Sunnie Bland cracks a bullwhip above the seats in the new church sanctuary.
Amidst cattle brands, the church’s rustic pulpit briefly had a rope lassoed around the cross. But as the cowgirl in Sunnie Bland explained to the carpenter, “I’m a cutter, not a roper.” So, the carpenter removed the lasso and attached a place for a bullwhip on the pulpit.
“Every once in a while, I crack the whip,” Bland says, with a smile. “Just to make sure everyone’s paying attention.”
Given that Bland hopes to cut a few extra souls from the herd for the carpenter from Galilee, the bullwhip-pulpit seems appropriate, especially in a place that calls itself Gloryhill Cowboy Church.
A COWBOY PRAYER
“We ask that you be with us at this rodeo and we pray that you will guide us in the arena of life. We don’t ask for special favors; we don’t ask to draw around a chute-fightin’ horse or to never break a barrier. Nor do we ask for all daylight runs or not to draw a steer that won’t lay. Help us, Lord, to live our lives in such a manner that when we make that last inevitable ride to the country up there, where the grass grows lush, green and stirrup high, and the water runs cool, clear and deep, that you, as our last Judge, will tell us that our entry fees are paid.” — Clem McSpadden’s A Cowboy’s Prayer from “The Way for Cowboys.”
Copies of this cowboy Bible rest on a homemade shelf in Gloryhill’s entrance. Several items bear the Gloryhill Cowboy Church’s logo, the same design that illustrates its sign off U.S. 84 as sure as the road leads to Quitman. In silhouette, a cowboy kneels in prayer before the cross; his horse behind him; the cross rising above a field of cactus; the Western words Gloryhill arc above them, “Cowboy Church” provides the foundation below them.
Gloryhill Cowboy Church is not new. It has gathered for prayer and horseback for seven years. Sunnie and husband Mike Bland opened the church’s doors with the idea of a place for Christians who also ride horses and work cattle.
The church met out a dirt road, in a ranch-style setting with plenty of trails for riding, around a lake that has been the site for many a cowboy hat-wearing baptism.
This scene stretches a few tenths of a mile from Gloryhill’s new Cowboy Church. The Blands had wanted something closer to the main highway of U.S. 84, something more accessible, something more noticeable from the street.
They weighed purchasing a trailer, a manufactured building, then one thing led to another, what many a churchgoer describes as a “God thing.” The Blands had the opportunity for a building on the land then the basic building expanded. They found an affordable siding that resembles logs to go along with the church’s tin-roof exterior. The building expanded while under construction.
In one ceremony, the church followed the Biblical path of Ezekiel. They placed a Bible where there bullwhip pulpit now stands. They poured olive oil on the spot. This symbolically blessed the church with the Word and the Spirit.
On May 23, 2010, they broke ground. On Oct. 3, they held another dedication. On Dec. 12, they consecrated the building site with a service. Next week, 6 p.m. Sunday, May 15, Gloryhill Cowboy Church holds the dedication service for its new facility. The public is invited to the dedication and all services at the church.
“Gloryhill Cowboy Church is a place where a small body of believers in Jesus Christ comes together to worship God,” Bland says. “You do not have to be a cowboy or cowgirl, ride a horse, work with livestock, or plow a field to come join up with us.”
Though the church has a cowboy theme, Bland emphasizes it embraces the spirit of worship and congregation.
“We come from many different denominational backgrounds, but share the common ground of love for the Lord Jesus Christ and love for one another,” she says. “Our purpose is to praise and worship God together. Love and care for one another. Reach out and bring people to Jesus Christ. Teach and equip believers for service in God’s Kingdom.”
As she also expresses, “There are no Lone Rangers in God’s Kingdom.” Gloryhill Cowboy Church belongs to the Evangel Ministers Fellowship of Columbus, Miss., which provides ordination and oversight for the local congregation.
The week after the church dedication, Gloryhill hosts its Seventh Anniversary Celebration, Saturday, May 21. The event includes a trail ride _ participants must bring their own horses, with ride out at 10:30 a.m. The ride lasts approximately two hours. At 12:30 p.m., lunch is provided. At 1:30 p.m., the celebration includes a gospel sing followed by a slide show and program. Then, the annual Pig Chase.
The celebration continues May 22-24, with the Rev. Pat Hayes ministering. A missionary to Africa and Latin America, Hayes is a singer-songwriter of Bible ballads, an author, dean of the United Christian College in Cleveland, Tenn., pastor of Redeeming Life Church in Staunton, Va., director of the United Christian Church and Ministerial Association, and a professor at three Bible colleges. The May 22 service starts at 6 p.m., with the May 23, 24 services at 7 p.m.
“We want to serve people,” Bland says. “For those willing … we’ll do life with them. We believe in service. Jesus came to serve. Jesus didn’t come down with a napkin on. He came down with an apron on.”
Gloryhill Cowboy Church, three miles west of Interstate 75’s Exit 16 on U.S. 84. More information: Call (229) 241-9232; or email email@example.com. Regular services, 10:30 a.m. & 6 p.m. Sundays; Bible studies, 7 p.m. Wednesdays; every third Wednesday, men’s and women’s groups; every third Saturday, Family Day and horse trail rides.
Sunnie Bland cracks a bullwhip above the seats in the new church sanctuary.
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