By Michael J. ARVIZU
As the daughter of an American cowboy, growing up on a working ranch in the plains of Nebraska, Center for Spiritual Living-La Crescenta Senior Minister Rev. Beverly Craig’s decision to bring a cowboy-themed Sunday service to her worship space wasn’t a difficult one to make.
The effort to bring “Cowboy Church” to La Crescenta began about eight years ago with collaboration between Craig and longtime friend Cody Bryant, lead singer of the country group Riders of the Purple Sage. The pair met at Harmony Center for Spiritual Living in Whittier, their home church, where a similar service was being held. Craig wanted to figure out a way to have the group play at a Sunday service. And it was at that moment that Cowboy Church at Center for Spiritual Living was born.
This year’s Cowboy Church was July 8 and featured the musical talents of country group Karen Mitchell & The CC Wranglers. This annual service has become a “tradition,” said church member Terri McCubbin. “This turned into a family event that our kids and grandkids go to. It’s kind of like the Fourth of July, but with our church family.”
Before Cowboy Church became a yearly staple, the Center would hold an annual Sunday service around Independence Day weekend dedicated to celebrating freedom and paying tribute to the veterans and active servicemen and women of the Center and around the world. Today, Cowboy Church is a combination of that early service and a tribute to the cowboy’s image of honesty, morality and integrity, Craig said.
“We spiritually interpret cowboy songs, we put scripture in,” said Craig. “We include prayer, we include reverence. We include the idea of freedom, and that’s where it was born.”
As Craig puts it, Cowboy Church is a concert, but it’s a spiritual concert.
“I love the way they put the biblical readings together with the songs, together with the poetry,” said church member Naomy Varsh of La Crescenta. “It just blended so nice together. Cowboys are so connected to the land and to the magnificence of God that it’s perfect.”
And a service like Cowboy Church is where a growing number of churches are going, said Center for Spiritual Living Assistant Minister Rev. Steven Van Meter. People are leaving the traditional church experience and looking for something deeper.
“It’s a really good way to have people come in that normally wouldn’t attend church, that enjoy country music or music at all, so that they can experience something that’s a little different, not necessarily religious, but spiritual,” said Van Meter. “It’s more of a musical experience than an actual Sunday service. We call it a ‘Sunday celebration.’”
Van Meter hopes to introduce a service similar to Cowboy Church, except that it will be called “Rock ’n’ Roll Church,” and it will be held on a Friday or Saturday night, he said, “so you won’t have to get up on Sunday morning,” Van Meter adds with a laugh. “It’s a good way of taking something that somebody or a mass of people might enjoy and incorporate it into worship or a spiritual experience. Truly, isn’t life an expression of your spiritual experience? They’re not separate. We’re living in spirit all of the time, not just on Sunday mornings.”
For David Torrez of Tujunga, his first Cowboy Church was an experience and something that he really enjoyed.
“It surprised me that quite a few people attended Cowboy Church for the first time,” Torrez said. “I thought most people would already have been here before. Everything is so traditional, sometimes. [Cowboy Church] gets more people involved. If you have a traditional church usually people have a tendency just to sit there. If you can get them involved, even in a small way, it kind of makes them feel better.”
First time visitor Ray Patterson of Glendale believes cowboys represent the moral fiber of our society.
“I like the part where old western movies and the stories had moral characters to them,” said Patterson. “I think that’s lacking in our society.”
This is a time of transition for many churches, Van Meter said; people are searching, and there is a sort of quickening going on, a hunger and thirst “to know why we are here,” he said. “With the events of the world and what’s going on, people want to know more. It’s good to give them something they can experience, that works for them.”