The congregation first met in the pastor's back yard and then in an old dairy barn. Their present building is a former auction house and resembles a false-front building you might find on a Western movie set. In front is a paved parking lot that encompasses a small corral. At the entrance to the corral is an interesting sign stating that under Colorado law "an equine professional is not liable for an injury to or the death of a participant in equine activities." Inside there is an assembly hall decorated with items associated with cowboy ranching: a horse wagon, wagon wheels, a horse trough (used for baptisms), a horse collar, etc. Western cowboy scenes are displayed as paintings in the entrance area. A big wooden cross hangs on the front wall behind the pulpit.
The congregation originated as a Bible study group of nine people who did not feel comfortable in a traditional church. As the pastor states, "We aim to lasso your heart." Among the activities are a class on witnessing without fear and without argument, a women's retreat, a craft fair, and a fund-raising auction. They have Bible study for youth on Tuesday evenings and for young adults on Wednesday evenings, and men's devotion and prayer on Friday evenings. Their weekly worship service is on Saturday evening; they appear not to have a Sunday service.
Loveland is a city in north-central Colorado very near the border with Wyoming. Founded in 1866 as a railroad town, it was named after William A.H. Loveland, president of the Colorado Central Railroad. The area was once mostly agricultural, specializing in cherries and sugar beets, but by the 1960s blight and bad weather had wiped out that industry. Nowadays healthcare and manufacturing are the city's economic mainstays. The church is in the countryside but within the city limits and is located at the transition between the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains. Highway 34, in front of the church, leads to Rocky Mountain National Park and ascends to a height of 12,183 feet (3713 meters), allegedly the highest paved road in North America. Across the highway from the church is the Big Thompson River, which flash-flooded to epic proportions in 1976 and 2013, causing widespread devastation.
Joe Andrews led the service. Robert Timmons gave the sermon.
What was the name of the service?Church Worship Service.
How full was the building?
About 50 people, who took up approximately half of the seating.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Two people at the door greeted us with a handshake. After we sat down, several people came up to us, introduced themselves, and welcomed us to the service in a friendly manner. One person shared with us a portion of her journey in faith.
Was your pew comfortable?
The chairs were comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
As people arrived, they engaged in quiet conversation or went straight to a seat. In the back, groups of people were talking with one another.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Welcome to God's Country Cowboy Church."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. Song texts were displayed on two screens at the front.
What musical instruments were played?
Three electric guitars, one cello, one wooden box that was used as a seat as well as a drum.
Did anything distract you?
I distracted myself by trying to count the number of cowboy hats in the room (seven or eight) and trying to gauge intuitively how many genuine cowboys might be under those hats. At the front of the church was a metal horse trough that is used for baptisms. I tried to visualize myself being immersed in this container: another personal distraction.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The service had an informal, down to earth atmosphere. There were several moments of spontaneous participation involving prayer and a sharing of faith experiences. During the songs there was some sporadic toe-tapping, clapping, or lifting of arms. The band sang praise songs. Ordinarily, I don't have an appreciation for this type of music, but the musicians sang in a way that was appealing and heartening. The collection plates consisted of cowboy hats. For the hard of hearing, a woman standing at the front interpreted the words of the service in sign language.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – Robert Timmons spoke with conviction, clarity and earnestness. His way of speaking was apparently in tune with his listeners. He spoke with vehement boldness, but perhaps overstating some of his messages.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Jesus offers real and everlasting peace. It is a personal peace, not world peace. In order to embrace this peace one must believe that Jesus is God, that he is the only Savior of the world, that he died on the cross for our sins. God through Jesus is in complete control of the universe, so that nothing happens by accident and nothing can happen that he cannot use to accomplish his purposes. Through such faith we are to become like Jesus, so that others can see Jesus in us.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
At one point in the service, the leader invited the worshipers to come forward and build a prayer group around one of the singers, who, during the opening part of the service, had described a severe crisis he had undergone at his place of work. About 40 people built a tight cluster around this person, touching one another with hands on shoulders; several people offered comfort and encouragement in prayer. It was a touching moment.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The preacher stated that God cannot save anyone who is not a believer in Christ and that the peace that Christ offers is a personal peace, not a world peace. If God were indeed unwilling or unable to operate effectively outside the boundaries of Christianity, if his sovereignty were so limited that he could not establish a final, all-encompassing peace and justice for all of humanity, then I have misinterpreted the Bible and I am in the other place.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Announcing the service time, their website states, "All invited. Fellowship after." But people congregated in pairs or small groups and no one approached us. When I saw someone who could give me information that I needed for this report, I invited myself to engage him in conversation.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
It was a pot-luck snack with a variety of food.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 – If you are looking for an informal, unpretentious Christian fellowship in which you can be who you are, in which the people are friendly and caring, who will pray for you when you need it most, then this is the place to be. If you are looking for a weekly liturgical eucharist, a Biblical interpretation that embraces everything from the Church Fathers to a scientific approach to scripture, a theology that deals with the complexity and diversity of the world, then you need to keep looking – which is my situation.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. Although I do not feel at home within the framework of so-called evangelical Christianity, I found this worship service impressive. It conveyed authenticity. All that was sung, said and done indicated that this cowboy church provides a precious rootedness for those who embrace the type of piety that is practiced here.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
One sentence of the sermon resonated with what I deeply believe: Nothing can happen in your life that God cannot use to accomplish his purpose.