When the Rev. John Bruington accepted the pastorate of a large Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, a local reporter interviewed him for a church page story.
Noting that Bruington was a Westerner and had worked with cattle during a stint as a Wyoming pastor, he asked if he ever learned anything from cattle that he could apply to the church.
It was an odd question, Bruington thought to himself.
But after mulling over the question, he came to the conclusion that cattle had provided many parables that could be instructive and entertaining to people he never saw in church.
He kept the idea in the back of his mind, and years later, when he became pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Havre, he began putting his Western culture to work for God's word.
He started writing a weekly column called "Out Our Way," which was designed to "share the Christian faith through stories and experiences gained while 'under the saddle,' with my big quarter horse, Goliath."
The idea was to share the faith through parables not only to the 30 or so members of his congregation, but to the "unchurched," those who don't regularly attend church services of any faith.
"Most people in Havre are ranchers or are one or two generations away from the ranch," he said.
They may not come to church to hear his homilies while he is dressed in clerical robes on the pulpit, he reasoned, but they can relate to the horse-based theology.
"While it is true that most folks here in Havre don't know me," he said, "quite a few have come to know Goliath."
The stories of Goliath have now been put in a book that Bruington hopes will spread God's word ever further.
Already, he said, Goliath has received fan mail from Canada, Georgia, Texas and California. The book, Bruington hopes, will get more attention from the unchurched.
The drawings that accompany the column are not with each column. Drawings are not popular with private publishing firms, he said. But he convinced them to run some of the cartoons.
Many of the lessons of the West have helped Bruington pastor better, he said.
He told the Indianapolis reporter about the time he learned of human nature and church dynamics by seeing a cattle stampede.
A Wyoming rancher was inpatient that the cattle would not go where directed, so he followed them and honked the horn on his vehicle very loudly.
That resulted in nothing but a stampede. It took the rancher hours to restore order.
"I have seen the same stampede mentality on congregations where a pastor was too impatient to take the time to work with people and tried just to hoorah them into moving forward," he recalled. "Even if it's in the right direction, most folks are going to resist being pushed if you push them too hard and too fast," he said.
Goliath has also taught humility to his owner, Bruington recalls, "by dumping me in the cactus when I got a bit too cocky," and taught forgiveness "by overcoming fear and learning to trust others."
Theological lessons have also been learned from his 50-pound dog Jack, who thinks he is a lap dog.
Jack was saved from life as a stray on Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation, he said, by his wife, Sheri, who is a public health nurse there.
Had it not been for Sheri's concern, he said, Jack might now be dead.
"Sheri couldn't abandon him in his time of need — and it occurred to me that's a pretty good image of grace in action."