With its down-home mix of Christian hymns, testimonials and acoustic guitars, Cowboy Church returns again this year to the Black Hills Stock Show & Rodeo to give the faithful a refuge to worship while away from home.
Each year, its two Sunday services — on Feb. 1 and Feb. 8, both at 10 a.m. at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center — give cowboys, cowgirls and ranchers who may only see each other once per year a chance to come together to worship at a two-hour ceremony.
Susie McEntire Eaton, who headlines the service with her husband, Mark, said their Christian faith helps sustain the "down-to-earth" ranching community through good times and bad, such as after the October 2013 blizzard that killed thousands of cattle in western South Dakota.
"They've seen the good times and the bad times, and they want a message of hope and how God works in their life," she said. "Knowing and having faith that God will see them through when those bad storms hit."
McEntire Eaton, a well-known country gospel singer and the sister of Reba McEntire, has been a fixture at the annual stock show for almost 10 years. She said that experience has led many rodeo cowboys to become like family to her.
The stock show is also like a home away from home for her. Growing up on an Oklahoma ranch, she said she knew what it was like to brand cattle, or to be out on the rodeo circuit.
"I talk the same language as these people that are sitting in our audience," said McEntire Eaton, who will also sing the national anthem at the bull-riding contest on Jan. 31.
The stock show services typically draw between 700 and 800 people, she said. The couple tries to keep the church accessible to worshipers whether they are vendors, rodeo riders or ranchers of any faith.
It's meant to be a "very laid back, conversational-type service," she said. "All denominations are very welcome."