by Travis Collins
Turnaround Cowboy Church: King William County, Virginia
“Reining” is a form of horse competition. The routine takes a horse through a series of precise moves including the signature “slide.”
Randy Newsome, pastor for more than thirty years of the Round Oak Baptist Church, loves reining. For over five years, Randy has been passionate about reining as a hobby. 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 the spring of 2013, a woman who is one of the regulars in the reining competitions and who also owns a training facility petitioned Randy for help. “We need something to help our folks get along better,” she said. “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 maybe a worship service?”
So they did.
On a Monday night in June of 2013, 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 music. Then Randy did a talk based on the Bible. Eighteen people showed up.
People wanted to do it again, and in July twenty 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 that third service, Randy got a call from a couple in their sixties. “We believe in Jesus,” they said, “but we’ve never been baptized. Would you baptize us?” Randy met with them and discussed the meaning of the act in which they were about to partake. Under the stars, Randy baptized the husband and wife.
In a water trough.
The monthly event 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, on a drafty December night, he baptized two men and one woman.
In a water trough.
Monique 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 announced to 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.” “That’s what we call ‘witnessing,’” Randy told her with a smile. Monique wants others to experience what she has found inside the barn, through the community, in Jesus Christ.
They’re calling this fresh expression of church “Turnaround Cowboy Church.” The name’s explanation is simple, described in reining terms, of course. “The turnaround is a reining maneuver that makes the horse turn around, of course,” Randy began, “and the turnaround all of us need to make in our lives is to follow Jesus.”
There are lots of interesting things about this fresh expression of church:
- The services are held monthly, and they move around from place to place. (Participants get the word out via Facebook and word of mouth.)
- They always eat.
- One night they did line dancing after the service and on some occasions they have trail rides before the service.
- Randy uses illustrations that fit. Like the story of a paralyzed lady who rides. 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.”
- Their closing song is always “Happy Trails.”
- Forty people are now coming, some driving up to an hour. Word is spreading person to person.
- While most who attend are in the “horse world,” some are just interested in what is going on.
“Most of these people—at least the core group—are not connected to any church,” Randy said. Randy is often called on by folks in this new form of church for pastoral care, from hospital visits to weddings. (He performed Monique’s wedding, and she made her bridal entrance riding a stallion. Fortunately it was an outdoor wedding!)
Randy is not sure where it will go from here. “I don’t want to push it too hard,” he admitted, “because God is doing something and I don’t want to get in the way.”
This fresh expression of church is an example of doing church where the people are, as part of the natural context and rhythm of people’s lives. 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.
The story of “Turnaround Cowboy Church” is a reminder that all of us must intentionally get out of our limited Christian circles. “This grew out of my hobby,” Randy noted. “We’re all just really good friends.”
Article written by Travis Collins, the Director of Mission Advancement and Virginia Regional Coordinator for Fresh Expressions U.S. Pastor Randy Newsome of Turnaround Cowboy Church/Round Oak Baptist Church can be reached at newsome202124@gmail.
Gannon is the Director of Ministry Formation for Fresh Expressions US and leads the Fresh Expressions efforts of the Baptist General Association of Virginia. He earned the Bachelor of Arts Degree from Baylor University and the Master of Divinity degree from Duke University. Prior to entering seminary, Gannon worked as a legislative aide in the U.S. Senate and as a public affairs officer in the anti-human trafficking office at the U.S. State Department. He enjoys forging partnerships between followers of Jesus from different traditions and has served in various roles at several churches, Baptist, Presbyterian, and Anglican. Gannon is married to Carey, who also is a graduate of Duke Divinity School. Together they work to bring fresh expressions of church to the collegiate community at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia.