Andrew Dys

Pass the possum, and praise the Lord

It is no secret that women outnumber men at many churches. Not at Rock Hill's Southside Baptist Church. It's about an even split at Southside, where the Rev. Ken Walters wants the manliest of men to love the Lord.

Makes sense the place has bearded, booted, tough guys, because how many churches let you wear camouflage overalls or Day-Glo orange britches to church? Or want you to practice mating calls right there in the fellowship hall?

How many churches ask you to bring whatever you shot, caught or maybe even ran over to church so everybody else can see it -- and even eat it?

That is exactly what will happen for the sixth year in a row Saturday at Southside, when the men of the church will hold a wild game supper. The top of the promotional church flier is a teaser, all right -- "Admission: Bring a cooked meat."

Only chickens bring chicken. Categories include venison, fish, wildfowl and "rare." True believers at this church bring things that can kill you and eat you instead. Like bear.

Worshippers also bring possum, raccoon, moose, elk, fish, wild ducks, geese or deer.

"We've had one man bring alligator from Florida, and a guy who comes from near Chicago who makes a buffalo stew so hot it'll melt the paint off the wall," said Walters, Southside's longtime pastor.

There have even been servings of the part of the buffalo known better out west as Rocky Mountain oysters. No shells involved, but the eater better know anatomy.

"These guys are proud of their recipes," Walters said. "If it walks or crawls, flies or runs or swims, we probably had it at least once."

Many churches around the South, and even a few locally, have had similar buffets over the years. But Walters said that Southside's annual event was the first of its kind he knows of in Rock Hill, and the idea has grown.

What started as a way to get men who love the outdoors interested in showing their faith at church has mushroomed to 200 or more people showing up. The men -- women are allowed, but this is mainly a guy thing -- are encouraged to bring mounted trophies and pictures showing who has bagged what over the years. The proof means there's no stretching of the truth.

No lyin' in church.

"Every hunter has a story, and some of 'em are even true," said Dan Hershberger, one of the church's duck cookers and Lord praisers.

There's a demonstration on turkey and duck calling and deer grunting. I asked church deacon James Reeves, a three-time defending champion in the venison cooking category for his bacon-wrapped grilled deer, and a guy Walters described as "born with a hunting rifle in one hand and a fishing pole in the other," what deer grunting was.

"It's the sound a buck makes when he's after a doe," Reeves said. "Kind a like a man'll whistle after a pretty girl, well a buck will grunt. An elk will bugle. That kind of thing."

Now that is my kind of church.

"There's nothing boring about this," Reeves said. "We have a comedy skit with a guy named Bubba. Bubba in church, that's right. We laugh and worship and we eat, too."

Southside is one of those great churches that wants everybody to have a home. They have a ministry for the deaf, and an outreach for Hispanics from Central and South America.

"We had one man here last year from Ecuador, he brought their national dish," Reeves said. "Guinea pig. What we call a pet, they call a delicacy. Cooked whole, right there with the head on it. I tried it, sure I did.

"Had to have somebody take the meat off the bones first -- it was right there looking at me -- but I tried it."

Hershberger didn't try the guinea pig -- and worse, his wife cooks his duck.

"I just bring it," he said. "What can I say? I got a great wife."