Ropin’ in souls — the cowboy way
Pastor Pete Pawelek
‘As in the beginning of Cowboy Fellowship, the goal is still to present the Good News of God’s Love and the saving, sacrificial grace of Jesus Christ to “the folks” of South Texas. And as in the beginning there are no expectations, or requirements to be met. ... If you’re here, we’re glad to have you!’
--Excerpt from Cowboy Fellowship history
PLEASANTON -- Cowboys are known to do things “the cowboy way,” including to make do with what they have to survive. The members of the Cowboy Fellowship in Pleasanton have followed this pattern. Not only have they built a church, this weekend they will celebrate the ninth anniversary of Cowboy Fellowship during Heritage Days in a covered facility they just completed. Both of these major projects were built without debt -- within a time frame of nine years -- and the church today is known as one of the fastest-growing in South Texas.
“Cowboy Fellowship of Atascosa County had its humble beginnings when Dan Dumas was asked by Jeff Williams, the pastor of First Baptist Church in Pleasanton, and later Pastor Bill Fowler, to start ‘something for folks’ out at his house,” according to the fellowship history provided by Phyllis Weatherston. “Dan shrugged it off for a year. Then in a conversation with Roy West, Roy mentioned that he had been praying for an opportunity to use his style of country gospel music to minister to cowboys and others who were not in the habit of attending regular church.”
A core group of men who held team ropings twice a month, in the Dumas arena, are credited with the formation of the Cowboy Fellowship. The group included Dan Dumas, Roy West, Roy Hindes III, Mark Weatherston, Toby Hill, David Fey, Chuck Fretwell, Brad Boyd, Kyle Cunningham, J.P. Meuth, Jerrell Hill, David McDaniel, and Silver Carnevale. Doug House soon joined the group, whose team-roping events included good music, a short sermon, fajita tacos, and fellowship.
With attendance of the roping events growing to 100 ropers within a two-year span, the core group had a vision to start a “cowboy church” with Sunday morning services.
The group secured the Atascosa County Show Barn as its place of worship. Atascosa County native Pete Pawelek was hired as pastor, and continues today.
Pawelek grew up on his father’s farm and ranch, learning all the aspects of rural life. After pursuing a degree in ag education from Texas State University, “God changed his plans by calling him into the ministry,” according to the Cowboy Fellowship website.
“The last thing in the world I thought I would ever be was a pastor, and the last place in the world I thought I would ever pastor was in Atascosa County,” Pawelek said. “I suppose if God can use me, he can use anyone!”
Attendance at the first service on May 4, 2003, was 172. By December 2003, attendance was recorded at 486. Weekly attendance now averages 752 people.
The congregation met during the Texas summer heat and the cold winters in the show barn. The extremes had them searching for a permanent home.
According to the fellowship’s history, donations trickled in and the leadership of Cowboy Fellowship “felt God leading them to build only when it could be done free of debt.” Their prayers were answered by an anonymous donor and a gift of land from a member, allowing for their dream to become a reality.
Soon ground was broken for a church at 561 F.M. 3350 in Pleasanton on July 24, 2005, with construction of the present facility. Accompanying the photo of the groundbreaking, Pawelek wrote, “‘Upon This Rock I will Build My Church.’”
On Christmas Day 2006, the members of the Cowboy Fellowship celebrated Christ’s birth in their new church.
This past Easter, more than 1,180 people attended the service.
The congregation also saw a need for a covered facility where ropings, rodeos, and other functions could be held, regardless of the weather. “Again leadership determined that it was God’s will to not foolishly undertake construction until it could be accomplished debt free,” according to the history. “This time there were no individuals making overwhelmingly generous contributions, but sacrificial giving by the membership of Cowboy Fellowship steadily grew to an amount sufficient to complete the first stages of the covered arena/facility.”
On June 19, 2011, several hundred members gathered after the Sunday worship service for another groundbreaking. The estimated cost for the 82,364-square-foot structure was $2.2 million. According to Pat Tackitt-Ray, the congregation raised $1 million in the last four years.
Sunday services are held at 10:45 a.m. with music by the Cowboy Fellowship band, consisting of bluegrass, country, gospel, and old-fashioned hymns. Members come from all walks of life, including cowboys, cowgirls, and horse enthusiasts. Many attendees wear boots and jeans, while some wear dresses and suits.
Pawelek and all the staff and congregation of Cowboy Fellowship invite the community to participate in this weekend’s Western Heritage Days. For a list of activities, see “Heritage Days schedule.”
For more information, call the church office at 830-769-3733 or visit www.cowboyfellowship.org.
HERITAGE DAYS SCHEDULE
The ninth anniversary celebration of Cowboy Fellowship of Atascosa County will provide a fun-filled weekend of free activities Friday and Saturday, May 11-12.
A ranch rodeo at 7 p.m. Friday will begin the festivities. Events include steer-tying, calf branding, rescue races, wild cow milking, steer loading, and the shovel race.
Saturday’s activities include:
•Pie contest at 9 a.m.
•Youth rodeo at 10 a.m.
•Chuck wagons will serve real cow camp food. Plates available at noon for $10/plate.
•Texas Ranger Frontier Battalion encampment and display
•Bexar County Buffalo Soldiers encampment and demonstration.
•Frontier Life exhibit by Gil Hernandez and Charles Lara
•Operation Game Thief Display by Texas Parks and Wildlife
•Music by the “Cowboy Fellowship Band”
•Team roping at 5 p.m.
•Concession stand. No ice chests, coolers, or alcohol are permitted.
See page 1B for more on Heritage Days.
For more information, visit www.cowboyfellowship.org.