116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — For 22 years, one of the most novel annual culinary events in Cedar Rapids hasn’t been at a high-end restaurant downtown or a catered event purchased by the table — it’s been for free at Faith Bible Church on 46th Street NE.
There, hunters and outdoor lovers of all stripes have built perhaps the only chance in the Corridor to try some exotic game meat from land and sea that most restaurants won’t touch: antelope, raccoon, squirrel, pheasant, goose, rabbit, shark, bear, elk, moose, bison, venison, duck, quail and more. Not necessarily in that order.
This isn’t your average church potluck, though it started out as one.
“When it first started, it was just a dinner and one speaker,” said Reggie Bean, a member of the church who has been part of the feast since its inception. “The first year was literally a potluck.”
Over time, it grew into more than just a chance to eat. It became a chance to commune with like-minded people and connect to their faith in the God they give thanks for creating all the animals they enjoy — in nature and on their dinner plate.
“There’s a tradition among outdoorsmen and hunters to spend time together around a meal,” said Chris Watson, pastor of children’s ministry and adult Bible fellowships at Faith Bible Church who oversaw the event for 10 years. “It taps into that tradition by providing a place for people to talk about their adventures and their love for the outdoors and eat some good food.”
But it’s more than something to eat. The community surrounding the Wild Game Feast is the reason the dinner has become a large tradition bringing upward of 400 people each year for decades.
“From a faith perspective, if I’ve got something that I think is a great gift that I’ve found, I’m motivated to at least tell people about that gift and share with them the same joy and experience in life that I’ve had,” Bean said. “It’s motivating to want to share that with other people. We can demonstrate real love and caring to them. The Wild Game Feast is a good way to do that.”
Over time, the dinner has recruited speakers and groups with an eye for conservation to teach about hunting, beekeeping and fly-fishing while instilling a sense of appreciation in children and adults alike. With a spiritual keynote message, the event is a good spiritual entry point for those who would not regularly attend church on Sunday morning.
Levi Anderson, pastor of evangelism and discipleship, said the opportunity builds a bridge to connect those who love the outdoors with a faith that appreciates the creator of wildlife.
“It really shows there’s fun to be had at church,” he said. “Really, our love for the outdoors flows from our faith and creator, God.”
Regular favorites like marinated venison steak and pheasant gravy drive the point home. A majority of the meat for dinners is donated by hunters, fishers or friends of the feast and made by volunteers in the church’s kitchen.
This year, Faith Bible Church’s 80 volunteers made more than 360 venison burgers, five giant roasters of elk chili with 35 pounds of ground elk and about 350 fish filets. For those with a sweet tooth, there were more than 40 pies donated as a sugary reprieve from the protein.
While other churches like Lutheran Church of the Resurrection in Marion or St. Pius X Catholic Church celebrate an annual blessing of the animals in the tradition of Saint Francis of Assisi, Faith Bible Church’s celebration has parallels. In different ways, both recognize the earth as a source of revelation — a place that reveals who God is.
“The big message is this gift that we’ve been given on the created world is God communicating to us to get our attention to turn to him,” Anderson said. “Creation speaks to us not audibly, but to something about God, and that’s an invitation for us to believe in him. That’s something we hope people take away.”
And if others can see God in nature, they have another compelling reason to be better stewards of it.
“It really doesn’t belong to us. I think (that thinking is) why a lot of people disrespect it,” Watson said. “They think it’s ours to do what we want with it. That’s a dangerous viewpoint.”
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