ENID, Okla. — Tuesday nights in the sale barn at Enid Livestock Market, Pastor Kelly Cronkhite conducts services at the Chisholm Trail Cowboy Church. As to the spelling of his name, which is a question he answers regularly, it’s Dutch, and he likes to say “Walter dropped the ‘h,’” speaking of the famous national newsman.
Cronkhite grew up on a ranch outside Watonga, so he’s been around “cowboying” all his life, including participating in team roping and calf roping at rodeos.
“I’ve been in ministry for 28 years,” he said, “and I’ve been in cowboy-type ministry since 2006. I pastored two other cowboy churches and did regular ministry at rodeos and barrel racing and team roping events. I love the culture; I guess I have a heart for it.”
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Cronkhite said cowboy churches emerged as a way to fill a need around rodeos and other events, many of which are presented on Sunday mornings. People travel on Saturday nights or early Sunday mornings, so they miss their home church service.
“When you’re a minister at one of those events, you usually set up early in the morning on the edge of the arena,” Cronkhite said. “People sit in the bleachers, and the minister offers a little music, usually with a country theme, and a message. Rodeo events tend to be patriotic, and they tend to involve prayer, so it makes sense you’d have a service if the rodeo is on a Sunday.”
Cowboy church is an extension of that ethos. It’s country saturated or, as Cronkhite puts it, composed of “rural-minded people.” The atmosphere is very much relaxed and come-as-you-are.
“Hat and boots are not required,” he said. “We’re open to people from all walks of life. That’s why I like ‘rural minded,’ not just country.
“The service at Chisholm Trail is built around a relaxed setting, good music and an encouraging, inspiring message. We want you to come as you are but leave changed.”
Members at Chisholm Trail knew of Cronkhite from another church, and when their church needed a pastor they approached him. The relationship seemed like a good fit, so Cronkhite and his family accepted the position. He and his wife of 32 years, Sue, have four children: Kelsi, Kassadi, Kade and Kenzi. The whole family is active in the church.
Chisholm Trail meets on Tuesday nights, because rodeo folks tend to be gone on Sundays and the church was designed not to compete with Sunday services elsewhere. In fact, Cronkhite serves as the pastor of Carrier Congregational Church, too.
“We wanted to be a midweek option for people who already have a church home and for people who needed a different schedule,” Cronkhite said. “We now have people who come that already have a church home and for some we are their only church home.”
The church has a men’s Bible study at the barn on Tuesday mornings, and Cronkhite said the congregation is in the process of establishing trail rides and other horse-related, cowboy-style events.