COLUMBIA — Just moments before church begins on Sunday morning, show horses still prance around the dirt floor of the arena at the Boone County Fairgrounds. As the Rev. John Gray opens the 8:15 a.m. service with a prayer, the horses continue to gallop around the ring. For a more traditional service, this may have posed a problem, but for the Fellowship of Christian Cowboys, it goes unnoticed.
With a “come as you are” mentality, the FCC brings together people of all ages and backgrounds. Their services are very casual, and several of the participants this morning will go directly from the service to preparations for the 4-H horse show at 9:30 a.m. Others will have to rush to get ready for the open breeding cattle and steer show. But at this moment, they are “cowboys and cowgirls” sharing the word of God.
The FCC ministry, which works to further the gospel of Jesus Christ in rural America, is faith-founded and dependant on God for guidance, according to their national Web site. The group hosts Rodeo Bible Camps, which encourage young people to deepen their personal relationship with Jesus Christ while improving their rodeo skills, the Web site said. The camps are held every summer across the country.
The FCC boasts 46 chapters nationwide. The Columbia-area group — dubbed the “Show me the way” chapter in a play on Missouri’s nickname — is based out of Centralia and has been around for seven years. Besides congregating at rodeos and fairs, the members gather once a month for a chapter meeting.
During the service Sunday morning at the County Fairgrounds, seven people gathered in the bleachers to participate. As Kristie Gray, FCC president John Gray’s wife, began to sing the opening hymn, children working in the arena stopped in the middle of grooming their horses to walk over and listen to the service.
A young girl with a long blond ponytail stopped riding and pulled her horse up to listen to the hymn. One young boy in a cutoff T-shirt, trucker hat and oversized belt buckle stayed to watch the remainder of the service through the ropes around the edge of the arena.
“You and I are not that different,” Kristie sang. “All we want is a hand to reach to.” Her husband John followed with an exclamation of “Amen!”
The song encapsulates the message the group works to spread.
Sunday morning was Betsy Blake’s first time attending an FCC church service and, although it was more laid back, she said she was impressed with the service.
“It was definitely different from the church we usually attend,” said Blake, who often goes to Grace Bible Church. “I felt more comfortable, and they still gave a very biblical message.”
Her daughter Katie Blake, 13, also enjoyed the FCC’s service. “I liked it; it was fun. I didn’t think it was all that different.”
Despite the more relaxed environment, the FCC’s message is “not that different,” much like the opening hymn stated, from that of most Christian churches. Vice President Jim Smith said there are no requirements for being involved in the FCC.
“We want to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with other people,” Smith said. “But we aren’t limited to anyone. You don’t have to own a horse.”