“Get along little doggie” isn’t something you hear very often in church. But when the Daggett Moravian Congregation gathered on September 8 for their third annual “Cowboy Church” observance, it’s certain that visions of the Way Out West were on member’s minds.
With attendance three times the normal, folks gathered in their western attire for a western lifestyle worship experience. The community was invited to join with members in a relaxed atmosphere.
As worshipers arrived, they were greeted by the area’s Round Up Rodeo Queen, Brianna Hess, on horseback. The day began with a complimentary chuckwagon breakfast of eggs, biscuits and gravy, bacon, beans, coffee and juice, prepared outdoors over open flames behind his authentic chuckwagon by area farmer, John Boyd. John is a small area farmer who still uses a team of horses in his work. He recently began a new business known as “Cowboy U.P. Chuckwagon Catering Company,” described as the “best home scratch cooking anywhere.”
Worship, as it has been each year for this special occasion, was prepared and led by dedicated lay member and often-time lay preacher, Roy Berto. The Country Classics (Larry and Cheryl Pepin), a western entertainment couple known throughout the
Upper Peninsula, presented special music and led the congregation in singing some country favorites.
Using the lectionary scriptures of the day, Pastor Gary Straughan reminded worshipers that whether one is a cowboy or a corporate executive and whether transported by horseback or BMW, the call from God to today’s followers of Christ is the same as given to Moses and his people and the same as that given by Jesus himself—namely, that the world would be able to see Jesus in all that we are and say and do. In presenting the message, Roy Berto made the case that, following the six days of creation and the seventh day of rest, the “rest of the story” was that, on the eighth day, God created the farmer and the cowboy, both of whom provide the “stuff of life.”
The community of Daggett is located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, approximately 90 miles north of Green Bay, Wis., and was once a thriving town with stores, banks, churches, and schools but today is only a small spot on the highway map between Menominee and Escanaba, Mich., with the Moravian Church at its core. The Moravian congregation in Daggett was established by Moravians from across the bay in Door County, Wis., who had been advised of the availability of land at “bargain basement” prices in the untamed areas of the Upper Peninsula. Although the lumber industry was attractive to many others who settled in the area, it appears that the former Moravians from Sturgeon Bay were attracted to the possibility of land development and farming. The congregation was established on September 10, 1911, and observed its 102nd anniversary this year.
Daggett is in the middle of what is known as the “mid-county” of Menominee and the area has seen corporate farming replace the many family farms that once dotted the landscape. The lumber industry is no longer seeing the vibrancy it once enjoyed. Many residents commute to work places in Menominee or Escanaba.
The Moravian church has certainly been influenced by the area’s history. At one time there were three or more handbell choirs, a Sunday morning attendance that often hit three figures, and full time pastoral leadership. In spite of this decline, the congregation still has an impact on the community and, together with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in nearby Stephenson, provides the only inclusive and mainline Protestant witness in the area, a witness that is needed to provide an alternative to the many independent congregations in the area that preach an exclusionary and separatist Christianity. The one remaining handbell choir is still legendary throughout the county. Dedicated to their church, the average 30 individuals in worship on a Sunday morning represent almost 75 percent of the total membership.
The Rev. Gary Straughn serves as pastor for the Daggett Moravian congregation.