Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009
By Susan Shinn
As you enter the sanctuary, everyone is casually dressed and chatting with one another. The musicians are tuning up their instruments. One young girl sports a pink cowboy hat, and there’s a beige cowboy hat sitting up front near the altar. The afternoon sun filters through the stained-glass windows as the music begins.
Welcome to Cowboy Church at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, a monthly service with an informal air.
Of the 50 members of the congregation here this afternoon, about half are church members and half are visitors.
Member Ralph Harkey “kicks off” Cowboy Church by introducing the Rev. David Ridenhour, who will lead the passing of the peace.
“It may not be the easy way,” Ridenhour says.
“But it’s the cowboy way,Harkey concludes.
Guitar in hand, Ridenhour launches into the song that goes “Grab grab a hand, grab a hand next to you, grab grab a hand as we sing this song…”
Other verses go into “Pat, pat a back,” “tweak, tweak a cheek” and finally “bump, bump a rump.”
The enthusiastic crowd bumps away to passing the peace “the cowboy way.”
Then it’s time for some music from D.C. and the Chosen Few.
“We always love to have them here,” Ridenhour says.
The group plays “Silver and Gold” and other gospel favorites.
The afternoon seems just the right mix between a church service and a show at the Opry.
Harkey explains that Cowboy Church is not a new concept.
“It’s a come-as-you-are service to enjoy the spirit of the Lord in this building,” he says.
Cowboy Church International was started by Johnny Cash’s sister, and now St. Peter’s is one of the branches of this endeavor.
This afternoon’s special guests are Four For One, a gospel quartet from Durham Memorial Baptist Church in Charlotte.
There’s a lot of toe-tapping as the men launch into “Ain’t Gonna Need This House No More” and other gospel favorites.
After the group sings, Harkey reads a passage from 1 Corinthians, about the foolishness…
About that time, a familiar figure enters from the back of the sanctuary, dressed in a blue jumpsuit and a cap that’s on backward.
It looks suspiciously like Ridenhour, but this gentleman (and I use that term loosely) introduces himself as Melvin H.B. McCoy, and says he intends to preach.
“You can’t come in here willy-nilly to preach,” Harkey says.
But that’s exactly what “McCoy” does.
“Is there room for foolishness in a worship service,” Ridenhour asks. “I think there is. God has gotta have a sense of humor. Can God take foolishness and use it for good? Yes.”
In 1 Corinthians, Ridenhour says, people did not understand God’s wisdom. They were perishing ó dying without hope.
But God offers hope, Ridenhour says.
Then it’s time for the offering ó again, with the cowboy way of passing the hat.
D.C. and the Chosen Few and Four For One also provide more music.
The service ends with a rousing version of “I Saw The Light,” followed by the postlude “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” which Ridenhour renames “Mount Sinai Breakdown” for the service.
The next Cowboy Church service at St. Peter’s is set for 3 p.m. Sunday, April 26. Special guest musicians will be Monk’s Tabernacle Choir of Richfield.
“It’s different, isn’t it,” visitor Margaret Matthews says after the service. She is a member of First Presbyterian Church in Salisbury. “Their minister is a character.”
It is different, but appealing, especially for those who love gospel music.
One visitor says she’d happily listen to gospel music all afternoon and into the evening.
“I liked it,” she says. “Oh Lord, I love gospel.”
But the musicians had to pack up because the regular Lenten services began at 5 p.m.
Member Nell Brown says she hasn’t missed but one Cowboy Church service.
“I love it,” she says. “It’s so good. I’m Lutheran, but I like a relaxed atmosphere. It’s good to hear diversity in music.”
Cowboy Church, Ridenhour says, “is taking off here. We wanted to do an alternative to a contemporary service.”
Ridenhour has a background in country music, and still has a few contacts in the business. George Hamilton IV has played at the church several times, and Ridenhour hopes to have him back soon.
For more information about Cowboy Church at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, call 704-279-5054. The church is located at 2570 St. Peter’s Church Road, off Stokes Ferry Road.