- Special Sections
- Public Notices
The Dispatch of Lexington
LEXINGTON, N.C. — You’ll hear any number of barnyard sounds during a service at High Rock Cowboy Church, but the harmonious braying, praying and shouts of “amen” are certainly rustling up some souls.
Since 2008, when the church first organized and began meeting at the Johnson Ranch main barn near Denton, 125 people have dedicated their lives to God, says pastor Tom Campbell.
And they’re counting. That’s just the cowboy way.
Though a hen may cackle during a prayer or a mare whinny through “Amazing Grace,” parishioners seem largely indifferent, accepting the natural environs, juxtaposed against an unconventional venue, as commonplace.
“I’ve got four quarter horses in stalls on my left and four quarter horses in stalls on my right,” Campbell describes his place in the pulpit. “They make all kinds of noise.”
And even when nature calls in its rawest form, most don’t pay it any mind. “Sometimes it sounds like a flowing river,” the pastor deadpanned.
“I think we’re reaching a group of people that most large churches miss,” says Campbell, who also serves as the full-time pastor at Park Place Baptist Church in Thomasville.
This cowboy church, which operates under the auspices of the Liberty Baptist Association and is part of a growing group of churches known as the Cowboy Church Network of North America.
Many who attend the church are cowboys at heart, but fit into no particular demographic.
“You’ll see all kinds of people,” says Johnson, who built all three barns on the ranch, and as a horse trainer, is about as close as any can come to fitting the true description of a cowboy. “They are from all walks of life; doctors, lawyers, NASCAR people, janitors, sheetrockers, retired people. They wear cowboy boots and cowboy hats. Some wear overalls, some dress like yuppies, too. We just do everything the cowboy way. We don’t even have committees. We just take a vote and move on.”
It’s the culture, it’s the family, Johnson says about the cowboy church that holds it together and keeps it unique.
“It’s been a blessing to us. It’s made me walk a straighter line. It’s made me realize what a church family is.”
The draw is undoubtedly the culture, camaraderie and casual attire.
Whatever they are wearing, that’s how they come, asserts Campbell, whether they were raking hay or feeding cows.
“I ride, but I’m not a cowboy, and I’ll be the first one to tell you that,” Campbell says. “I just tell folks I am a country fella. I wear the belts and buckles, but it took me a while to get used to wearing a cowboy hat, because I’m a (Washington) Redskins’ fan. It was almost like treason to me.”
Campbell notes that he just didn’t saunter in one day and fit in. He says it took a while for the congregation to cozy up to him.
“I had to earn my way in. It probably took two years for some to warm up to me and include me in conversations.”
And the pastor feels as blessed as his congregation.
“I really enjoy it. The weddings in the pastures and in fields, it’s different. It’s really a lot of fun.”
Campbell says he once shared with a Park Place Baptist administrative affiliate that he had taken on another church. “He said, ‘are you stupid?’”
The church actually began as Nancy Johnson’s vision. She was hoping to augment the Johnsons’ association with the Salvation Army.
“We wanted to come up with something . to have a place where the cowboy culture could grow and help bring people to God.”
The vision came to fruition when the cowboy church network and Campbell came together.
“It’s just been an incredible four years,” says Johnson, 47, who works as a branch manager at SunTrust Bank in Spencer. “We are just so blessed to be a part of such a group.”
Word is spreading about the church. Many visit from various parts of the state. Some from other states stop in when they are visiting the area.
And when one is moved to change their lives, they are baptized in the watering trough.
That’s just the cowboy way.