Rebecca Hamption, left with Rabbi Gary Maxted and his wife Cheryl and some of the
15 horses of Cowboy Church on Henderson Mountain Road.
A cowgirl, a rabbi, and a congressman walk into a barn . . .
Not the start of a joke, the above serves as a partial program for the Ole Time Camp Meeting now underway Cowboy Church on Henderson Mountain Road.
Having started Saturday, the local church, which really is in a barn and with 15 horses, will boast the most diversified group of Christian speakers likely to ever grace the same pulpit in North Georgia throughout the rest of this week. (See schedule in this week's print edition.)
Among the speakers for the daily services are Pickens Sheriff Donnie Craig, U.S. Congressman Tom Graves and many pastors from churches and organizations in Pickens County.
Among the eclectic speakers, you will find the unlikely combo of Cowboy Preacher Joe Ed Smith on Saturday followed by Rabbi Gary Maxted of the Tikvah L’Chaim (Hope for Life), a congregation in Cherokee County, on Sunday.
Last week, Cowboy Church leader Rebecca Hampton sat down with Rabbi Maxted and his wife, Cheryl, to discuss the unlikely relationship between a group that uses the motto, “Ropin’, Ridin’, Eatin’, Singin’, & Preachin’ Christ” and a Messianic Jewish Congregation with a name, Tikvah l’Chaim, few people in these parts can pronounce.
Ms. Maxted said, once they were introduced, they found a lot of similarities between their congregation and Hampton’s church. “In its purest form, the Old Testament teaches you to do what is right. Rebecca teaches the cowboy way, ‘you do what is right.’”
Rabbi Maxted, an outspoken convert to Messianic Jewish belief, said Messianic Jews, as opposed to Orthodox Jews, believe Jesus is the Messiah, but that Jesus, the King of the Jews, needs to be recognized as Jewish. Messianic Jews believe Jesus is the Son of God, but that rituals and customs in the Old Testament should still be followed. He said ignoring the Old Testament is only getting half the story.
Rabbi Maxted conducted a Passover Seder at Hampton’s Cowboy Church for more than 200, including his congregation based in Woodstock and members of the Cowboy Church. In an example of the tight relationship between the two groups, the Seder service mixed traditional Jewish elements and displays of horsemanship.
Rabbi Maxted said his congregation was drawn to Cowboy Church by the action they see in Rebecca and her work with struggling kids. “In any church, you give money, and you are not sure where it’s going, just like with Red Cross and United Way. With Rebecca being in charge and working with the kids, you give to her ministry, and we can see her changing peoples’ lives.”
Hampton currently works with about 30 kids in her cowboy-based program, which provides everything from religious lessons to horsemanship, to school mentoring to occasionally taking kids into her Henderson Mountain Road home to live. She describes Cowboy Church as “30 kids and 15 horses.”
“She [Hampton] ministers to kids and adults and the extended families of the kids,” Maxted said. “She has the objective to put lives back together. When you see that happening right in front of you, how can you turn your back?”
For Hampton, she says the appeal of taking her kids to visit the Jewish congregation was initially educational.
“I want the kids to experience all kinds of stuff,” she said. “I want them to know that there is a world outside of Jerusalem,” Hampton says, making a pun on her church being in the Jerusalem area of Pickens County.
And once the Cowboy Church and Tikvah l’Chaim got together, “everyone fell in love with each other,” Hampton said. She said her youth group added some excitement to the Woodstock congregation, while they got some financial support and the opportunity to be around good adult role models in exchange.
Hampton said she doesn’t believe it was a coincidence that she met the Maxteds or that both their groups meet for weekly services on Saturday, making it very convenient to hold joint programs.
For the week-long Camp Meeting, Hampton is excited to have speakers like Congressman Graves, who occasionally brings his wife and kids to Cowboy Church events, Sheriff Craig and other men of God. “I am excited to have these awesome men of God coming in here,” she said. “The kids need good male role models. All they have is one big-mouthed woman they have to listen to.”
Besides the regular religious instruction, Cowboy Church under Hampton boasts a large song and dance praise team. She also (mostly by herself) teaches horsemanship that is incorporated into performances at church services.
“Revelations says that Jesus is coming back on a white stallion, and we’re going to be on horseback, you’d better get your riding lessons in,” Hampton said she tells people when they ask about the idea of a Cowboy Church.
For the schedule and more information on the Old Time Camp Meeting, see the advertisement on this page.