Holy Cow: East Texas Church Pays Bills with Herd of Holy Cows
As a small congregation, Kirbyville UMC does not always have the available funding for needed repairs, Pastor Judy Kelfstrom explained. Church members found an unusual solution. They decided to pay the bills with beef from a herd of holy cows.
Pastor Kelfstrom has not traded in her shoes for cowboy boots just yet.
Still, she spends more time thinking about livestock than ever before – now that a herd of cows is part of her flock.
“We like to say that we’re building our herd for Jesus,” she explained. “Anytime we tell someone about it, their eyes light up.”
The creative spark that led the church to use cows as a fundraising tool came from the McGinnis family, Kelfstrom said.
“What a wonderful thing — to have someone in the congregation step up to help,” she said. “You never know what kinds of gifts and talents God has given you. The McGinnises have been a shining star in the ministry of Kirbyville UMC.”
A number of rural churches struggle to find necessary funding, the pastor explained. Congregations age, alongside the buildings where they worship.
“We have to keep our rural churches alive for generations to come,” Kelfstrom said.
Peggy and Jim McGinnis previously hosted a fundraising trail ride for Kirbyville UMC for about 11 years – and all of the profits went to maintenance of the church. The endeavor, however, required a lot of volunteers, and fewer and fewer church members were able to help.
“Church people really couldn’t help any more because of their age,” Jim said.
So, a couple of years ago, Jim came up with an easier option for the church. He joined forces with Bull Muckleroy, who runs the local livestock auction.
Muckleroy remembers when Jim floated the idea by him. They would each give a cow, and the church would match them. Before long, they would build a small herd.
The McGinnis family would keep the cows at their ranch, and feed them with hay they were baling for their own herd already.
“That’s just part of the unconventional way Peggy and I could provide for the church,” Jim said. “You don’t really notice five or 10 more cows.”
Muckleroy was game for the adventure. “I said, ‘You bet, Jim. Just go ahead,’” he recalled. “I’ll buy a cow. You buy a cow.”
When they presented the idea to the former pastor the Rev. Erney Turney, however, they met with more questions.
“Everybody thought it was strange, that it wouldn’t work,” Jim said. “But it didn’t cost the church anything. There was no maintenance. And that’s how we got started.”
The church agreed. The McGinnises and Muckleroy started a two-month fundraiser to buy two more cows.
They asked the church to raise $10 a week for two months. By the end, they had enough to buy two calves at auction.
After a year, there were five cows in the herd. The following year, five calves were taken to auction. Jim said a calf goes for at least $400.
Last year, the church raised $2,300 from auction sales, Kelfstrom said. She became pastor at Kirbyville in 2017, when the herd was already purchased but prior to the first sale.
All of the funding raised from the church’s auction sales is placed into a special repair fund at the church.
This year, the church bought six more cows, bringing the herd up to 11.
Muckleroy plans to auction eight calves this year. “It’s a good deal for the church,” he said. “Not every church can do something like this. Not everyone has the time or the land. But a country church can.”
Kelfstrom agreed that their herd could become a model for a new type of fundraiser – or at least the beginning of a brainstorming session.
“For the rural churches in our conference, this is a great way to get involved and find new and creative funding,” she said. “More churches in our rural areas should think about this. If you want to stay solvent and vibrant, we have to think outside the box. This is one way to do it.”