The building is made of red corrugated metal. There are places to tie your horses outside. The interior walls are covered with bark planks. On those walls are 20 stuffed animals and a bear rug. The collection "plate" is a battered cowboy boot. The "plate" sits near the entrance and it is not passed – this to prevent anyone from being embarrassed or feeling pressured to contribute. The coffee is served from a chuck wagon. The musicians were on a stage made from plank fencing with saddles on it.
From their website: They are "a ministry that uses horses and western related activities in order to introduce people to Jesus Christ and to help them grow in their faith. We are a mix of urban and rural families who have come together to joyfully praise our Lord."
Westcliffe is a quaint little town in the midst of the old silver mining region of southern Colorado. The town is surrounded by the majestic Sangre de Cristo ("Blood of Christ") mountain range, said to be one of the longest mountain ranges on earth, with peaks ascending to 14,000 feet. (The name is thought to refer to the mountains' reddish glow at sunrise and sunset.) The area is known for its unparalleled views and endless miles of lush wilderness trails and mountain meadows bursting with wildflowers. Wild West Cowboy Church sits just off the country highway north of the main town. Westcliffe is a town in transition – part farming and ranching (Amish farmers have moved here lately), some mining, skiing and mountain sports, with the addition of some retired stockbroker types from Denver. Directions to the church were supplied by two local women who were putting the finishing touches on their new wine business.
Unfortunately the "trail boss" (pastor), the Revd Larry Smith, was not there that evening. A cowpoke by the name of Mike Wilheit led the service, preached, and played drums.
What was the name of the service?The Sunday Evening Round Up.
How full was the building?
About 75 per cent full – cowboys and cowgirls, definitely regulars, all in boots and hats (spurs were optional) and arriving in four-wheel-drive "lifted" trucks.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. There were two cowboys at the door and a lady who asked if we wanted a Cowboy Bible. Naturally we did.
Was your pew comfortable?
They were metal padded folding chairs, but comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Friendly and talkative. (We just knew we were in someplace different when a 20 year old girl in from of us announced, "I shot my first elk this week!")
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good afternoon, hi and howdy, and all that stuff. We want to welcome our visitors tonight." (Then a visitor from London, as well as ourselves, were mentioned by name.)
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Those who didn't bring their own Bible used the aforementioned Cowboy Bible, entitled The Way for Cowboys. It was essentially the New International Version with testimonies inserted from Christian cowboys.
What musical instruments were played?
Keyboard, three guitars, drums, and three singers.
Did anything distract you?
No, not even the stuffed animals on the wall (although the cougar was magnificent).
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Enthusiastically evangelical. As befitting the evangelical background, there were plenty of Bible references, by chapter and verse, and almost all the participants looked up each one. Songs were projected for congregational participation; notable were Josh Turner's "Long Black Train" as the Lord's Supper made its way around and Dale Evans' "Happy Trails" for the recessional.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
10 – Mike Wilheit spoke clearly in a "down home" sensible style, interwoven with some politically incorrect humor.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Jesus doesn't care about who you are or what you wear. He cares about you. Just as Jesus asked Peter, Simon and Andrew to drop their nets and follow him, he asks us to do the same.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
How involved the people seemed with one another. There was talk of several local projects and a cancer walk. One of the congregants mentioned that one of his horses had walked away from pasture, and would everyone please keep an eye out for it.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Not one thing!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Their custom is to hold a communal meal after the service. All present are invited; bringing food is optional. We were immediately invited to come and "chow down" with them. "Once you visit, you are friends," we were told, "and when you come back, you are family!"
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Coffee, tea, lemonade and sodas were served from the chuck wagon, and tables full of food just appeared. There was a separate table for desserts.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 – We loved the members' involvement with one another and the wonderful atmosphere. We both ride horses, and we could picture our own horses tethered to the hitching post outside.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Good singing, good food, good fellowship. (The elk comment and the stuffed animals were memorable, too).
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Their motto: "The church that horses around".