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Come As You Are… Leave Changed

Musicians perform familiar, old-timey church music at the Cowboy Country Church, and the congregation joins right in. Most Clark County residents will recognize Jerrod McAfee (second from the left).

By Mike Scott

Crazy things are happening in Wayland, Missouri.

Every Tuesday night, dozens of men and women, young and old, along with children and grandchildren come together in a partially-gutted old restaurant decorated with wagon wheels, hay bales, barn board and all manner of western gear. Of course, there’s an American flag on the wall. Actually, more than one. There’s even a red, white and blue painted cow skull.

At the door, visitors are greeted with a warm smile and handshake, and on this night, an invitation to join them for dinner. People greet each other with waves and hugs. Laughter fills the room.

Soon, people take their seats in folding chairs as a small band of musicians start playing “old-timey” music on a makeshift stage. The tunes are familiar, so everyone joins in with the singing. Most people are dressed in western or plaid shirts and jeans. There’s not a tie in sight.

A little over a year ago, a small group started meeting in a horse barn on Carbide Lane in Keokuk. Over the last year, the church grew into the Cowboy Country Church. As cold weather set in last fall, they started looking for a warmer place to meet, and settled on the old Territory Restaurant building in Wayland, after renting for a few months., the church was able to purchase their new home.

Over the winter and spring, word began to spread, and now they regularly draw folks from Kahoka, Canton, Keokuk, Hamilton, Carthage and beyond.

On Tuesday evening, June 6, members met to dedicate its church building.

“It’s a work in progress,” said Jed Linebaugh, pastor of Cornerstone in Keokuk. The Cowboy Country Church is an outreach from Cornerstone, and its mission is to reach people looking for something different, or those who are not already attending a church. They chose to meet on Tuesday evenings because it doesn’t conflict with any church activities. All of the work on the building has been done by volunteers.

A wiry man wearing jeans, a plaid shirt and cowboy hat steps to the stage, standing alongside an upended whiskey barrel serving as a pulpit. His name is Shelby Whitney, and he is the pastor of the Cowboy Country Church. A finish carpenter by trade, he and his wife gave up their recently-completed dream home in Camdenton, Missouri, answering the call to shepherd the fledgling church in Wayland.

“It’s amazing what God had done here in Wayland, Missouri,” he begins. “It’s not because it’s a fun place to go on Tuesday night. We’re here to worship Christ, son of the Living God.”

He read from the Book of Nehemiah, recalling how the prophet rebuilt the wall around Jerusalem in just 52 days. He continued with the story of Gideon using only 300 soldiers to defeat the Midianites.

“We’re dedicating this church to that it is the glory of God that did this, not the works of any men. He must have some amazing plans, because of what he’s already done here,” Whitney added.

He closed by challenging his congregation with a cowboy metaphor.

“It’s easy to put your foot in the stirrups, but if you don’t pull yourself up, you’ll end up going in circles. But if you pull yourself up into that saddle, you’d better hold on for the ride of your life. Are you willing to throw your leg over the saddle?”

Pastor Shelby Whitney.