Cowboy Church in Cottageville welcomes folks of all types at its first outdoor service
COTTAGEVILLE — The Rev. David Stanfield stood before his congregation in a cowboy hat, blue jeans and boots with spurs, and he preached from his heart.
Many have come to think of church as a place where they must dress up, sit up straight and worry about whether they made it on time, he told a crowd of nearly 40. That’s not what it’s supposed to be, and that’s not what his Cowboy Church is.
It’s a come-as-you-are kind of place where people can be themselves, enjoy food and fellowship and spend some time with God.
“You can be at church with God anywhere you want,” Stanfield said.
Saturday night was the inaugural gathering for his Cowboy Church, which was held outdoors at the lake on Stanfield’s property, Horseshoe Lake Farm. Stanfield has been opening the farm to the public for camping, horseback rides and lessons, and his loosely organized Saddle Club has about 100 members.
Stanfield always has wanted to be a preacher, and an injury that forced him to retire about a year ago made that a more realistic possibility.
“It’s hard to pay the bills (as a preacher), but now I don’t have to pay the bills and I don’t want (the church) to have to pay the bills,” he said.
He came up with an idea for a church that kept club members in mind. It would be outside because that’s where country folks feel at home, and members wouldn’t judge one another or be required to follow rigid rules that have been a turnoff for some, he said.
Casual conversations turned into action, and his first Cowboy Church kicked off about 5 p.m. with a cookout. Everyone brought a dish to share, and the crowd dined on plastic foam plates piled high with barbecue chicken, baked beans and pasta salad.
John and Robin Little were among those present. They live in the area and have been riding their horses at the farm since February.
They aren’t members of a particular church, but they were willing to give Stanfield’s a try.
John Little, who wore a cowboy hat and boots, liked the laid-back atmosphere and the way everyone seemed to look at one another as equals. It’s also nice to be around other like-minds with a shared interest — horses, he said.
“You can come any way you want to,” Little said. “It’s really peaceful out here.”
Rebecca Wilken sat at the opposite end of the folding table from the Littles. She has a regular church that she said she probably would continue attending, but she appreciates the Cowboy Church because “it’s a whole different environment.”
She ate dinner with Melody Blevins and Karen Hogue. Neither woman has been able to find a church where she’s happy, and Blevins said it’s difficult to have a place that meshes friends, a family oriented atmosphere and God.
The Cowboy Church does that, she said.
After they ate and the sun sank lower, Stanfield stood on a small porch and preached. The crowd listened to him and to some songs performed by a couple who were part of the South Carolina Cowboy Church Network.
Stanfield’s church is not a member, but the network has 11 affiliate Cowboy Churches scattered across the state. There are an estimated 750 similar churches nationwide.
A microphone amplified the woman’s voice as she sang, “Let the Holy One in you abide,” and her words drifted over the congregation and the lake.
Reach Diette Courrégé at @Diette on Twitter or 937-5546.