By Jean Torkelson
Scripps Howard News Service
A century ago Grant Adkisson's great-granddaddy swept into Colorado on
a gold rush wave. Today, a higher form of treasure keeps the fourth
generation Adkisson here in Denver.
Before a Sunday crowd of 150 the cowboy preacher explains: "You
don't have to find the Lord in a cathedral or a church of stained glass.
He's right here in these arenas."
Welcome to one place where a gentleman can worship the Lord with his
This is the National Western Stock Show, where three Sundays a year
"church" happens in dusty cattle arenas with cement bleachers
Here, preachers like Adkisson, 50, sport vests, not vestments, and
favor the plain-spoken directness one would expect from the sheriff of
"Are you really content?" he asks worshippers, most dressed
in jeans and boots. "It's not a matter of positive thinking - it's
positive believing. Can you say you have a relationship with the Creator
through His Son, Jesus Christ?"
At the stock show, Catholic cowboys can attend Mass. For those who
favor a nondenominational hour of preachin' and singin', there's Cattlemen
for Christ and Adkisson's group, the Fellowship of Christian Cowboys,
based in Colorado Springs.
There is one thing that induces a cowboy to part with his hat. At each
prayer, they sweep them off to address the Lord. For the largest
hat-to-height ratio, look no further than Jonathan McArthur, who gave his
life to Jesus four years ago at a rodeo Bible camp.
During a break, the well-spoken 9-year-old looks out from under a huge
brim and calmly shares his faith with a stranger: "Jesus is in my
heart. I love Him so much."
On this Sunday, Adkisson is joined by Rockin M Wranglers, a
husband/wife gospel singing team whose crooning melodies evoke big skies
and lonesome plains. Except lonesome can be a state of mind, too:
"Oh, I'm never alone on the lone prairie with the Lord by my
side," sing Jim and Jeanne Martin in achingly pure tones.
The theme of emptiness is much on Adkisson's mind. He tells of a
conversation with a rancher whose property sold recently for $137 million.
"I asked him how much money is enough, and the answer was, 'A little
more.' Seems like everybody is driving and pushing and they're not
Duane and Elois Oster of Kersey, Colo., have learned fulfillment the
hard way - through hard times.
A bad flu several years ago destroyed all but 30 percent of Duane's
heart function. Now, he says good-naturedly, "I do everything in slow
"You do a lot more praying, and material things don't matter as
much," adds Oster, 49, who's in the forklift business. That's why he
likes these services: "There are no pretenses here."
After church, the crowd can buy shirts, caps and $5 raffle tickets to
win a handsome, hand-tooled saddle. They can also buy Bibles, including
"The Way for Cowboys," a classic scriptural translation that
includes cowboy testimonies and is compact enough to fit into the palm of
a big man's hand.
One of Adkisson's favorite stories is of a Denver cop who worked
security at the stock show one year and kept drifting back to listen to
the preaching. Finally he gave his life to Jesus.