Fred Ellis stood Sunday morning before a small crowd at the Moffat County Fairgrounds and preached what he believes to be the Word of God.
During an hour-long ceremony, Ellis touched on subjects ranging from Genesis, Revelations and horses.
The last topic is understandable. Ellis is, after all, a cowboy.
Ellis, a Meeker resident, owns and operates an outfitting business called Rawhide Adventures, he is a cowboy poet, an entertainer and a minister to prison inmates.
And, for the past four years, Ellis has hosted Cowboy Church, a non-denominational service that takes place during the annual Moffat County Fair.
“A lot of the people who come to the fair don’t go to church,” Ellis said after the service. “A lot of people don’t like a regular type of a church.
“And, Cowboy Church is different in that there are no rituals. It’s not fancy. It’s just very down to earth.
“It’s straight out of the Bible. There isn’t a whole lot of theology that we really need to have deep thoughts about. It’s just plain and simple.”
Ellis, 67, wasn’t always a cowboy.
He grew up in Denver, where he worked in sales and marketing.
At 46, however, Ellis decided to leave the world he knew up until then behind.
“I had a very, very lucrative job,” he said. “And, I gave it up. I gave all my suits away and said, ‘I’m never going to wear a suit again.’ And, I stepped out to be a cowboy.”
Ellis and his wife first moved to the South Park region of Colorado, and he got a job as a ranch hand. Then, in the mid-1980s, they moved to Meeker.
Soon afterward, Ellis rekindled a long-dormant passion for poetry.
“I’d always liked writing poetry,” he said. “However, in school I’d always hear, ‘No, the rhyme isn’t right. The grammar isn’t right. The punctuation isn’t right.’ So, I wrote poems, but they were for myself.”
At an event in 1988, however, Ellis stumbled on some kindred spirits during a cowboy poetry recital at Silt HeyDay. Those poems were in his wheelhouse.
“I looked at my wife and said, ‘I can write that,’” Ellis recalled.
Within weeks, he began performing his own poetry at open-mic events. Soon, he was invited to join other poets at larger gatherings.
From there, Ellis put together a one-man act called Cowboy Up and toured the country with it. Ellis journeyed from coast to coast and performed in more than 20 states, he said.
He also sold books, cassettes and CDs of his poetry.
But, after 10 years Ellis grew weary of the shows.
“All of a sudden, it became work,” he said. “And, it wasn’t work that I wanted to do.”
One day in 1998 Ellis was sitting in a parked car in Leadville waiting his turn to go onstage and perform poetry when he heard a voice, he said.
“The Lord just spoke to me and said, ‘Take your show into the prisons and give (prisoners) a gospel message,” Ellis recalled. “Of course, I immediately turned around to look in the backseat and see who was there.
“The only one there was my dog, and he didn’t know how to talk like God.”
Within a few months, Ellis formed Christian Cowboy Ministries. Ellis visits 18 prisons every year throughout Colorado to share stories, poems and the gospel with inmates, he said.
Four years ago, Ellis began hosting Cowboy Church at the fairgrounds.
Ellis said he takes a laidback approach to preaching.
“It’s not about beating people over the head to have them believe the way we believe,” he said. “In my mind, that’s the problem with a lot of big churches today, and a lot of denominations.
“They come out and talk about how wrong this is, how wrong that is. And, I’m the one saying, ‘No, there’s a lot of right. It’s not all wrong.’”
When Cowboy Church first started, attendance was light, Ellis said.
“I think we had six people at our first one,” he said. “Today, I think we had over 30.”
Craig resident Jackie Malley attended her first Cowboy Church on Sunday. She said the experience was worthwhile.
“I thought it was wonderful,” she said. “It’s a message that more people needed to hear.
“I think if we could get them out here just one time, they would come back again and again.”
Craig singer Loretta Earle attended her fourth event Sunday. She sang four country gospel tunes during the service.
Earle said Ellis is unique.
“People need to come out and hear him because he’s just plain country,” she said. “He’s very down to earth and very enjoyable. He preaches the Word.”
Ellis said he plans to host Cowboy Church at future fairs in Moffat County.
“As long as I’m drawing breath, I’ll keep doing this,” he said.
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