Heaven Bound Cowboy Church | Ocklawaha, FL

Moss Bluff is a tiny community found on the very rural edge of the Ocala National Forest. When driving through this area, one is reminded there are still areas of central Florida that aren’t blanketed in cookie-cutter homes, concrete and endless lanes of bumper to bumper traffic. This is the type of landscape that people gravitate to when they are looking for an escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, whether they are riding their iron horses, camping or riding horseback on trails that meander through scrub oaks and pines.

It is also where you will find Heaven Bound Cowboy Church and Pastor Bud Jenkins. Bud, who retired from Eastern Airlines in 1987, is the real deal and has rodeoed most of his life. Whether bull riding or roping, as a member of the PRCA he has won numerous championships along the way. Also as a former mayor of Davie, FL, he is also known for leading the way to save Davie Arena from being demolished by developers. Davie is well known on the rodeo circuit and remains so to this day thanks in part to Bud Jenkins. He received a plaque in gratitude from the locals who frequented the events at this arena.

However, while Mr. Jenkins’s accomplishments are many, his true legacy is the Cowboy Church. Known as Pastor or Reverend Jenkins to many, most just call him Bud. Bud’s first church was established in Davie, and he has worked diligently to establish many others along the way.  Moss Bluff welcomed him to their area where he worked for Waste Management, retiring from that firm in 1992. Since that time he has worked for the Young Life Southwind Ranch also located in Moss Bluff.

Heaven Bound Cowboy Church is held in a converted barn, with donated pews filling the spaces where stalled horses once resided. The floor is a combination of dirt and mulch, and a stage has been erected for those who lead the congregation in prayer, song or sermon.  Tables are set up in the back with coffee and donuts with a few cookies thrown in. The Sunday I attended, the table was dressed festively for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.

It is noted this congregation does not “pass the plate”, rather, they have a box located at the front for anonymous donations. Also noted is the friendly atmosphere with neighbors greeting neighbors, exchanging handshakes and hugs; mingling until time for service, overheard snatches of conversation include a recipe for squash casserole.

The service begins with an opening prayer, then the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by the congregation singing God Bless America. Veterans are many in number here; observing their caps, most branches of the military are represented.

Songs are sung, led by Jack Barrett. When not attending Cowboy Church, Jack is a working D.J. and spins music for parties and events. (Although probably no vinyl present – just a computer-generated playlist. Times have changed!)

A harmonica solo is performed by “Ralph” and a well-deserved round of applause follows. Ralph is an Air Force veteran and it is evident that he feels welcome and at home here. 

Prayer requests are made and news of a fire destroying the home of a local resident is delivered along with the sad news that both occupants are currently hospitalized at Shands Hospital in Gainesville. It is stated that more information will be obtained so they can decide how to help these people who are surely in need at this time. 

This particular Sunday the sermon is being delivered by Ernie Barry, who is the assistant pastor at this Cowboy Church. Ernie is the reason I chose to visit this church; I met him while purchasing hay from a local farm. He delivers a soft-spoken, thoughtful message.

Ernie begins with the song “This Is The Day The Lord Has Made” and it is sung acapella along with the congregation. His message begins with the need for unity and he expresses to heed the word of Jesus and not man.

The motto of this church is “come as you are”, and that is also followed with the gospel hymn sung in Christian churches across the ages, “Just As I Am”. 

At the end of the service, Bud Jenkins takes the pulpit and announces that a young woman in the audience will be baptized following the final prayer. He points to the small wooden crosses numbering well over a hundred hanging on the wall behind the pulpit. Each cross has a name on it and represents a baptism that has been performed at this church. The young woman’s name will be added to the display on another individual cross.

From the number of crosses representing baptisms displayed on this barn wall, it looks like Pastor Bud Jenkins, along with Ernie Barry, is achieving his legacy.

As the congregation makes its way to a horse trough that is designated for baptisms (on this cold Sunday morning, the water has been heated), Pastor Jenkins asks that all join hands in a circle and a prayer is offered. The young woman then is baptized; a bath towel held to wrap her in when she emerges from the galvanized metal tub. She is congratulated by fellow members and the crowd disperses.

Cowboy churches are gaining in popularity and one of the reasons is the non-denominational status they hold. It was stressed to me that the whole idea of establishing this church was to present the word of God and Jesus Christ and nothing else. From the number of crosses representing baptisms displayed on this barn wall, it looks like Pastor Bud Jenkins, along with Ernie Barry, is achieving his legacy.

Heaven Bound Church holds services at 10 A.M. every Sunday and also have “dinner on the ground” the second Sunday of each month. They welcome anyone who wishes to attend a Cowboy Church.

(18115 SE 95th Street Rd / Ocklawaha, FL 32179)

Cristina has been in graphic design and marketing since 2006, and was blessed with the opportunity to work with Barb to bring her dream of HRL to life! She lives in Central Florida with her cat and loves music, movies, and travel. cristina@nine31.com

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