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Worship on the range: Cowboy Church gains Princeton home, expanded congregation
Photo courtesy of Cowboy Church of Collin County - Cowboy Church members ride horses up to their new church building before a Sunday service. The church earns its name through a 'Cowboy Band' music team, buckets for offering baskets and horse-trough baptisms.
PRINCETON -- It's a place where people come dressed in leather boots and wide-rimmed hats. They're baptized in horse troughs.
Cowboy Church of Collin County is where Western heritage meets Biblical doctrine, and its quickly growing congregation proves it accepts anyone -- even those on horseback.
"Country-western culture is a part of life around here," Pastor Wes Brown said. "Our motto is come as you are, whether that's in cowboy boots or in jeans and a ball cap."
Affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, the church started in 2008, holding services at three barns around the county and at Swingin' D Ranch in Parker. It's one of nearly 200 cowboy churches in Texas that are part of The American Fellowship of Cowboy Churches.
And the growing yet scattered congregation finally has a weekly homestead in Princeton. The 16-acre church site, located at 2800 FM 3364, hosted its first service Sunday, May 15.
Area residents before gathered at Harper Elementary School in Princeton while the barn meeting house was built. They trickled in at first, some perhaps unaware of the new location, but soon came like a stampede from Plano, Anna, McKinney, Farmersville, Wylie and even Arlington.
"It's really grown leaps and bounds," Brown said. "Everyone has received us so well, and their generosity has been overwhelming."
Many attended the Easter service near the still-unfinished building, most bringing lawn chairs and some arriving on horses. About 250 members now come to services at 8:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. every Sunday.
The church lists on its website the Cowboy Ten Commandments, which include variations such as "No foolin' around with another feller's gal" (adultery) and "Don't be hankerin' for yer' buddy's stuff" (envy).
But church elder Keith Davis said that the otherwise typical Christian doctrine and worship are far from legalistic.
"There are no traditions and no barriers," he said. "People can come as they are. We don't care where you've come from, where you're going or where you think you're going."
Some members are attracted by the church's "Cowboy Band," particularly a 12-year-old girl who Brown said "plays the fiddle as good as anyone [he's] ever heard." The group puts a country spin on Christian songs, even rewriting lyrics to some.
"Country-western songs just kind of speak to where people are today," Brown said. "Some have a message that they can relate to, so people really enjoy them."
Brown rode bulls for the rodeo team at North Mesquite High School and attended Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. He tries to incorporate his country upbringing into his sermons.
"The Gospel is the same," he said. "We don't change anything about what the Bible says. I just try to add some Western flair."
Brown titled one sermon series "Code of the West," tying the unwritten cowboy code's 10 major points into each message. The code, which comes from James Owen's book, "Cowboy Ethics," features mantras such as "live each day with courage" and "be tough but fair."
The weekly offering is taken in a bucket attached to a hitching post, and occasionally after church, congregation members can try their luck on the horse obstacle course, located on the southwest portion of the property.
The timed events, held every couple of weeks, force competitors to go through gates and take items across a bridge and line of wooden posts. Prizes include belt buckles and gift certificates to livestock feed stores.
Brown said that the new Princeton building is just the first phase of a 10-year master site plan, which will eventually feature a worship sanctuary that can seat more than 700 people.
Continued growth at the themed church likely wouldn't surprise Davis.
"We're in an area where people need it," he said. "You put a First Baptist church right in the middle of town and no one walks in the doors. Put a metal bin in front of the church, and people come."
For information about Cowboy Church of Collin County, visit www.cowboychurchcollincounty.org .
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