EVANGELISM on horseback is a success story at Grace Bible Church of North Carroll, where at least 3,000 people turned out for the annual Rodeo Round-Up on Sunday afternoon to watch riding and roping and listen to the Christian message.
The sloping church yard, behind the church on Charmil Drive in Manchester, had been transformed into a rodeo amphitheater with a fenced oval ring of dirt and animal pens to release calves, bulls, sheep and goats into the arena.
Horses were everywhere -- hobbled in the shade at the edge of the compound, ridden like lightning around barrels, and responding to cowboy duties in the ring.
Families were sprawled on blankets over the slope or sat on bleachers just feet from the stampeding animals behind the fence. During intermission, kids and parents petted goats, chickens and alpacas, took pony rides, got faces painted, learned to toss a lasso, sat atop Babe the Ox, and downed 2,500 hot dogs. Every aspect of the event was free.
While Yana Ruzhenkov, 2, petted a white rooster, her mother, Luba Ruzhenkov, said she had driven her extended family from Baltimore to the rodeo after reading about it on the Internet.
"We're real surprised to see so many people," she said.
Rodeos to attract people to the church started five years ago, when church members who are on staff at River Valley Ranch suggested they bring Western riding excitement to the community.
River Valley Ranch is a Western-style camp and retreat grounds on Grave Run Road in Millers that offers Saturday rodeos during the summer and various other outdoor activities, imbued with family wholesomeness and Christian values. This rodeo offered religious testimony between events.
"This has been our biggest rodeo," said Randi Shamer, who picks hot dog duty each year because "it's a chance to say 'hi' and welcome people. You got a lot of feedback from people thanking you and telling you how nice it is. It makes you feel good that people benefit."
She doesn't mind working through the Sunday rodeo because the church members have their own rodeo Saturday night.
"That way our church family is not taking up spaces from the visitors, and our kids can participate without taking away from the visitors," Shamer said.
The public was welcome to try their hand at calf roping, steer roping and goat tying, which are based on cowboy skills useful for isolating animals. Mutton busting, bull riding, donkey racing, and chasing a greased pig were offered as entertainment for the youthful and strong of heart.
Calf roping was the game of choice for Kristy Martin, 12, who stood a bit taller than the calves she would try to lasso in the ring. Kristy's parents, Ken and Sharon Martin of Westminster, and grandparents Earl and Betty Martin cheered her on.
"What I thought before I started, was, 'I hope I don't fall,'" Kristy said. When the field of 7- to- 13-year-olds began to chase down the dozen calves in the ring, Kristy said she picked one to catch among the flying ropes and running feet.
"They've all either got ropes on them or someone is after them," she said. She caught one -- which tugged her through the dirt until ranch hands could help out. She didn't fall. She didn't win, either. Brock Gregory roped another calf faster than she did.
Mutton busting, designed for children under age 6, gives the appearance of miniature bronco riding. Ranch staff place the child atop a shaggy, unshorn sheep -- the thick, matted fleece is their only handhold. For the luckiest tykes, bouncing atop the running sheep lasts for about 20 feet before their hands give way. Other children get an immediate dirt bath.
River Valley Ranch can be visited on the Web at www.river valleyranch.com
Church information: 410-374-9306.
Junior high group
Games in the gym begin the fall launch of the Junior High Youth Group to be held this evening from 7 to 8:30 at Grace Bible Church of North Carroll.
The new youth pastor, Greg Breen, will be welcomed as he gives a brief talk to introduce himself. All youth in grades seven and eight are welcome.
Activities each month may include miniature golf, a progressive dinner, go-cart riding and games night, all to promote having fun.
Pat Brodowski's North neighborhood column appears each Wednesday in the Carroll County edition of The Sun.