On Sunday morning, after the third round of competition at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (NFR), fans and contestants gathered in the Copperfield Theater at the MGM Grand. There was plenty of magic there, but it didn’t happen on stage, it happened in the hearts and souls of attendees.
Charlie Kingsbury, a long-time tie-down roper in the PRCA had an idea about having a church service at the NFR that would rival the competition in the Thomas and Mack Center. Cowboy church services are part of many rodeos across the country, so why not have one in Las Vegas that is the epitome of all of those other gatherings.
He enlisted Stran and Jennifer Smith and Elevation Sunday was born. It has been a fixture in Las Vegas for thirteen years. While the event has moved around a bit, the objective behind it has remained the same – to energize and inspire contestants and fans. It was founded by contestants and their wives who share a common faith in Jesus Christ and desire to share the gospel.
The event was started by contestants for contestants but has reached attendees far and wide.
“We know how trying and stressful the NFR is,” Jennifer said. “We wanted to have an hour for people to be uplifted and rejuvenated and put all of their worries and obligations to the side.”
This year’s opening prayer was given by 12 time NFR qualifier Cody DeMoss who attended with his wife Margie. The service was performed by Pastor Matthew Hagee from San Antonio, Texas, who also provided music through their band Canton Junction.
As the four-part harmonies of Canton Junction belted through the speakers, there was a lot of toe tapping going on keeping up with the upbeat rhythms of the music. It was a great way to start the process of being uplifted. Then came Cody’s prayer, which again focused on the positive gifts given by God.
When it was time for Pastor Hagee to speak, he joked that he needed a podium for this to be a real service. One was promptly brought in for him to deliver his message “Failure is not an option.”
Pastor Hagee is a self-proclaimed died-in-the-wool rodeo fan. Wearing boots and jeans on stage, he compared preaching to this audience as to a trip to Disney World.
“After most services, people wait to meet the pastor,” he said. “Today, I want to be outside to meet the audience.”
One of those contestants was Tyson Durfey, his wife, Shea, and their three-month-old daughter, Praise Royal. Tyson is a nine-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo who has put Elevation Sunday on his schedule since 2013. Tyson has three solid runs in the Thomas and Mack Center so far and is looking good in the average
“I felt like that sermon was just for me,” he said. “What a reminder that with faith, force and focus, failure is not an option. It was exactly what I needed to hear. I’m ready to go live God’s plan for me.”
The demands on contestants outside of the rodeo arena in Las Vegas are huge. As soon as the service was over, Cody and Margie were headed off to an appearance hoping they could have a little time at the hotel before they make their way to the Thomas and Mack.
Between those appearances, commitments to family and friends, interviews with the media and having a few minutes to themselves, it’s awesome to see those contestants taking time to renew their spirit at Elevation Sunday.