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Cowboy Church
by Terrah Middleton  
4/01/2011 / Short Stories

A bullet-riddled steel sign, the silhouette of a buffalo, pointed our way across the windblown prairie. Our truck rumbled down the dusty, gravel road; at each fork, an arrow pointed us further into the no-man's land. Deep ruts jostled us; dust kicked up and clogged our lungs. The air was bone-dry, but if it rained, this rugged, pothole road would turn into a slippery muck; we'd be stuck in the middle of nowhere until the hundred-degree June sun dried it out. Except for a few mule deer loping across the prairie, and a lone coyote skulking in the rushes, we saw no sign of life. We continued onward, our eyes scouting for more signs that we weren't lost. Finally, at the crest of a hill, we saw the encampment nestled at the base of the valley. Hundreds of people, mostly men, were armed with high-powered 1874 Sharps black-powder rifles, many dressed in 1880s attire. As we pulled in, the blasts from the rifles and the scent of black powder filled the air; they would permeate our senses for the next five days.

This year people came from thirty-three states and six countries, including Australia, to participate in this event, the Matthew Quigley Buffalo Rifle Match. It was billed as "the largest rifle-shooting event in Montana since the Custer massacre" on posters everywhere. Commonly known as "Quigley," it's an annual event held on Father's Day weekend north of Forsyth, Montana. Quigley began as a result of the movie, Quigley Down Under, starring Tom Selleck.

In 2008 my husband was a shooter, and I tagged along to be his spotter and moral support. He, along with 600 other participants, would be shooting at six targets; eight shots at each position; with ranges from 225 yards to almost 800 yards. Doing simple math, 28,848 rounds would be fired during the competition; and one could safely double that amount for the practice shots taken in the three days leading up to the weekend competition.

On Saturday night, after the competition ended for the day and the milk-can stew was cooking, we strolled over to the bulletin board to check the standings and advertisements. Tomorrow would be the final day of the match. Among the shooting posters, we saw a notice:

Cowboy Church
Sunday morning, 7:00 a.m.
In the pasture, beyond the fence
Everyone welcome!

In the cool of the morning as dawn was breaking, we made our way over; I carefully avoided stepping on the cow chips. Folding chairs had been set up; in all, about thirty people showed up for the Cowboy Churcha remnant. Two cowboys led us in prayer; they strummed their guitars while we sang hymns and made a joyful noise unto the Lord with our off-key singing. Next, they shared the cowboy version of the Ten Commandments:

1. Just one God.
2. Honor your Ma and Pa.
3. No telling tales or gossipin'.
4. Git yourself to Sunday meeting.
5. Put nothin' before God.
6. No foolin' around with another fellow's gal.
7. No killin'.
8. Watch your mouth.
9. Don't take what ain't yours.
10. Don't be hankerin' for yer buddy's stuff.

The sermon pointed out that for many of the Quigley participants, shooting is a religion; their guns are their gods. Winning the contest is everything to them; yet, in a year or two, nobody would even remember who the winner was, except the winner himself. How futile, how foolish, is that? To put such importance on something so temporary, and completely miss the eternal: our relationship with God. The need for salvation was explained; the gospel was presented in the most basic way I'd ever heard. In closing, New Testaments were passed out.

I've attended many church services, but this was the most unpretentious, unadulterated, and reverent worship service I'd ever attended. I marveled that God would send two humble servants to share his good news in such an uninviting, simple surrounding. Yet, for a Savior who was born in a manger, why was I surprised that he would willingly meet us in a cow pasture? Jesus the Savior, he's always willing to commune with us wherever we may be. Jesusalways willing to reach out to the lost; and all we need to do is receive his free gift of salvation, through faith.

The days at Quigley will forever be etched in our memoriesit was an enjoyable, unforgettable experience in so many ways. Neither my husband nor I remember who won the shooting match, but we both remember the Cowboy Church. That church service was the high-point of the week--what a blessing it was.

I'll admit, at times, the blasts from those guns was nerve-racking; but every time I think of Quigley, I hear that still, small voice as it spoke to my heart at the Cowboy Church: Be still, and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10 NKJV)

(Copyright 2010)

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