GUTHRIE — When certain members of the congregation shuffled their feet, you could hear the jingle of spurs.
The pews were made of metal, not wood. And the pulpit was not a pulpit, but rather a flatbed trailer against a concrete wall inside the Lazy E Arena.
None of that mattered, because the message Susie McEntire Eaton shared during Cowboy Church before the fifth round of the 2011 Timed Event Championship of the World was on a direct path from her heart to the hearts of those in front of her.
It was a message of wanting more time with Clark McEntire, who is not only a three-time world champion steer roper but more importantly her daddy.
He'd already suffered one stroke, and his prognosis was not all that good.
But she couldn't let him ride out of life's arena — as her close friend, the late Clem McSpadden, often said — without getting some answers.
On March 4, Susie McEntire Eaton, the sister of Reba McEntire, again will conduct “Cowboy Church” services before the final round of the Timed Event Championship.
This year, it will be taped and shown at a later date on RFD-TV.
But the present is a good time to reflect on the past, specifically what she was going through a year ago.
That Sunday morning in Guthrie, her selection of songs included “If Today Was Your Last Day.”
A time to speak
How important was her faith at that point in her life?
“My faith was crucial,” she said. “Daddy wasn't a big churchgoer; we were so busy each day of the week. But I knew he would go now and then, and I knew his ethics of life were good. I saw him treat people fairly, but I wanted to know for sure that he had made peace with God.
“And I wanted more time with him, to tell him stuff. Even though I knew down deep that Daddy loved all of us, we were very hesitant to get close to him. He was busy, intense. He felt like the best thing to do was be busy and stay busy, and if you weren't busy, look busy.”
Susie grew up not talking a lot to her daddy, not sharing her heart, her hurts, her triumphs.
Clark suffered a few strokes in 2011, but he's made significant progress. He's living at home with wife, Jackie, and he's walking a lot without assistance.
“I asked God for more time with him,” Susie said, “and He granted that.
“I do know that he's made it square with God. That's good to know.”
Courage to be honest
Susie is not afraid to share her heart, and hundreds show up to listen. She and her husband, Mark Eaton, have homes in Burlington, Wash., Chockie in southeastern Oklahoma, and the road.
In 2011, Susie and Mark had 67 shows in 17 states. This included 27 cowboy church services.
And 2012 is off to a great start. For example, during the Black Hills Stock Show & Rodeo in Rapid City, S.D., they had to change venues and still the attendance was 840 people. The second Sunday, although the stock show was over, about 700 people attended.
“If you're wondering why my little sister, Susie, connects so well with an audience, you just have to go see it to understand it,” Reba McEntire said. “You'll leave feeling like you're her very best friend. She totally touches you when she sings and talks.
“I'm so happy and proud to be her sister and friend.”
A way of life
There is nothing forced about her connection, especially to those who appreciate Western heritage and that brand of life.
“Isn't it funny how most people are enamored with country?” Susie said. “It sure gets you a long way in life. I don't think it was a coincidence that I'd been raised on the ranch and in the middle of rodeo, with all three siblings competing. Cowboy church was God's perfect fit for me.”
She believes that if a person is a baseball chaplain, he or she needs to know where first base is. Susie's early years prepared her well for what she does. As a child, not only was she around rodeos, she was a good ranch hand.
“We worked cattle in the pens, gathered, fed,” she said. “I drove for Daddy putting out cake when I couldn't touch the brake or the gas pedal. He just pulled the choke and said, ‘Try to avoid the big rocks.' I 'bout knocked him out the back a time or two.
What some may see as a hectic way of life, a life with challenges, Susie describes as a blessing. That allows her to make a heart to heart connection with all those she meets while going up and down the road.
“I enjoy travel and singing,” she said. “I enjoy meeting people with much more peace, hope, and joy than I've had in years.”