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Saddle up for church
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 Driving a pickup truck and wearing a black Stetson hat, cowboy boots and blue jeans adorned with a large belt buckle, Jim Partlow looks the part of modern day cowboy, and he is a modern day cowboy.

So it should come as no surprise that when Partlow decided to spread the word of God, he would start the Trails for Christ Cowboy Church.

Though there are many differences between a cowboy church and a regular, main-stream church, one really stands out in Partlow's mind.

"The main difference is the atmosphere here is more relaxed," Partlow said. "You can come as you are. With some churches you have to wear a suit and tie and all that stuff. A lot of folks don't feel comfortable in the larger churches and the type of atmosphere there. But a lot of folks still love the Lord with all their heart, and they want a place of worship. Some folks have been hurt in those types of churches, and they are looking for a place to come worship and just find a church home, and we just want that to be here at the cowboy church."

The idea of a cowboy church in Newton County first occurred to Partlow after he began to listen to the Nashville Cowboy Church on the radio.

"A friend of mine actually made the comment that what this area needed was a cowboy church and the Lord had already been dealing with me about it," Partlow said. "I just passed it off as maybe just a whim and a fancy, but it just wouldn't leave me alone. Day after day that's all I thought about."

But when he had a chance to visit Dr. Harry Yates, the pastor of the Nashville Cowboy Church, Partlow knew what he had to do.

"When I walked through the door there, it just kind of overwhelmed me and blew me away," he said. "I knew then that that was what I was supposed to be doing."

So for the past four months, Partlow and few faithful followers have been holding services at the Pony Express Horse Auction Barn.

Every Sunday at 3 p.m., a congregation of between 15 and 30 members settle in for an hour of good old-fashioned cowboy worship.

"The general message is that God loves you no matter where you come from and that we all have to be saved," Partlow said. "It's a message of salvation. We just want people to know that God loves them no matter what and that no matter what walk of life they come from. If there is no one else in this world that cares about them, God cares about them."

Partlow hopes the cowboy church can be a place for people who feel left out of society and need a place to show their devotion to God.

"There are a lot of people who have found themselves on the scrapheap of humanity with seemingly no hope and not a friend in the world, but we want people to know there is a God who loves them and they can find him in here," Partlow said. "You don't have to be a cowboy or a cowgirl to come here."

The church is nondenominational, so people from all backgrounds are welcome. Fans of country gospel and old-fashioned gospel hymns should enjoy the band that plays at every service. Although the band has a few regular members, anyone is welcome to join in either as a player or as a singer.

"We have a good time," Partlow said. "We have a hoe down in cowboy talk. We come out here on Saturday night and witness to people when they have a sale out here."

At the next sale night, Partlow and a few other members are going to set up a band and play for the customers before the sale gets started.

Services are held at 3 p.m. so parishioners can still maintain a home church if they so choose. But Partlow hopes the good old fashion country atmosphere of the cowboy church will compare favorably with what he calls doctor's office gossip.

"I know I seem laid back, but when I get to preaching, I'm like an animal," he said. "I'm serious about what I do. I've been in church for 25 years, and God has done so much for me. I lived for the devil until I was 23, and I can't afford to give God any less than what I do."

For most of his young life, Partlow was a trouble maker. He drank, smoked marijuana and raised Cain. But when he was 23-years-old, an unemployed Partlow became very ill. Doctors could not explain his dizzy spells or his inability to eat or sleep. So he turned to his aunt, who Partlow calls his spiritual leader.

"I called her on a Sunday morning and told her I was going to die before this day is over with. And I said you've just got to pray one more time, but she said she had done all she could do for me. I was devastated and I got a little angry so I asked what she expected me to do?"

Her advice was to go to church and let the congregation pray for him.

"I pulled up in the parking lot, and before I ever got out of the truck, I began to just ball like a baby," Partlow said. "And I tried to leave, but I couldn't get the truck started. I finally managed to gain my composure back and went inside the door. So I was fighting back the tears, and they had a prayer line, and I went up there not knowing really what would happen, and the preacher just reached out to touch me and I fell to the floor and began to cry like a baby. I just talked to the Lord and asked God to do whatever he needed to do with my life. I didn't want to be the same anymore."

Partlow meet his future wife that night at church, and few days later he found a job. He was no longer sick, and after leaving the church, he said he ate like a pig and slept like a baby.

"It hasn't been an easy road, but it has been a good road," Partlow said.

That road has led Partlow from his home in Indiana to the pulpit in Newton County - a place where others feel he has a real gift.

"I don't say this boastfully, but instead humbly, I've been told I have a way of relating to people personally when I preach," Partlow said. "I preach on their level. I don't try to preach over their heads. When people come in, they are all at different levels of salvation. You don't really know where they are at, so you just have to bring it around where everybody can get a little something out of it."

Partlow credits the Holy Spirit with much of his success. He might always start his sermon from behind the pulpit, but once the spirit takes over, he feels he needs to walk around and make a real connection with his congregation.

"I like to make eye contact with people so that they don't think I am just preaching at the rafters," Partlow said. "To me it is just more personal. There are times a person might go into church and person might feel like they are not really a part of it, so I like to make contact with people. I just want people to feel welcome."

For his ministry, Partlow just tries to follow one example. Since Jesus preached in parables, Partlow figures using allegories is the best way to get the message across.

"This last Sunday, we were talking about how important the presence of the Lord was and kind of stirring it up and letting people know and letting the devil know about it," Partlow said. "And I likened that to the cowhand who worked all week long and come Saturday was payday and so he headed into town to party. And he comes into town and is making some ruckus and drawing attention and he went in and bellied up to the bar and got a little bit loose in there and went outside and started shooting up and hooting and a hollering. And I likened that to us coming to church and we're kind of tight and tired, but we belly up to the Holy Ghost bar and get a jug of that new wine and get full of the spirit and just start getting a little rowdy."

The Trails for Christ Cowboy Church holds services every Sunday at 3 p.m. and Wednesday night at 7 p.m.