I didn’t even want to write up this account of my 2019 visit to a Cowboy Church in Bryan, Texas.
First, it was far more Pentecostal than it was Cowboy and less “church” than both. For fifty-five minutes the pastor prayed, preached, talked, and sang and I couldn’t tell you when he was doing which. His eyes were closed throughout. He wanted you on your feet and he made that a confessional point – you were surrendering yourself to God, He said. “To a another spirit” I thought. I didn’t do that and when he upped the game to lifting your hand for further surrender, I didn’t do that either. I was really in trouble when the pastor commanded us “to breath in His presence.” I could only hold my breath so long.
The pastor had the idiosyncratic practice of saying “church” when other pastors would say “people”, “members”, or “folks.” There is good theology here. And though the Gospel was seldom explicitly preached, it was there: “I have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb and my testimony.” Now that is based on Rev. 12:11, but it has the hook of the law that while not preached explicitly is wielded all the same. Here’s the pastor’s lesson from the Prodigal Son: “When you boldly and completely repent, then God will….” This is part and parcel of the total surrender the service is built on. Both Muslims, with their submission to Allah, and Catholics with their if you do your part and God will do his, are familiar with this.
For these Pentecostal cowboys, the sacrificial part of worship was their sacrament. With their uplifted hands conveying yearning, wanting, surrendering, and actual physical motions, they looked like they were trying to claw their way into heaven. The climax of the service was at the foot of the stage where we were all invited to gather “before God”. Having gathered but four people, the pastor came down to that space and dramatically fell to his knees.
You know how when there is a pause in a service when people know something is supposed to happen but nothing is and they get uncomfortable? This pastor went there, and stayed there. He then said it was time for emotional and spiritual healing. He said, “I’m not talking about physical healing. We’re not doing that now.” “Shoot, I thought. My neck has been hurting for a year.” But after that uncomfortable silence, he invited those able to, to pray in tongues. They did. I didn’t, and felt as uncomfortable as a non-dog loving person being licked by a dog.
No, I am not calling them dogs. I am saying this is the most uncomfortable I have been in a church since visiting the LGBTQ Metropolitan Community Church. I am also saying that if you find these accounts of church visits helpful, you owe me. I took one for the team.