SIKESTON - If you like to kick up your heels and praise the Lord, the Bootheel Cowboy Church may be just the place for you.
With hundreds of cowboy and western-themed churches springing up around the nation and the world, the establishment of one here should come as no surprise.
"When you think of the Sikeston area, you think of the Sikeston Jaycee Bootheel Rodeo so there's a natural name recognition there," said Donny Ford, pastor of the Bootheel Cowboy Church.
An outdoor kickoff celebration service is scheduled for 6 p.m. Saturday at Blodgett on County Road 518. "The road you turn on is right beside the post office," Ford said, "just across from the Blodgett Cemetery." A worship service will follow at 7 p.m.
"It will be a come-as-you-are casual atmosphere," he said. "We're having free hamburgers and hotdogs for everyone to eat and help us celebrate the kickoff of this new church."
Music will be by the Bootheel Cowboy Church Band, which Ford described as "a top-notch country-gospel band" playing "mostly the country music sound - even the hymns will have the country music sound."
Following the kickoff event, regular services will be held Thursday nights with the first Thursday service to be held at the kickoff's location.
"There's a four-acre lot there," Ford said. "We're going to set up a platform it's really going to have a rustic look."
There will be some seating available, "but most people would just as soon bring their own lawnchair," he said.
Known as "Brother Donny" or "Pastor Ford" depending on who you ask, Ford is an ordained Southern Baptist minister.
"I also pastor the First Baptist Church of Blodgett," he said. Ford will continue to serve as the First Baptist Church's pastor but believes the cowboy church will reach "people who don't feel comfortable in one of our traditional churches."
While Ford is talking with the Missouri Baptist Convention, presently the church is being established as a non-denominational place of worship.
"Right now we are just coming together," he said. "Regardless of your denomination or affiliation, you're going to feel comfortable."
As can be expected from a Baptist minister, the church is protestant Christian.
"We believe in salvation by grace and by faith through Jesus," Ford said, "that the Bible is the inspired infallible word of God and that Jesus is coming back soon."
While the church is sure to appeal to cowboy culture, "it's for more than just the horse people," Ford said. "In fact, a lot of our people are not cowboys but they just like this style of worship. A lot of people don't go to church for different reasons - a lot of time it's because they just don't like the dress-up style."
At the Bootheel Cowboy Church, people are invited to "come in their overalls or bluejeans or whatever - come from the feed lot and come right over," Ford said. "We want to make it lively and an atmosphere people feel comfortable in and want to be a part of."
"I just think its a great thing, reaching out to people who aren't comfortable in a regular church," said Kim McClard of rural Sikeston. "I've gone to a couple of meetings and it's really a relaxed atmosphere, the way church used to be. It's not going to be formal - you just come as you are."
McClard said she doesn't ride horses and doesn't consider herself a cowgirl. "I really don't even listen to country music - I listen to gospel," she said.
On the other hand, "I'm sure not a city girl," McClard laughed, and the relaxed atmosphere appeals to her.
"You don't have to dress up - you can come straight from work," she said. "You just be you."
McClard said she will continue to attend her regular church but is looking forward to having an extra service to attend during the week.
"We're just excited about what we feel is going to happen and thankful that the Lord is working this way," Ford said.