Private donation funds newly-constructed cowboy church arena

Members of the Palo Pinto Cowboy Church pray inside the newly-constructed riding arena, made possible through an anonymous donation of $325,000.

Pastor Roger Keck never thought growth could happen so quickly when he started the Palo Pinto Cowboy Church 13 years ago.

“Thirteen years really isn’t that long of a time, but it’s amazing what God can do,” Keck said. “To see all of this happen in such a short time has been nothing short of amazing.”

Thanks to a private donation of $325,000, the 600-member church has a newly-constructed covered riding arena to host events and welcome the public.

“It was done through a very large donation and the guy has asked me to keep his name under wraps, but it was a donor that made the contribution because he saw a need in the community to have [an arena],” Keck said. “It was awesome and to be honest with you, we’ve been able to do a lot more in Palo Pinto County because of the donations that we’ve had. We’ve had donations to build just about everything we’ve built over here, so it’s a real blessing.”

Santo resident and recent member of the cowboy church Bridget O’Reilley-Matthews attended a dedication ceremony for the new arena on Aug. 16.

“It was uplifting, heartwarming, a pure experience — it’s difficult to verbalize, actually. There was love felt everywhere and as soon as I stepped out of the truck, every person you encountered was just gracious and welcoming,” O’Reilley-Matthews said. “It’s impressive that the members of this community can come together like they have in so many different ways and create something like that. To build something like that is no easy task, it takes the effort of a lot of individuals. It’s a magnificent, beautiful building.”

Construction on the new arena began about six months ago, Keck said.

“We have incredible leadership at the church that has helped make this happen and of course I think the people at this cowboy church, really any cowboy church, but especially Palo Pinto, are probably some of the absolute best people around,” Keck said. “They’ve gotten dirty, got in there and helped us get some of the things done that we had to to get it functioning. We actually did the construction during the coronavirus shut down, which was interesting. We didn’t have church but were putting up this arena. The band and I met on Sundays and we videoed the services.”

Keck said they’re back to in-person service now.

O’Reilley-Matthews said her grandchildren will enjoy the new arena, which is just four miles from her ranch.

“We have horses, I’m a retired horse trainer, and we originally moved to this area about 20 years ago because we were fixing to be grandparents. And now, our grandkids — we have five — are here at the ranch most weekends and it’s just been wonderful. The community is fabulous,” O’Reilley-Matthews said. “I know when I drove by the arena [this week], there were some folks there riding — some girls practicing their barrel racing and some guys working on the arena.”

O’Reilley-Matthews’ grandson, Dillon Matthews, even brought his steer Sam to the dedication ceremony.

Keck said he calls the arena an extension of the church’s ministry.

“So the members will use it like our fellowship hall and we’re going to use it to reach out into the community too — it’s an opportunity to share Jesus with people that might not normally come to church,” Keck said. “It will be activity-based for the people who are in the cowboy church and any event we have will be open to the public, so anybody can come.”

For more information about Palo Pinto Cowboy Church, visit or the church’s Facebook page. 

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