There’s only one place in Lewis County where 600 men can sit down together for a dinner of buffalo barbecue meatballs, sweet-and-sour cougar, black bear pepperoni, Sika deer stir fry and moose sausage. That’s the annual Beast Feast, which I was fortunate enough to attend last weekend.
It was my first time at the feast. Tickets always run out quickly every year. My brother was able to get a handful of them from Pastor Keith Heldreth, the organizer of the event, at his booth in the Wildlife Building at the Southwest Washington Fair back in August. That’s how early you have to plan to get tickets for the popular annual event.
Heldreth told the crowd the event dates back 26 years, starting at a church in Centralia. As I understand it, the theme of the dinner has always been to sample exotic meats bagged by local hunters.
That’s just the draw, however. Heldreth, pastor of Riverwood Baptist Church on Rice Road in Chehalis, said he’s always been very open about his real goal: to bring people together so that he can tell them about God and Jesus.
“Our purpose is not to feed you. It’s not to entertain you. It’s to preach to you,” he said, then compared it with hunting. “It’s like shooting a bear off a pile of donuts. We’ve gotta feed you.”
Over the years he’s added another lure — gifts to be given away in a free raffle prize at the end of the night, including hunting equipment, outdoor recreational gear and boxes of prepared meat.
When we arrived a few minutes before the doors opened, the line stretched out into the parking lot near the fairgrounds’ Blue Pavillion.
The crowd ran heavy to men with long beards and camouflage clothing.
In fact, the crowd was entirely male. The Beast Feast alternates serving each gender every other year. It allows the group to focus one year on issues specific to men, and the next year on issues for women, with the goal of helping each gender grow in their faith.
Heldreth told the crowd that the men are the more tame of the two groups.
“If you guys can believe it, it’s wilder than you guys” when the women are in the room, he said. “There’s a roar in here.”
There were a few women in attendance, including a group of teenagers who had done the hunting that procured the evening’s meat. Heldreth introduced each young woman with pride.
We also heard from the head of Possibilities Women’s Center in Centralia, who spoke about her own experience. Her parents were advised to abort two of their quadruplets to save the other two. She expressed gratitude that her parents chose to bring all four babies to term.
A Navajo tribal member and Baptist preacher named Wilson Calvin gave the evening’s sermon.
He talked about his early life and reluctance to embrace Christianity before his eventual conversion at age 27, and his 38 years of evangelism since then.
A theme of his sermon was to encourage attendees in the packed room to embrace their responsibilities and possibilities as men, especially by being faithful to their wives and children.
“It’s a blessing to be around men who love the Lord,” Calvin said. “I’m going to preach about the revival of manhood. Real men follow men. They’re willing to die for you. Devout men want to follow men of God. It’s hard to find these days dependable men and men who will stand up for things.”
His sermon covered a broad range of topics, including subjects geared toward his audience of outdoorsmen. He talked about growing up as horseman in Arizona, and about learning to ride bareback since his family didn’t own enough saddles for all the children.
His message continued circling back to a message that resonates with me: men need to show up in their families, in their communities, and in their marriages.
“Stands up and be responsible for the position God gave you,” he said. “Your first responsibility is to get right with the God who made you. A revival of manhood is so much needed in this world.”
Brian Mittge writes about Lewis County community issues each Saturday in The Chronicle. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.