By Elizabeth Sias
With a wide metal basin as a baptismal font and haystacks for decor, the Open Range Cowboy Church doesn’t fit the image of a typical Christian church.
Pastor Joe Penrose started the church a year ago, and it reopened its doors in Isanti at its new location this month. Penrose has been busy prepping the new spot at 903 6th Ave. Court to welcome Executive Director of the American Fellowship of Cowboy Churches Jeff Bishop, who will speak Sunday, June 26, at 9:30 a.m.
Penrose first opened the Open Range Cowboy Church in Braham a year ago. The church then spent six months in Cambridge before the lease expired this month, causing Penrose to find a new place to hold service.
The Open Range Cowboy Church isn’t the only church renting space in the building, providing a unique situation and new challenges, Penrose said.
Grace Gospel Church has the space next to the cowboy church. To accommodate both Sunday services, the cowboy church will hold service at 9:30 a.m. and Grace Gospel will move theirs to 11 a.m. so sound from one service doesn’t interfere with the other.
People are often confused or curious about what exactly a cowboy church does, he said. He explained that it’s a nondenominational church that provides the usual services churches offer, including sermons, Bible studies, communion and baptisms.
While Penrose’s is not the only cowboy church in Minnesota, his is the only in the Midwest sanctioned by the American Fellowship of Cowboy Churches. Nationwide, there are more than 150 cowboy churches with over 20,000 members.
Sermons from other cowboy church pastors are posted on the official website. After listening to many of them, Penrose said he thinks he’s a unique pastor.
“My real gift is delivering a sermon. A lot of pastors preach really soft — they preach around God’s word, they don’t really teach the word,” he said. “My passion from my gut is so deep that I told my wife ‘If I ever lose my passion, tell me because I’ll quit.’ It’s passion that you deliver to the people that come to your church, you deliver your sermons with passion, everything you do has to have passion to it. Without passion, what’s life?”
Every month or two, the cowboy church has some sort of event for members, like trail rides, a cookout or a rodeo.
“We fellowship more than any other church around,” Penrose said, adding that members tend to arrive at least a half hour before service begins and stay for an hour or two after to socialize.
On June 26, Bishop will preach and talk about the mission of cowboy churches as a whole and how cowboy churches operate.
Penrose said his goal is to open up a few more cowboy churches in the state, with one each in the four corners of the Twin Cities, such as Buffalo, Woodbury and Lakeville, he explained.
“But we’ve got to get this one really smoking before we’ll do that,” he said. “We had to do a lot of work to get things set up and get things ready.”
For now, he said he’ll focus on setting up the new space for the Open Range Cowboy Church in Isanti and welcoming both new and current members.
“I feel we have a special group that we’re building,” Penrose said. “We always put at the bottom of our ads, ‘Where you feel warm and welcomed,’ and that’s a very big part of our church.”