered pickups. The first order of business is a pot-luck supper and fellowship followed by about an hour of praying and singing, Bible reading and preaching.

“We did this to reach out to people who may not feel comfortable inside church walls, especially kids and teenagers,” said Billy Keith. “And we've all got a little cowboy in us — or we wish we did. So this appeals to people who are cowboys at heart and who want a culturally relevant message.”

The Keiths are Baptists who traveled to Texas last year to see firsthand what the cowboy church movement there was all about. Each church operated a little differently than the others, Ginny said, and each came up with its own worship practices.

“This is a Christian movement and it is not affiliated with one particular church or another,” Ginny said. “It's about people who want to pray together and fellowship together in a way and in a place where they are comfortable.”

Click here for video of the Cross Brand Cowboy Church.

Stephen Weins of Bronson said he and his wife attend as often as possible with their four children.

The couple said they appreciate that the kids, who may not be able to sit through an hour-long service, can run and play nearby when they start feeling fidgety.

The most popular area among school-aged children is the space set aside to practice their roping skills.

“This is a good place for families,” Stephen Weins said. Knowing that the service will be over by 8 p.m. is especially appreciated during the school year when they are trying to get all four kids to bed at a reasonable hour.

Candy Holmes is an occasional attendee who said she appreciates the effort that the Keiths and others who preach at Cowboy Church put in to making their message relevant. This past Thursday for example, Billy Keith spent several minutes directing his comments to the teenaged girls in attendance, urging them to be modest in dress and behavior and avoid belly-baring T-shirts and skimpy shorts.

Most weeks the service draws 75 to 80 people. Former bronco rider Ronnie Brown has driven over from Windsor — about a 90 minute trek if there is heavy traffic — every week since the church began.

Soon there may be a closer Cowboy Church for Brown. A small group is making plans to begin similar services in the Hawthorne area later this year.

Karen Voyles can be reached at 395-5656 or

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