Blue jeans, boots welcome at cowboy-style church

By Brianna Bailey

Transcript Staff Writer

OKLAHOMA CITY--Pastor Jeff Burns of Heartland Harvest Church in Norman puts on his cowboy boots and jeans every Monday night and heads to his second job at Heartland Cowboy Church in the Oklahoma City Stockyards.

Each week cowboys from around the Oklahoma City metro area and people who just like to wear blue jeans, a baseball hat or a stetson to church gather at an old theater in the historic stockyard district surrounded by Western wear shops and beer joints.

The non-denominational service features country and gospel music and "Pastor Jeff" shares down-home anecdotes about his childhood in Arkansas between all the singin' and preachin'.

"I'm just about as far from a cowboy as you can get," Burns said, out of his cowboy garb and dressed in a cable-knit sweater and slacks at his office at Heartland Harvest in Norman. "But I married the pastor's baby girl."

Burns' father-in-law retired Pastor Ronnie Harrison founded Heartland Harvest Cowboy Church in 2003 but turned the reins over to his son-in-law last year after his retirement.

Harrison rides cutting horses in his spare time, enjoys hunting, and said his love of the outdoors and Western culture prompted him to start a church for cowboys.

The services are held Monday evenings because many cowboys work weekends, Harrison said. The church has a laid-back dress code, to reflect the cowboy way of life.

"It's very diffucult to get the full-time cowboys into what we call the 'stained glass' sort of church." Harrison said. "Some come straight from the feed lot wearing their spurs, and they just want to feel comfortable and wear their blue jeans."

Burns has done a good job of keeping the cowboy spirit of the church alive since taking over full time, but has also brought his own twist to the service, Harrison said.

"I can relate to a lot of the cowboy way of life, so I drew a lot of the full-time cowboys to the church," Harrison said. "But Jeff has drawn a whole new crowd since he took over because of his personality. I think he's done a great job, and I'm very proud of him."

Cowboy hats and Wranglers are stillde-rigure at the Monday night service, but there's also women with Louis Vutton handbags and young men in baggy jeans and baseball caps in the crowd.

"Being able to wear your hat and your blue jeans in church is a big part of the service, It's very laid back," Burns said. "A lot of the people who come aren't cowboys but like the music, and people from all denominations come."

Country and western music still plays a big part of the cowboy service, Burns said.

Guitar player Ray Bruce of Midwest City plays and sings covers along with the house band like Vince Gill's "All Prayed Up" during the service in a deep baritone voice that rumbles like thunder across the prairie.

Bruce's 13-year-old daughter, Emily Bruce, also sings and plays guitar. Last week she performed a country version of "Silent Night" at the cowboy church.

Emily didn't start playing guitar untill she started attending cowboy church about two years ago. Now she plays along with the church band and writes her own songs.

"The holy spirit touches me and I that's where I get my ideas for songs," she said.

Oklahoma City resident Patsy Willis attends the western-themed services regularly and sometimes also gets up to sing a few tunes.

"We're havin' church tonight, y'all." she says as she takes the stage in her rhinestone-studded jeans and red western-style shirt, also sprinkled with rhinestones.

"I like it here because we can just be ourselves," Willis said.

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