The Cowboy Church of Ellis County hosted its 200th Buck-Out in the church arena Thursday night.

The evening began at 7 in the arena behind the church, with member Bret Schafer delivering a few words of introduction. Missy Halbert circled the arena on horseback carrying the American flag as the crowd stood to their feet with hats off for country gospel singer Tommy Brandt to sing “The Star Spangled Banner.”

The younger kids tried their hand at riding bucking calf steers and sheep under the oversight of older, experienced cowhands, with care taken to ensure the safety of the youth by requiring helmets, vests and mouth-guards. The last half of the evening, the adults enjoyed their turn at riding bulls and broncs.

Time was taken midway through the riding events for an inspirational message from professional bareback rider Chris Harris, followed by prayer and a barbecue dinner furnished by the host church.

“I came to this church about two years ago,” said Ray Thomas, who donates his time as the photographer for all of its organized events. “From the very first, I felt a great sense of belonging here, probably because I was raised in the country and always attended a country church. This church brings into it the activities I enjoyed as a child.”

Ask members of the Cowboy Church how they feel about their church experience and they will quickly reply it is refreshing to merge the fun of the outdoors with worship and Bible study.

“I was out of church for 42 years,” said Frank Sanchez, who has been a part of the Cowboy Church almost since its inception about seven years ago. “Since I’ve been here, my life has truly changed.”

Asked about the style of music in the church, rodeo ministry office coordinator Debbie Garvin said, “Our church has three country gospel bands, and we mostly sing the old songs.

“We started out with 37 people seven years ago,” Garvin said. “Since that time, not only have we grown to about 2,000 in attendance, but we have been instrumental in starting over 90 cowboy churches in Texas. It is believed that ours is the largest cowboy church in America.”

Mike Morrow, pastor of Cross Brand Cowboy Church in Tyler, underscored the need for cowboy churches.

“In cowboy churches, 60 to 70 percent were not churched at all before they found their way to a cowboy church,” Morrow said. “The average cowboy church will reach people who’ve not been reached by the traditional church.”

The Texas Fellowship of Cowboy Churches is sponsoring its first summer camp for youth at Buffalo Ridge Ranch near Whitney that will focus on western heritage, roping, branding, chuck-wagon cooking, horse care, as well as worship and Bible study. The camp is under the direction of Rick and Vickie Dawson of Waxahachie.