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Let Us Neigh

updated 08/07/2006 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/07/2006 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Every so often Pastor Royce Gregory's sermons get interrupted by a whinnying quarter horse or impatient Thoroughbred. But none of the 75 or so worshippers who regularly come to his Life Brand Cowboy Church in Newbury, Ohio, seem to mind: After all, when the congregants look like extras from High Noon--and the service is held in a stable that smells like, uh, horses--there's no room for sniffy pretensions. "Who cares if you have paint on your pants or holes in your jeans," says Terri White, 43, a worshipper who boards her horse at the stable. "As long as it is a Bible-believing church, I am good with it."

Part of the fast-growing Cowboy Church Network of North America (with 26 congregations to date, mostly in the South), Pastor Gregory brings a weeknight service to country folk, farmworkers and others whose Sundays are filled with rodeos and horse shows. The faithful are welcome in chaps and cowboy hats, even on horseback (though most sit in bleachers), to partake of cowboy poetry, heartfelt confessionals and old-fashioned preaching. Says music director Dave O'Toole, 47: "Once the worship starts, you forget you're in a stable and know you're in a church."

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