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Church aims to connect with cowboys

New parish offers alternative service

POSTED: August 9, 2014 1:00 a.m.
SCOTT ROGERS/The Times

Inside the Life Connection Cowboy Church, pastor Kenny Rice continues to add a country flavor to the decoration of the sanctuary with rough-worn wood for a down-home feel.

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At the birth of Christ, angels appeared before shepherds nearby to bring them the news that would revolutionize their lives: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”

Today, one Flowery Branch man hopes to bring that same news to the shepherds, horseback riders, ranchers and farmers of Northeast Georgia.

Pastor Kenny Rice has established Life Connection Cowboy Church in Flowery Branch, giving blue-collar workers a place to practice their faith or explore it for the first time. Rice said the new church, which began holding services in July, is reaching out to a population that previously might not have had its spiritual needs addressed.

“What we’re trying to do is reach out to those people in the Western culture (such as) farmers, ranchers, cowboys, who feel uncomfortable going into a traditional building with a steeple,” the preacher said. “Although everyone is welcome to come, we’re emphasizing our ministry on the Western culture.”

Rice said he felt the call to build a cowboy church when he learned how many members of “Western culture” often felt ostracized by other churches, particularly by their formality.

“A lot of these guys don’t have dress-up clothes,” Rice said. “It’s kind of like going into a foreign environment to dress up and go there. What happens is they usually just don’t go to church.”

Life Connection Cowboy Church meets in the former building of Life Connection Baptist Church. Rice served as the pastor of both, converting the latter into the former when he saw a spiritual need among the Northeast Georgia cowboys. Rice and his parishioners began repurposing the modular building off Black Jack Road in Flowery Branch to make future parishioners feel more comfortable. Sitting on 5 acres of rural property, the facility is being renovated to resemble a red barn complete with cedar fencing.

“It’s a very casual church,” regular attendee Ann Cofield said.

A 77-year-old Buford resident, Cofield has been teaching beginner’s horseback riding for “many years” and has attended services at Life Connection Cowboy Church for several Sundays.

“We can go in our jeans,” she said. “I leave home and go see my horse and go on to church in my same clothes. It’s a very casual, relaxed atmosphere.”

After only a month, Rice has seen his congregation grow from five or six to almost 20. According to cowboy ministries based in other areas, which Rice used as a model for his new venture, many individuals who attend cowboy church are admirers rather than members of the Western-style culture.

“Two-thirds of the people that attend a cowboy church are not cowboys,” Rice said. “They’re just drawn to the Western culture. People wear their hats in church. The pastor preaches in his cowboy hat and takes it off to pray.”

To Rice, a Washington state native who became an ordained minister in 1992, the lack of formality is more than refreshing.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “Like being set free.”

After the current renovation is finished, he plans to develop the surrounding 5 acres to suit his congregants’ lifestyle.

“It seems perfect to be able to raise a barn, and eventually we’ll have corrals and horse events here,” Rice said. “We’re looking to make a Christian equine center in Northeast Georgia, kind of similar to (Chicopee Equestrian Center) but Christian-based.”

While some of the customs and parishioners might be nontraditional, the message of Life Connection Cowboy Church remains the same, albeit a bit more personal.

“Pastor Kenny uses Scripture, but he relates his own life to things in the Scripture and it helps you,” Cofield said. “(Pastor Kenny) has lived through hard times, so he understands the people (who) come to his church. He welcomes everybody.”

While Life Connection Cowboy Church has its message and premises ready to go, it needs one last element to make its services complete: the sound of music.

“We really, really need country/western/bluegrass musicians and singers,” Rice said. “We plan to have jam sessions after church that are open to all musicians and will last all afternoon.”

Whether the hymn is accompanied by an organ or banjo, Cofield said he believes the aim of the burgeoning Life Connection Cowboy Church is on the right track, especially where its audience is concerned.

“It’s just straightforward, and that’s how cowboys are,” Cofield said.



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