Travis Collins of Fresh Expressions US tells the story of a church with an equine theme in Virginia.
Randy Newsome has been pastor of the Round Oak Baptist Church for more than 30 years. He loves 'reining' – an equine competition which sees horses go through a series of precise moves in a routine.
Randy has been passionate about reining as a hobby for over five years and his presence on the reining circuit in Virginia has resulted in lots of genuine friendships and the trust of several people who have no connection with any church.
In spring 2013, a woman who is one of the regulars in the reining competitions asked Randy for help, saying, 'We need something to help our folks get along better; we need some harmony in the barn.' Knowing he is a pastor, she asked, 'Could you help us? Maybe do a Bible study or something? Or a worship service?'
On a Monday night in June last year, in a barn in King William County, Virginia, they had a worship service. Randy and his wife led the music, which was mainly in the style of gospel/bluegrass before he did a Bible-based talk. Eighteen people showed up.
People wanted to do it again, and in July, 20 people came. They skipped the sweltering month of August, but people wanted more. Their third service was planned for September. In the days leading up to it, Randy got a call from a couple in their sixties who said, 'We believe in Jesus but we've never been baptized. Would you baptize us?' Randy met with them to discuss further what they were going to do and, under the stars; Randy baptised the husband and wife in a water trough.
The gathering was now established. For a couple of months, the group met in a restaurant since nights in the barn were too cold to hold a service. However, leading up to the December gathering, he got more calls requesting baptism. Back in the barn, he baptised two more men and one woman.
Again in a water trough.
The woman who was baptised that night, Monique, is a farrier. She had little church background and did not feel that she could belong in a traditional church setting. However, since her experience of this fresh expression of church, she has experienced God in a new, real way. For example, she received an NIV version of the New Testament called The Way for Cowboys which Pastor Randy had given her. One day Monique told Randy, 'I've been giving out those Bible to folks who need it. And I found that Gospel Plan in the back of the Bible and I've been reading it to people.' Monique wants others to experience what she has found inside the barn, through the community, in Jesus Christ.
This fresh expression has become known as Turnaround Cowboy Church. Randy explained, 'The turnaround is a reining manoeuvre that makes the horse turn around, moving from one direction to another, and of course, that reflects the turnaround all of us need to make in our lives to follow Jesus.'
At Turnaround Cowboy Church:
- services are held monthly, and they move around from place to place. Participants get the word out via Facebook and word of mouth;
- the people always eat together;
- Randy uses illustrations that fit. And on a night when he was talking about encouragement they sang, Home on the Range, which includes the well-known line, 'Where seldom is heard a discouraging word.'
Forty people are now coming, some driving up to an hour to be there. Word is spreading from person to person. While most who attend are in the 'horse world', some are just interested in what is going on.
Most of the people, at least the core group, are not connected to any other church.
Randy is not sure where it will go from here. He said, 'I don't want to push it too hard because God is doing something and I don't want to get in the way.'
Randy is quick to note that he didn't come up with the idea. People who knew him and trusted him as not only a pastor but as a 'real guy' simply asked him to do something to help them get along better. 'This grew out of my hobby,' Randy noted. 'We're all just really good friends.'