In the midst of the Arizona desert stands the old cowboy dusty town of Cedar Creek, which beckoned me to get up early on a Sunday and drive an hour to see if a church in a saloon could really be possible. Why, yes, yes it is!
The fierce blue Arizona sky waits patiently over the dusty saloon as the locals sit amongst the old wooden chairs and tables – some hands busy with a Bible, others with a frosty brew. Ecclesia Church, aka Church at the Chip, gathers inside the Buffalo Chip Saloon at 9 a.m. every Sunday in Cave Creek, Arizona, 32 miles north of Phoenix. On this Sunday, when it is 108 degrees in the shade, and just like every week during the summer, the cozy congregation enjoys summer services inside the cool, darkened saloon. In the winter, with less chance of a mind-melting burn, they meet outside in the wagon pen, ringed with wooden fences and an outdoor bar.
That’s right. The wagon pen. And, what was that? You heard me right. CHURCH IN A SALOON!
“Why do you meet at a saloon?”
We’re only half joking when we say, “Why not have church in a place where people already like to go?” To us, it seems like the kind of thing Jesus would have done. After all, listen to what Jesus said about himself: “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds” (Matthew 11:19).”
I went to The Chip to shoot what I supposed might be a kitschy, tourist heavy, full-of-gimmicky-Southwest-charm church-in-a-saloon Sunday morning, but that’s not what happened. Sure, Pastor Steve Gilbertson sports a handsome cowboy shirt/shoes/hat for his sermon, as does his music partner Kevin, and the two serenade the few dozen parisioners with friendly guitar riffs and a slide show complete with western style super-titles sporting lyrics to morning hymns and the accompanying sermon. But this is a real community, gentle and true, and it gathers without fanfare each week to share love and hope in the dust. Especially charming was the communion service, served in a pretty white cup and plate, broken cracker bites and grape juice sitting in holy reverence upon a saloon table. Juice it may be, but by the way, should you care to have a gin and tonic while you pray, please do step on up to the bar.
Cowboy boots dangle in their dozens from the ceiling; a staring deer head and Coors sign peer down, above the pastor’s head, all so worldly and real, as Pastor Steve leads the room in very gentle and enthusiastic prayer. The Church at the Chip is a wonderful and authentic taste of the American southwest and though it may not be on the front page of every guide to Arizona, it’s a beautiful taste of real life in the tawny heat of Phoenix.
This kind and gentle morning service is so worth waking up early on a Sunday, regardless of your affiliation. I give it two gins up.
Click Here to Visit: Ecclesia Cave Creek website