Have Bible — will travel
Reverend Chuck Cushman and Susan Cushman stand by Roanie the horse outside the Prayer Station in Wallace. Chuck had ridden into Wallace on horseback while his wife, Susan, had made the journey from Swan Lake, Mont., by car.
Amy and Patrick Soares de Rocha lead hymns during the old time religion service as Chuck Cushman and Brian Anderson sing along at the Prayer Station in Wallace.
Brian Anderson smiles as he brings Jane Lee and Roanie the horse in a loop outside the Prayer Station. Children attending the Fall for History church service were allowed to take a ride on Roanie or the Blue Man.
Some members of the church assembly dressed in turn of the century costumes during the service at the Prayer Station.
The Blue Man and Roanie wait patiently for their riders and the church assembly to greet them outside the Prayer Station.
Staff Writer | October 3, 2023 1:00 AM
WALLACE — Churchgoers at the Fall for History religious service took a trip back in time to 120 years ago.
“It is, of course, Oct. 1, 1903. Did you ever think the century was going to change and we’ll be in 1903?” Reverend Chuck Cushman asked the assembly at the Prayer Station on Sunday morning.
Multiculturalism was this year's historic theme and inspired the traveling preacher from Montana to link scripture in the Bible to the celebration of different cultures. The “Give Me That Old Time Religion” church service was the final stop on the preaching circuit for Cushman and Brian Anderson, his assistant pastor.
The two rode on horseback for five days over four passes to reach Wallace for the Fall for History event. When introducing Cushman and Anderson to those gathered in the church, Art Flaming noted that Cushman was a bit of a “retired cowboy.” The trip was about 60 miles long and harkened back to the old circuit riders.
“Three years ago, for Fall for History, they had the idea of having a circuit rider come in and deliver a sermon. It very much became a part of my heart to do the whole circuit,” Cushman said.
Spreading the word of God on horseback used to be the only way to deliver religious teaching to rural communities. Circuit riders in the U.S. could cover over a thousand miles in a year on horseback in the 19th century, putting a great deal of stress on their horses and their own bodies as they rode out to their parishioners.
Before the invention and popularity of cars, preachers in rural communities would ride assigned routes — with Bibles in their saddlebags — to deliver sermons wherever participating members of their faith lived. The routes could be both long and lonely, but on their trip, Cushman took solace in the fact that he and Anderson traveled together across the shortened route, especially when they encountered a soaking rainstorm Saturday.
Anderson’s horses, the Blue Man and Roanie, became part of the ministry and enjoyed the attention as they gave rides to kids and some adults after the service had concluded.
During the rest of the year, Cushman often makes the journey by car from his congregation in Swan Lake, Mont., to the rural communities in the Silver Valley, so he is familiar with the communities he is visiting. He said there was magic to the idea when Fall for History organizers suggested he deliver a sermon in Wallace after riding in on horseback like the saddlebag preachers of old.
“Faithful leaders made their way through these hills and canyons,” he said. “For the circuit riders going through the mountains, it wasn’t about how many would be served, it was for the one.”
Cushman is always searching for more books on the topic of circuit preachers, so he jumped at the chance to follow their path.
“To me, we could be doing this in a way that’s more convenient, but there’s something in doing this that reflects God’s heart in doing this to be there for the people,” Cushman said.
Cushman’s love for preaching in small towns and rural communities paired with the opportunity to see the world from the back of a horse has drawn him to repeat the circuit annually for the last few years.
“I’m a rural pastor and I’ve been pastoring for 38 years. Driving through, you miss out on many levels of things than when you’re riding on horseback,” Cushman said.
This year’s journey led him to six different communities, including Murray and Eagle City. In each place, he wrote different sermons that pulled in historic context for the area.
“Bringing in a place’s own history is a way of bridging the gap,” Cushman said.
His talk in Wallace brought the city’s history into context during the year that Idaho was first made a state in 1890. Using a preacher’s notes from the time period, Cushman shared that nearly everyone listed in the registry at that time was from somewhere else and had come together to form this new community.
Not long after the state was officially welcomed July 3, there was a brutal fire that burned down much of Wallace, but in spite of losing most of the infrastructure, the residents rallied to hold their first vote a few short weeks later. Cushman marveled at the perseverance of the community to continue on and rebuild in spite of the circumstances.