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Cowboy preacher saddles up to deliver message in stable

WINSBURG TOWNSHIP (MCT) – Evangelist Dave Fedor, wearing a cowboy hat and his shirt unbuttoned a bit to expose the top of his tanned chest, pulled himself atop the horse.

It was sermon time.

He spun around the riding pen inside the elongated barn. Dust flew as hooves pounded the dirt floor.

An eager gathering of about 30 people watched and listened to his message from their makeshift pews – plastic chairs and hay bales covered with saddle pads.

Female horses can be cranky and difficult, Fedor said. They don’t always follow the rider’s lead.

“A lot of times, we’re mares with God,” he said. “If things aren’t going our way, we pin our ears back.”

Welcome to the Cowboy Church, a nondenominational Christian service that mixes the Bible’s message with plain speaking about horse training.

Fashioned after the Cowboys for Christ ministry, the monthly get–together at Blair’s Riding Stable on Stow Road is believed to be the only service of its kind in Summit County, Ohio. The informal gatherings – held at 4 p.m. the last Saturday of the month – began last year.

And Fedor, a Ravenna, Ohio, resident who has no formal training as a minister, celebrated his 20th service in late August.

“It’s hard to believe we’ve done it 20 times,” property manager Terry McGarvey said.

About five years ago, the gray–haired Fedor said, he awoke on New Year’s Day to the voice of God. “God said to me, ‘Cowboy Church,’” he said. “God sometimes says things to us, whispers to us and you wait.”

It was a few years later when the 55–year–old Fedor, a bricklayer by trade and one–time drug user, was approached to be the horse trainer for Blair’s Riding Stable. Family members wanted to rekindle the farm after it sat for years unused, with the ultimate goal of turning it into a nonprofit organization that could offer riding lessons to needy kids.

During that initial meeting, Fedor tossed out his borrowed idea to start a Cowboy Church – a “Sermon on a Mount,” so to speak. Everyone loved it.

“In this area, nobody is doing it,” McGarvey said. “We thought it would be a great idea.” Each month, between 30 and 50 people gather in the barn. (There’s also a Bible study group meeting on Tuesdays.)

The barn is no Crystal Cathedral, the California mega–church founded by Robert H. Schuller. It has no air conditioning or heat. In the summer, it can be sweltering. In the winter, it’s freezing. The parking lot is a field.

Hay bales serve as pews.

Horses whine.

Dogs bark. Flies buzz around.

And then there’s the strong odor of animal sweat and waste.

People dress as they please. It’s hard not to when the preacher wears jeans, cowboy boots and spurs.

“We can come here and be ourselves,” said regular attendee Sharon Heckard, 63, of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. “We aren’t looked down upon. It’s like being with family.”

In August, evangelist Scott Utley of Garfield Heights, Ohio, provided the music ministry – at one point shouting, “This is Cowboy Church. You’re allowed to say, ‘Yee haw!’” He sang and shared stories.

Meanwhile, Fedor urged people to listen to God and offer forgiveness to others.

“There are enough sour–faced Christians on the Earth and I don’t want any part of that Christianity,” he said.

Delivering a sermon from the back of a horse has its challenges. One time, a rake was left in the riding pen. The horse stepped on the rake. The rake hit the horse. And Fedor hit the ground.

“How does God humble you?” Fedor laughed. “Just like that.”