Story by Jas Jeffries; Photos by Michaela Schirra
Driving up the steep black pavement and parking on the khaki gravel, church goers will find themselves at the Lone Star Cowboy Church of Hill and McLennan counties. Its bright blue building as a background for its white-lettered church name cannot be missed sitting off the side of Interstate 35 in Central Texas. Only opening in April of 2015, it has become the home to many local Texans as a place of worship.
On a Sunday morning in Waco, Texas, many find themselves commuting to a local church. Baylor’s Christian influence on its students creates a community to be a part of a local ministry. From the short walk to Church Under the Bridge to a quick drive to Antioch Community Church, students have many options to choose from, including Abbott’s very own Lone Star Cowboy Church. Yes, cowboy church.
Cowboy churches are fairly popular across the southern border of the United States. The Lone Star Cowboy church is a branch of the Church of the Nazarene network that spans across Texas. Their culture is embedded with a ‘come as you are’ standard as an invitation to serve all backgrounds of people through their distinct ministry. It initially serves a small, close-knit community in Abbott, Texas though their doors are open to all.
Lone Star is not the traditional church setting. Its sanctuary is made up of perfectly aligned fold-out chairs that are separated into three sections with two aisles for members to move about the sanctuary. In front of the rows of seats stands a wooden stage where musicians lead worship and song and where Pastor Rob McDonald teaches his sermon. On the right sits a large silver tin where baptisms take place accompanied by a wooden cross that stands behind it. The worship team that opens up each morning service includes a pianist, guitarist, drummer and singer. The paneled wooden walls mute the roaring semi trucks and traveling vehicles passing on the nearby highway. This church stands on the fact that less is more. And its members admire this fact.
Church service is made up of signing, praying, collecting tithes, announcing events and, of course, the sermon. The musical selections combine both country spirituals and bluegrass gospels performed by Lone Star’s very own talented members. After a selection of about five songs and church announcements, Pastor McDonald welcomes all visitors and invites them to be a part of the church’s breakfast break. Each Sunday, the Lone Star family caters a selection of breakfast pastries and coffee for members to enjoy during service. At this time members have the opportunity to welcome visitors and socialize. After Pastor’s sermon, the service concludes with prayer and a collective ‘Yeehaw!’ to send everyone home.
Lone Star Church was founded upon very humble beginnings under the leadership of Pastor Rob McDonald. He used to be the district superintendent of the Church of the Nazarene before being called to pastor. “This is what Jesus really wants me to do,” McDonald said. His church only started with a small congregation and has grown to about 30 regulars since then. As word spread, more people came. Pastor McDonald passionately expresses his love for his church in saying, “Everyone is very welcomed here. No matter who you are, we have something for you every Sunday morning”.
Pastor McDonald is not the typical preacher. Each Sunday, he proudly wears a button-up tucked securely in thick jeans. His white beard and gray hair complement each other as he hides it behind under his fairly large selection of cowboy hats (the cowboy tradition). His character is always relaxed and exceptionally friendly towards anyone who chooses to hold a conversation with him. He is a father, a husband, and friend to many of those around him; especially in his church. He greets everyone right at the door of his church himself. With a gentle, yet firm, handshake, his southern accent speaks of a neighborly “Good morning!” As such a loving leader over a companionable body of believers, he sets the tone for Lone Star as a compassionate church.
The cowboy church might be come off as something stereotypical in the southernmost states of the United States. But Lone Star proves just the opposite of that. There may be cowboy hats and boots walking through their doors, but this attire is what distinguishes this church from all the rest. It uplifts visitors’ spirits. Here, cowboy attire is more than a costume, it is a celebrated and participated culture that everyone is welcome to be a part of. Even with a cowboy-like nature, its congregation loyally comes together to worship God in a very welcoming atmosphere.
So what makes a church cowboy-like? It is the culture. It how the church carries itself. The common aspects of worship service is all there: the singing, the sermon. But Lone Star Church offers so much more, such as the Little Wranglers Ministry and the Rodeo Team. Little Wranglers is a children’s ministry that caters to the little ones that come along with their parents to church. Miss Betty Jean is the teacher of this ministry where she provides participatory crafts “with a little Christian twist”.
“The kids love coming here. Mostly for the snacks, but whatever makes them happy,” Betty Jean said. Every Sunday morning, she enjoys catering her time to the next generation of believers. On the other hand, Lone Star hosts a rodeo team where adults participate in horseback riding activities within Central Texas.
A Sunday morning pit-stop at the Lone Star Cowboy Church when traveling across Texas on I-35 is definitely a pause worth taking. It may not be the traditional Southern Baptist church, but it definitely has a lot to offer with a small-town, intimate atmosphere.
One characteristic being a very unique cowboy culture that many may not be able to find in any city across the southern states of America that they can find in Abbott, Texas. And for locals, they do not have to go far to be a part of such a genuine church body. Visitors don’t have to be affiliated with the cowboy culture or dress a certain way to join Pastor McDonald and members in worship. Lone Star has its doors open to all ages, ethnicities and genders, cowboy or not. Central Texas is the home to many churches with various denominations to cater to all. Whether within one’s comfort zone or not, visiting other churches and experiencing their style of worship enriches one’s spiritual growth. Sure, the Lone Star Church admires its cowboy stamp, but, at the end of the day, they love worshiping the Lord too.