Chehalis Couple Bringing Services Back to Historic Claquato Church


Von and Willow Martin’s Chehalis home is the epitome of country charm.

Their house is flanked by a studio log cabin they use as a guest cottage and a tiny shed that looks straight out of Tombstone that Willow uses as her office. You’ll be greeted by dogs, chickens (including a rooster who seems to think he’s part dog named Crow) and horses. And you’ll probably be bid farewell with a dozen eggs or a giant zucchini to take home.

“We really love our country life,” Von Martin said.

It is this country life that the Martins love so much they’re hoping to share with more at the Claquato Cowboy Church. The couple plans to hold the first church services for this new congregation Oct. 15 at the Historic Claquato Church in Chehalis. For the Martins, starting their own church is a dream come true. For the community, the Martins hope it will be a new church experience that will bring people of all backgrounds together.

“We’ve been talking it up when we go up to the feed store and other places and we talk to people and they say ‘a cowboy church? Here? Yeah!’” Von Martin said. “Everybody just thought it was a great idea.”

Von Martin has a background in professional country music and also husky sled teams in the wintertime. He currently has eight dogs in training. He is a proud fifth-generation Washingtonian from a family of horse ranchers, and his grandfather was a pastor.

“The country heritage is in our veins,” Von Martin said.

Willow was raised in Salem, Oregon, and grew up in a Foursquare Church. She worked as a tattoo artist until 2012 when she was diagnosed with stage three and one-half rectal cancer. It was during the trial of her illness and treatment that Willow said she began to really research spirituality and tap into her Messianic Christian roots. She attended pastoral school in Klamath Falls, Oregon, but said it was really several deeply personal and symbolic spiritual experiences that led her to feel anointed by God to work as a pastor.

“I just gave myself to Him and it was good because I had no man to trust, but God raised me up to be a strong woman and say, ‘I love you and I trust you,’” Willow Martin said.

{{tncms-inline content="<p class="p1"><span class="s1"><strong>Claquato Cowboy Church<span class="Apple-converted-space"> </span></strong></span></p> <p class="p2"><span class="s1">Services will be held at 10:30 a.m. Sundays starting Oct. 15 at the Historic Claquato Church, 125 Water St., Chehalis.</span></p> <p class="p2"><span class="s1">More Information: Visit or call Willow Martin at 360-589-7892</span></p> <p class="p3"><span class="s1"> </span></p> <p class="p1"><span class="s1"><strong> </strong></span></p>" id="0aba5d92-c1c2-42e8-9078-48d5ecb72686" style-type="info" title="Claquato Cowboy Church " type="relcontent"}}

“When you survive something like that it’s so life affirming and deep it really changes you,” Von Martin said.

The Martins met earlier this year in what they describe as a “God-led courtship” that began over the phone. From the beginning, they said they felt an instant connection to one another and began talking openly about their desire to start a church. The Martins were married in April in a cowboy-themed wedding at the historic Claquato Church.

“We saw the church and we said, ‘This is it. This is what we want,’” Von Martin said. “We’d been talking about this for a long time and it just felt like it fell into place.”

The Historic Claquato Church west of Chehalis off of state Route 6 was opened in 1858 and is the oldest standing building in the state of Washington. Originally founded as a Methodist congregation, it was the cornerstone of the Claquato community, which at one time was a bustling pioneer town. When the railroad was built through Chehalis instead of Claquato, the church began its decline. Services were held there until the 1930s, and when they stopped, the building fell into disrepair for a time. It was restored in the 1950s and today is a public facility owned by Lewis County Parks that can be rented for events.

“To me it’s exciting to think about bringing Sunday morning services back to that church,” Von Martin said. “That was once the county seat but when the county seat was moved to Chehalis, the congregation moved, too.”

Willow Martin will be pastoring the Claquato Cowboy Church while Von Martin will be handling the music side of the services. The couple explained that what makes a cowboy church different from other churches is that its services are non-denominational and Bible-based as well as low-key and truly open to all.

“Some churches say, ‘Come as you are,’ but that’s how we really are,” Von Martin said. “There’s no barriers. It doesn’t matter what your background is, what you believe or even if you believe, you’re not going to get judged here.”

The Martins are funding the entire Claquato Cowboy Church concept out of their own family budget. They have paid the first month worth of rentals of the property for Sunday services. They said they do not plan to pass a collection plate during services, but Von’s father’s cowboy hat will be set at the back of the church for donations. All contributions will help pay for facility rentals and necessary music and printed materials for church services. The Martins said they hope community contributions may help them build their church and congregation.

Since the Martins are renting the Claquato Church space for Sunday services, they anticipate other church activities for their congregation will take place at their home in Chehalis. In the short span of their married life, the couple has created a serene farmstead they love sharing with others. 

For example, a meditation

spot in the center of their home’s garden patch has been dubbed “God’s sanctuary” and will be made available for those who would like to pray. They also picture people finding comfort visiting with and potentially riding Willow’s mare, Melaleuca. There is a never-ending list of additions they hope to make to the property to continue to grow their vision, but the couple consider even their thriving hobby farm a nod to their maker, rather than their own ingenuity.

“We know we were put here to be caretakers for Jesus,” Willow Martin said.

“We’re just trying to do the best we can for it and take care of it,” Von Martin said.

{{tncms-inline content="<p class="p1"><span class="s1">The Martins said their biggest need is donations to pay for Sunday rentals of the Claquato Church property. Cost is $50 per Sunday. Anyone wanting to contribute can make payments to:</span></p> <p class="p2"><span class="s1">Lewis County Parks</span></p> <p class="p2"><span class="s1">351 NW North St.</span></p> <p class="p2"><span class="s1">Chehalis, WA 98532</span></p>" id="56a7f086-5ab2-45a6-b046-01383935705b" style-type="info" title="Want to Help the Cowboy Church?" type="relcontent"}}