Saddle up, partner — there’s a new church in town.
Located at Wallsboro’s pristine Iron Horse Ranch, Brush Poppers Cowboy Church is making a name for itself in Elmore County. Following a short drive (or horseback) down a gravel road, visitors arrive in front of a rustic-styled red barn. The construction of the barn-turned-sanctuary is relatively new, but the concept for this cowboy church started a few years ago outside the arena.
“Back then, the Bama Bandits [Cowboy Mounted] Shooting Club had weekend shoots once a month at the Iron Horse Ranch. On Sunday mornings, they had a Bible devotional,” explained Brush Poppers’ Pastor Bill Coleman, 46. “The weekly devotional led to the idea to do a cowboy church on Sunday mornings before their events. I taught a Sunday school class at Santuck Baptist Church and knew some of the guys here, and they asked me to come do a devotional.”
Coleman said the first few times he led the devotional were by invitation, but that soon escalated to expectation.
“I really felt like the Lord was impressing on me, telling me, ‘Okay, this is what I’ve been preparing you for,’” he recalled. “So, when it got to be a regular thing, I just knew… this was where I was supposed to be.”
The transition wasn’t easy. Coleman, his wife of nearly 25 years, Carol, and daughter Jadie Lynn were comfortable at Santuck Baptist and had no plans to leave. When he felt the initial call from God, the former bull rider said he knew what he had to do.
“I’m a cowboy. I’ve always been a cowboy, and I knew I would love nothing more than to be able to share Christ in a cowboy setting,” said Coleman, who opts for a hat and boots over a preacher’s robe or suit and tie. “But, I didn’t want to force my family into something they didn’t want. So, we prayed on it and, eventually, it became the right fit for us. We are blessed to be here.”
Coleman said what sets Brush Poppers off from traditional churches, aside from the name — a cowboy term describing cowboys who pushed cows through the brush and rocks into pastures — is the atmosphere. At each Sunday’s 9:30 a.m. service, a steel triangle mounted on the knotted pine wall sounds, indicating it’s time to begin. In place of organs and large choirs with robes is a small music team mostly decked out in hats boots and buckles cowboys play acoustic guitar, piano and sing. Nothin’ fancy, Coleman says, just simple music and simple messages.
“All are welcome here,” he added. “Brush Poppers is a ministry for cowboys, non-cowboys, big city and just plain country folks who have been up and down the trail of life. It’s about straight Bible teaching. The barriers that turn people off from traditional churches are removed here. We don’t have offering plates; men can keep their hats on if it’s important to them; and in place of deacons, we have vaqueros who serve as leaders. It’s church done simple where we ask only one thing — come as you are.”
Singer and church member Shannon Andress, a regional agent with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, said she enjoys worshiping in a laid-back atmosphere.
“As someone who has always loved horses and the Western culture, this church suits me,” Andress said. “I love having the ability to worship with others who share the same lifestyle.”
Though Brush Poppers is unique to the area, cowboy churches are growing in popularity. Modeled after the Cowboy Church of Ellis County in Waxahachie, Texas, 17 certified cowboy churches open their doors to Alabamians each week. To become certified through the American Fellowship of Cowboy Churches, churches adhere to established criteria, including requirements that pastors and team leaders be cowboys.
“Without the cowboy heritage, we might as well be just another church in the country,” Coleman said.