By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
PINEVILLE – Alyssa Rayette Altenberger struggled with emotional setbacks for several years until, in 2014, she encountered a horse named Tony who served as a means for the youngster to develop a relationship with Christ.
Since meeting Tony at the Cross Branded Cowboy Church, Pineville, he has been present for a number of special moments for Alrenberger that took place inside the church’s arena — including her baptism in a galvanized horse trough during a November 2017 worship service.
Altenberger is one of five new believers at the Cross Branded Cowboy Church baptized in 2017.
Another four are awaiting baptism.
“Some people might ask, ‘How do you ask Jesus to be your Savior?’” Altenberger told the Baptist Message. “Well you just have to ask him. You have to love Him enough to go to Heaven with gold streets, and you will never cry, go thirsty or hungry in Heaven.
“If you want to be forgiven, you have to ask Christ to forgive you of your sins,” she added with conviction.
While Cross Branded opens its services to anyone, it especially appeals to those who are part of the cowboy culture.
An amateur horse trainer, Pastor Herb Dickerson said many times he will use stories about the relationship he has with his horse to share details about how to have a relationship with Christ.
“Before you train a horse, you have to get his attention on you,” Dickerson said. “Before God can deal with you, He has to get your attention. It’s then that He speaks to us.”
Started in 2008 as a mission of Pine Grove Baptist Church in Ruby, this cowboy-style congregation began with 20 people.
After Dickerson became pastor a year later, the church grew to 30 faithful attenders for Monday worship services.
The church added an arena in 2012 and soon after attendance began to increase not only for Monday nights but also for “Prayer and Practice” Thursdays, when horse enthusiasts pray together and then practice various horse riding skills.
The church also added a monthly rodeo in 2012, which takes place the third Friday of every month from March through October.
On Mondays, the church now averages 80 people, the maximum amount its worship center can hold. But anticipating more growth, the church will begin construction in the spring on a new 280-seat facility on its property.
Typically, its highest attended gathering in any year is its rodeo.
Between 150 and 200 people attend the festivities that include rodeo events, a message delivered on horseback and sometimes a baptism.
Beyond the arena and church building, the congregation has an on-mission attitude to reach its community and world with the love of Christ.
Through its coupon ministry, items are purchased at area stores for delivery to needy individuals.
Other outreach efforts include holding benefit rodeos to raise money for individuals in need and packing Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes.
“We want to be Christ-like,” Dickerson said. “This is a church. It’s not just horse games but coming together to make an impact to the kingdom.”