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Cowboys, Lutherans, cowboy churches and Dime Box

East Bernard Express of East Bernard, Texas

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It seems to me that all Texans have a little "cowboy" in them; even those living in the cities, the number of folks wearing western boots in Austin and Houston would indicate the truth of that statement.

The proliferation and popularity of "cowboy churches" led me to hold a cowboy-church style worship service for our annual Friendship Sunday last year. The enormously favorable response last year motivated me to hold another one this year.

Last Sunday a large number of folks showed up in the Corral (our Fellowship Hall) for a rollicking good time of food, fun, fellowship, and preaching. We have a member, Mark Woolley, who plays a mean guitar, and he led us in some foot-stomping good music like "That Old Time Religion." Is there such a thing as a "Lutheran cowboy?

The concept for cowboy churches began on large ranches and at rodeos, in a successful attempt to offer informal worship for working cowhands and rodeo riders. Cowboys and formal churches were not a good match, yet cowboys really had a heart for Jesus. The answer to their spiritual needs was found in the establishing of cowboy churches.

Kevin Weather by was the founder of an organization called "Save the Cowboy." Weather by, author, speaker, and pastor, is well-known for his ministry to cowhands and rodeo riders. He has teamed together with Jake Hershey and Kelli Sullenger (Editor) to produce a paraphrase of the Bible, known as the SCV (Simplified Cowboy Version), which is a paraphrase of Holy Scripture rather than a translation.

They have paraphrased Psalms, Proverbs, Gospel of Matthew, Genesis, and, I think, a couple more books, thus far. Campfire Cowboy Ministries has a website on Facebook which is worth checking out.

Here is an example of one of the SCV paraphrases: "So if anyone is now ridin' for Christ, he is a brand spankin' new cowboy. The old fellow has been wadded up and thrown away like an old feed sack. He is like a blind man seein'his first sunrise." — 2 Corinthians 5:17.

The Lutheran worship that I am used to, and normally do, is very formal and liturgical, quite unlike the cowboy style. It's an English translation of Martin Luther's German translation of the Latin Mass with deletions and changes. Life and worship in Saxony was about as different from the American Old West as anything you can imagine, yet Lutheran churches came to be widely established on the American prairies.

Dime Box, Texas, where I grew up was a cultural hodgepodge. In the 1930s and 1940s, the inhabitants were mostly German/Wendish Lutherans and Czech Catholics, most of whom farmed small cotton farms; there were very few ranchers. Nonetheless, the town itself looked like a Hollywood set for a Western movie. There were boardwalks rather than sidewalks in front of the stores, and there was even a hitching post in front of the old ice house. I've seen old pictures of downtown Dime Box when it was still known as "String Town," and it looked even more like a town right out of the Old West hi fact, whenever my brother and I went to the tent show which came to Dime Box every weekend, pitched its tent, and showed old Western movies (some were even silent movies), the cowboys on screen rode into towns that looked just like ours. We watched Tom Mix, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Bob Steele, John Wayne — just to name a few. After the Western movie each Saturday night, we walked through town to our home, clacking our cowboy boots on the boardwalk and shooting our cap pistols at imaginary outlaws in black hats.

Even though our town looked liked the Old West, the cotton farmers like my grandfather wore overalls and clodhoppers rather than chaps and cowboy boots.

It was mainly the kids who wore cowboy boots, and I'm sure we got the idea from the tent show movies and from the Red Ryder and Little Beaver comic books we read and loved. The only horses my grandfather owned were plow horses.

The Czech Catholics played their polka music and drank their beer, and the German/Wendish Lutherans played their polka music and drank their beer in the beer joints in town (like the one my daddy owned when I was born).

I used to have a photo (since lost) of my father sitting on a horse in front of his beer joint which looked exactly like an Old Western Saloon. Ironically, that was the only time in his life he ever rode a horse.

In those days, Dime Box looked like an Old Western town that could have used a cowboy church, but looks can be deceiving. The Catholics had their Latin Mass, and the Lutherans had their highly modified German Mass, and most of us didn't know how to ride a horse. Our pastor read from a German Bible. Well, Texas is a large and diverse state, and some of its cowboy culture is a myth, but a myth we love to think is real.

Ray Spitzenberger serves as pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Wallis, after retiring from Wharton County Junior College, where he taught English and speech and served as chairman of Communications and Fine Arts for many years.

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Original Publication Date: May 19, 2016

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