New Trail Reaches Ranching Culture
It was Saturday afternoon of the rodeo.
Stan Norman climbed into the bull pen, baptizing two bull riders in the stock tank surrounded by the largest bulls and broncs.
“All I asked the bull riders was they cover my backside, so no bull would come after me,” said Stan.
Stan is the founding and senior pastor of New Trail Fellowship, a cowboy church — part of a movement of churches reaching individuals from ranching backgrounds. For many years, Stan pastored traditional Brethren in Christ churches in Kansas and Oklahoma where he began to see church culture conflicted with the rugged individualist ethos of ranchers.
His mission at New Trail Fellowship? To shatter the cowboy culture’s barriers to entry in following Jesus Christ.
Abilene once marked the end of the historic Chisholm Trail, the overland cattle drive from Texas to Kansas. A western outpost, Abilene attracted outlawry: gun fights, prostitution.
“It was called Sin City USA,” said Stan.
Abilene is no longer the capital of vice. Yet, the town is deeply rooted in cowboy culture — a culture traditionally at odds with Christianity. Accustomed to the wide-open expanses of the West, cowboys developed a cultural resistance to rules — like those in organized religion.
New Trail Fellowship shirks church formalities to introduce ranchers to Jesus Christ.
Each Sunday, Stan preaches in blue jeans and cowboy boots. The relaxed, come-as-you-are service features straightforward sermons and western music, instruments like banjos, mandolins, and guitars.
“We’re distinctively country,” said Stan.
New Trail’s outreach centers around ranching: For example, leaders volunteer at area rodeo events, such as barrel racing or roping or youth rodeo.
Finally, the church was birthed in a calving barn.
“We cleaned out the stall, laid down fresh dirt, pulled out fresh bales of hay — and made a church,” quipped Stan.
Outgrowing the barn (and having since rented various buildings for worship), the congregation desired to create a permanent, larger site reflecting their western heritage. The barn-like worship center — which will eventually include an indoor rodeo arena — sits on 20 acres of property, offering ample space for rodeo ministries.
Opening this October, the new facility even includes a stock tank on wheels. As he did a year ago for the bull riders, Stan plans to baptize members in the stock tank.
This time around though, he plans to steer clear of bulls.