Associated Press

Former rodeo clown teaches aspiring ministers, Western style

The Associated Press

March 9, 2005, Wednesday, BC cycle

Former rodeo clown teaches aspiring ministers, Western style

BYLINE: By BOBBY ROSS JR., Associated Press Writer

SECTION: Domestic News

LENGTH: 803 words


Across the street from a flea market, in the shadow of oil wells and tumbleweeds, Glenn Smith trains aspiring ministers in a building that looks more like a steakhouse than a seminary. But that’s OK – these are cowboy ministers.

“Preaching Jesus, Western style,” reads the sign out front.

“These boys and girls will come out of here full-fledged ministers, but they’ll be ministers that look like I do,” said Smith, 70, sporting a Resistol hat and ostrich-skin boots.

At the School of Western Ministries, pickup-driving pupils don colorful cowboy shirts, Wrangler jeans and belt buckles with messages such as “Jesus Christ: Champion of Champions.”

From Alabama to Australia, students come to West Texas to study how to teach the Bible in places where a barn might double as a sanctuary, and where horse tanks and farm ponds make do as baptisteries. They’re awarded certificates of completion at the end of their coursework.

Matt Reid, a 30-year-old saddle bronc rider from Cullman, Ala., said he came to learn from down-to-earth scholars who speak his language.

“These folks, they’re not very religious,” Reid said. “It’s more like, they believe a relationship with Jesus is the best thing. You don’t get all churchified.”

From Smith’s perspective, the “Western world” population is turned off by holier-than-thou preachers with deep voices and three-piece suits, and his ministry training has to suit that.

“If you want to catch a catfish, you use catfish bait,” he said. “Usually, you can’t catch a bass with catfish bait.”

The former professional bull rider and rodeo clown leads a cowboy worship service each Sunday night at the International Western World Outreach Center, the Midland-based ministry that he and his wife, Ann, oversee.

The people who attend would not fit in at a traditional church, he said. On Sunday morning, when churchfolk occupy pews, the crew that cowboy ministers are trying to attract are baling hay and tending cattle.

“So what we’re trying to train these kids to do is what I’ve done for 30 years, and that is to actually go out in the boondocks where no one cares,” he said. “And we have church services in barns, rodeo arenas, Holiday Inn ballrooms, out under shade trees in the summertime.”

Smith’s ministry even prints its own Bibles – a King James version with drawings of cowboys on the front and back. The idea is that a macho cowboy might be more apt to throw such a Bible on his pickup dash than an official-looking one with a black cover.

“Somebody said, ‘Well, aren’t you afraid that God doesn’t like that?”‘ Smith said. “I said, ‘Well, in 30 years, he hasn’t told me.’ I figured if it had teed him off, he would have at least let me know.”

The Smiths started their school last year with an inaugural class of 16. Twenty students enrolled for this year’s session, which started in January.

“It’s great for the young people,” said Tim Kelly, 44, who works with Rodeo Cowboy Ministries in Kingaroy, Australia. “When we started at home, there was nothing like this. So we just had to learn as we went.”

Each student pays $1,200 tuition for 17 weeks of instruction geared toward “those called to minister in any and every area of the ‘Western world’ – be it rodeo, farm and ranch, horse events of every kind, stock shows, and all associated activities and occupations,” according to the school’s Web site.

They learn from instructors such as Neil Cassata, a cowboy minister from Groesbeck, Texas, who offers commonsense advice such as, “Your opinion and 27 cents will get you a refill at Dairy Queen. Don’t give people your opinion. Give them the word of God.”

But in the same recent lesson, Cassata delved into the New Testament book of Revelation and issues of rapture and tribulation.

“A lot of people who don’t know the Lord will say, ‘Man, what’s going to happen at the end of the world?”‘ Cassata said. “So the students need to at least have a basic overview … so that they can tell people and give them a good biblical explanation.”

Pat Cramton, 48, decided to attend the school, even though it meant being apart from her husband and four daughters for about four months.

Cramton, whose family keeps 300 cows on a 5,000-acre ranch in Pretty Prairie, Kan., said she grew up in a traditional church where “you sing your hymn and you sit down; you sing your hymn and you sit down.”

But she believes people are looking for a different worship experience.

“I just really would like to open an outdoor ministry for churches to bring people out to the pastures and just worship God in a pasture,” Cramton said. “Sometimes, I think we get so busy in life, we don’t go out and see the beauty of creation and all that God made.”


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