By BOB SHAW
St. Paul Pioneer Press
HAM LAKE, Minn. (AP) — Even in the most liberal translations, the Bible doesn’t mention 10-gallon hats or roping cattle.
Nevertheless, Minnesota’s first cowboy-themed church is thriving in Ham Lake. The Open Range Cowboy Church drew 60 wild-west worshippers last Sunday to hear a rootin’-tootin’ straight-shootin’ sermon.
Afterward, they moseyed out to linger under a corrugated metal roof and sip coffee from a chuck wagon.
“I love it!” said Sam Adamczak of Andover, scanning the cowboy hats of the crowd. “I like the country style of this church. It’s fun, it’s small and everyone is friendly.”
In Texas, the yippee-ki-yay style of worship would be a natural. But Pastor Joe Penrose was asked if there are any real cowboys in Minnesota.
“I think everyone,” he said, adjusting his hat, “has a little bit of cowboy in them.”
Adamczak chimed in: “You don’t have to be in Texas to be a cowboy.”
True to the cowboy spirit, the church had humble beginnings, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported.
Five years ago, Penrose joined the American Fellowship of Cowboy Churches, a Texas-based group with more than 200 parishes. After three months’ training offered through the association, he was ready to start.
In a dirt-floor horse barn in northern Minnesota, Penrose delivered his first sermon — to a congregation of five.
“When mice ran across the pastor’s feet, we knew it was time to move,” said his wife, Linda.
The church grew steadily, transferred to a heated building in Isanti, and then last year to Ham Lake.
Penrose heard plenty of snide comments when he started. At monthly meetings of area pastors, he recalls hearing comments such as “‘How many `yahoos’ did you give last Sunday?’ ”’
“They just wanted to tease me a little bit, but it was a little more than just joking,” Penrose said. “I heard someone say in the background, ‘He’ll never survive a year.’ “
He preaches a no-nonsense message that he says is straight from the Bible.
“It’s driven by the Bible, and not by church law,” Penrose said.
He tailors his Sunday sermons for men, he said, and does not allow preaching by women.
“We want men to be leaders in their families,” Penrose said.
“But in so many other churches the wife goes to church and the husband stays home. I have heard from several men’s wives saying, ‘Because my husband has grown so much here, we will be here until the day we die.’ ”
Recently, worshippers gathered at the church, in a former grocery store in a mall.
They were hit with the smell of particle board, which covers all interior walls. They then walked past a western-style storefront facade flanked by hay bales.
The service began with cowboy music.
A six-piece band twanged through the hymns, lifted by the soulful warbling of a pedal-steel guitar.
The crowd of about 60 sang along, following the words on a screen.
Penrose stepped up to a lectern made of horseshoes, the spittin’ image of a movie cowboy in hat, boots and a silver belt buckle the size of a pancake.
He launched into the sermon called Winning the Battle Inside of Me. “There are three enemies that want to mess up your life: the flesh, a worldly view and doubt,” he told the crowd. “God can take care of anything that needs taking care of.”
“That’s right!” someone yelled in response.
“God is good! He’s in total control!” boomed Penrose.
Ushers passed a cowboy hat for the offering. The closing hymn was an obvious choice: Happy Trails,” the theme song of TV cowboy Roy Rogers.
Afterward, the group drifted into the foyer to talk and sip coffee.
Linda Penrose said the church’s country-western vibe gives it immediate appeal. “It is the uniqueness of the church that brings people in,” she said.
But they remain, she said, because of her husband’s sermons. “They are informal and practical — straight-shooting from the Bible,” Linda said.
Emilie Kimmes is the closest thing the church has to an actual cowboy.
The Hastings woman has competed in bull-riding events and said she was attracted to the church after seeing the religious services during rodeos. “I have tried other churches, but they are boring,” Kimmes said.
Church elder Vern Kramer, in an embroidered cowboy shirt and black hat, said, “We want to bring the country-western person to church. That’s what got me. You can come late. You can come in your old clothes.”