PERRYVILLE The first 47 years that Al Wall of Conway was a pastor, he put on a suit and tie every Sunday to preach in a church.
Now, he puts on a cowboy hat, jeans, a western shirt and heads to the Perry County Fairgrounds to give a sermon.
“I’m loving it,” he said.
Wall, 73, is a founding member and pastor of the Perryville Cowboy Church, which had its first service Nov. 4 in the multipurpose building at the fairgrounds.
He said the church is in part sponsored by the Conway Cowboy Church.
Wall was the pastor of Servant’s Chapel General Baptist Church in Conway until 2011.
“I was approached by a friend who has been a friend of mine for 50 years, L.G. Reynolds,” Wall said.
Reynolds, 77, also of Conway, started the Conway Cowboy Church in 2010 and was a deacon at a church Wall previously pastored.
“We were having breakfast one morning a few weeks ago, and he said, ‘This friend of mine and I have talked about a cowboy church in Perryville. What do you feel about it?’ I said, I don’t feel anything; you just mentioned it,’” Wall said.
Wall said he prayed about it and felt called to help.
A native of Conway, Wall said he spent one year at Free Will Baptist Bible College in Nashville, Tenn., and two years taking online Bible courses. He said he has pastored churches throughout Arkansas, including Crossett and the Van Buren area.
He said a different church with pastor Brad Finkbeiner met at the fairgrounds until last month.
Finkbeiner’s congregation bought a vacant church in another community, Wall said.
“He told me that their church did a survey of Perry County, and there was a majority of people who were unchurched,” Wall said. “I’m hoping they come and find us.”
Wall said 14 people were at the first Perryville Cowboy Church service, including his wife, Carolyn, and him, Reynolds and three singers from the Conway Cowboy Church.
“I think it’s going to be great,” Reynolds said. “I think the Lord, he has led us there, and Sunday you could really feel the Holy Spirit, and we just think that’s where he wants a cowboy church. It’s for everyone, but people that don’t go to church anywhere, we want those people to come to the cowboy church.”
Coffee and doughnuts are served at 10:30 a.m., and the service begins at 11.
Wall said part of the appeal of a cowboy church is the comfort factor.
Instead of pews, guests sit in chairs at rectangular tables, he said.
“It’s just a come as you are, everybody is welcome. I grew up on a farm. I’ve been around cattle and horses all my life. I’m a city boy,” he said.
He’s a cowboy at heart, though.
“I have a fuzzy-looking mustache, and I dress in western clothes. I wear jeans and a cowboy hat when I’m preaching,” he said. “It’s just a different type of atmosphere. I’ve been a Baptist preacher all my ministry to this; it’s entirely new, a more relaxed atmosphere. A lot of them drink coffee while I’m preaching. That doesn’t bother me.
“It’s just different than your traditional church. Our mission is to eliminate religious and manmade barriers and just get down to the basics found in God’s word,” Wall said. “Everything we do or don’t do is guided by one simple question: Will doing this make it easier for those not familiar with Jesus Christ to come to church and hear the Gospel?”
He said the 14 people at the first service doesn’t discourage him.
“I’m expecting, before I move on to start another one, we’ll have at least 150 to 200 people,” he said. “We’ll go to some other town and establish another one when this one’s established.”
He said he isn’t rushing things, though.
“I’m willing to stay as long as God will let me; he’s not through with me yet,” Wall said.
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.