Posted: Thursday, January 06, 2011 1:00 PM
Geoff Parks/For the Capital Press
Larry Cutler, cowboy preacher, with his pickup truck on a downtown Salem street. Note his sweatshirt, which says, ÒNortheast Oregon Christian Cowboys 2010 Bible Camp.Ó
Cowboy preacher travels NW holding services at rodeos
By GEOFF PARKS
For the Capital Press
Larry Cutler's a cowboy, and he's got the look of the rodeo bull rider he was for nearly 20 years: Handlebar mustache, Stetson-style hat, well-used boots, leather belt with dinner-plate belt buckle and weathered blue jeans.
But when his clear blue eyes catch your gaze and his soothing baritone warmly greets your ears, it's easy to see the road he has taken from that rough life to the one he has since adopted: That of a Christian devoted to helping rodeo youth find a direction in their lives.
Cutler, 69, is a "cowboy preacher" who travels around the Northwest holding church services and ministering to those young men who spend their weekends amid the dust and excitement of rodeos and roundups and who therefore can't attend traditional Sunday church services.
And who, in many cases, cannot even belong to any community church at all, given the travel schedule and weekend rodeo events they count on for their livelihoods.
Cutler said he spent his youth on his grandfather's ranch in Montana and took to the cowboy lifestyle immediately, attending junior rodeos beginning at the age of 10.
Eschewing more technical events such as calf-roping, he started riding bulls because, he said, "it was the only rodeo event where I didn't have to learn anything."
He also resisted learning some valuable life lessons while he was growing up.
"I was so into being around the 'other' kind of people, a rough bunch," he said, "and I saw whatever it was I thought they had and told myself, 'I want that.'"
Then his focus turned.
In 2001, he hooked up with Joe Thompson of Vancouver, Wash., who was starting what he called a "cowboy church" in that city, prompting Cutler to move there to help teach those often-directionless kids "to not do what I had done."
Cutler said he saw how his former lifestyle had hampered his most cherished goals, the most personal of which was to "reach the national finals of the bull riding event in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association," he said.
"But I was always detouring myself, beating myself up and living without a compass."
"Larry's kind of gotten a second chance in life," Thompson said, "so God is leading him. He's kind of an inspiration to all cowboys in that he has a soft heart to help these young riders."
At the Bible camps he was becoming a part of, Cutler taught kids how to ride horses and bulls, which would have cost kids about $100 at a regular riding clinic -- "way out of their price range," he said.
"It was actually just a draw to get kids there (to the Bible camp) and meet the Lord," he said. "The biggest goal is to let them know they are worth something, show them a better way and give them some direction."
He inspired me to get those rodeo Bible camps going, but I'm just his helper now," said Thompson, 46, of his longtime friend. "He's like the old guy with all the wisdom."
Since 2000, Cutler has been involved in four main Bible camps around the Northwest. He became an ordained minister through the United Christian Fellowship.
Today, he travels two to three times each month -- quite a lot of it on weekends -- but said, "It's a blessing to be able to do what I do, because what I'm doing is having fun. There is nothing more rewarding that seeing young people turn to God, and it's my biggest reason for being part of the rodeo ministry.
"I intend to spend the rest of my life trying to help kids. They come to the Lord under grace, die with grace and grace never leaves them."