Local pastor cowboys up for Christ
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RIGBY — A congregation of 15 people gather at the Cross Bar Cowboy Church inside the annex building at the fairgrounds in Rigby. It’s 2 p.m. on a Sunday.
Those in attendance are mostly middle-aged, dressed in boots and cowboy hats. Others are wearing casual attire.
The aroma of coffee and cigarette smoke is wafting in the air as Pastor David Kite begins the meeting in his folksy, southern manner.
All are there for one purpose — to worship the Lord through words and music in their own way and on their own terms.
Kite was a southern Baptist preacher in South Carolina for 10 years. It was during a mission trip to Montana several years ago when he felt the call for a new ministry.
“I came back from Montana one time and said to my wife, ‘I really think God could use us in a cowboy ministry out there,’” Kite said.
“She put her finger in my chest and said, ‘You may want to be Roy Rogers, but I am not Dale Evans and I’m not going.’”
With that opposition from his wife, Kite let it go. But five years later, he attended a Southern Baptist Convention in San Antonio.
He met Jim Ballard, president of the North American Mission Board, the umbrella organization for SBC. Kite spoke with Ballard about starting a cowboy church. In December 2011, Ballard sent Kite an email.
“Why don’t you put your boots down in Idaho and see what God does with that?” Ballard wrote, according to Kite.
“I told my wife and she said, ‘Well, I guess there’s nothing for us to do but go.’ We moved here, and that’s when she knew this is where God wanted us to be,” Kite said.
Kite now oversees four different cowboy church congregations in the Snake River Valley – Pocatello Cowboy Church, Christ’s Cowboy Country Church in Blackfoot, Cross Bar Cowboy Church in Rigby and the Teton Valley Cowboy Church in Driggs. He began his ministry in July 2012.
“We don’t have any service at a typical time on Sunday, like 10 or 11 a.m.,” explained Kite. “That’s the time cowboys are feeding, doctoring or pushing cows. We hold our services at a time that’s convenient for them, like 3 p.m. or 7 p.m.”
Kite travels east Idaho on weekends attending cowboy church services at all four locations. Even though the church caters to cowboys, Kite said its doors are open to anyone who wants to attend. According to Kite, what sets his church apart from other Christian churches is that it’s “simple church.”
“The basic, overall church is not any different from what we believe the simple church in the beginning was supposed to be,” said Kite, “Most traditional churches have their own baptismal facility. We don’t. We baptize in a water trough or the Snake River or the Teton River.”
In November 2012, Kite said, a member of his congregation wanted to be baptized. When Kite told him he would fill up the watering trough, the member replied that he wanted to be baptized in the Snake River.
“Boy, that’s going to be cold,” Kite said. “We’ll have to wait until spring. He said, ‘I want to be baptized now.’ So, the next Saturday, we went to the Snake River and baptized him.”
A history of simple living
Cowboy churches hearken back to simpler times.
“(An) older, simpler and more worthwhile way of life.”
Simple living is a common trait attached to cowboys, both historically and in pop culture. In “The Shootist,” a 1976 western starring John Wayne, J.B. Books rides his horse into Carson City, Nevada. It’s 1901 — the end of an era. This fact is made evident when a trolley passes him by.
“People latched on to the cowboy in their imaginations as a symbol of this older, simpler and more worthwhile way of life. They were nostalgic for that older, vanishing world,” American West historian and author Michael Allen told EastIdahoNews.com about Hollywood’s portrayal of cowboys. “The cowboys worked at a time when America was in the last stages of transition from rural to industrial.”
In his book, “Rodeo Cowboys in the North American Imagination,” Allen discusses a code of behavior that existed among cowboys. These include hard work, loyalty and courage. Gene Autry, an actor known for his roles in Westerns, developed his own cowboy code of ethics in the 1940s. These items were Autry’s beliefs and philosophies that evolved into 10 written principles for cowboys to live by. Read Autry’s code here.
Kite said Autry’s code plays a role in the cowboy church.
“We follow the Bible, first and foremost. I took (Autry’s) 10 things and made an application to the Bible,” Kite said.
The third item in Autry’s code states, “He (cowboys) must always tell the truth.” Kite said this principle ties in with the commandment in the Bible to not bear false witness. According to Kite, the ninth item about respecting women and parents goes along with other biblical teachings to not commit adultery and to honor your father and mother.
Kite feels his role as pastor is to show his congregation how the Bible applies to the cowboy way of life.
“I preach in jeans, cowboy shirt and cowboy hat, boots. I go on Saturday night to a team roping, a sorting or I work with kids in the rodeo. It’s what we do, the way we do church and the way we live,” Kite said.
Note: Christ’s Cowboy Country Church Services are held at the Mill Iron Ranch Arena Saturdays at 7pm. They are located at 129 East 200 North Weeding Lane in Blackfoot. Cross Bar Cowboy Church Services in Rigby begin at 2pm Sunday in the Annex Building at the fair grounds, Pocatello’s services are at 6pm Sundays at the indoor arena on Laughran Rd just off Tyhee, and services in Driggs are held at 443 N. Hwy 33 Monday night at 7pm.