LOS ANGELES (AP) — A Santa Barbara church said Friday it regrets holding a weekend youth retreat that included teenaged boys chasing down grease-covered pigs before eating them in a luau-style barbecue.
The boys are part of the high school ministry at Reality Santa Barbara and many of them dressed up and wore face and body paint for what the executive pastor called a rodeo-style event at an Ojai ranch.
The pig chase and subsequent barbecue was first reported by The Santa Barbara News-Press, which learned of the March 3 event from the parent of a friend of one of the teens.
"In retrospect, looking at the weekend as the combination of the greased pig contest and the barbecue at one time and one location, along with the painted faces unfortunately created a bad perception and one we regret," Gerald Torres, the church's executive pastor, said in a statement Friday issued to The Associated Press.
Torres said the pigs were purchased legally and one teen's father, who is a licensed hunter, slaughtered them humanely after the pig chase. The father butchered the pigs while the boys watched and explained to them how to use each cut of meat so nothing goes to waste, Torres said.
Pictures taken at the event show boys streaked with red and white body paint holding large containers of vegetable oil, while a group shot shows about two dozen teenaged boys posing shirtless with the pigs before the chase.
"If you're not there, it seems inhumane. When you put it in context, it was humane the way the pig was prepared for the luau," Torres said.
The weekend focused on Bible study and worship and the barbecue was a small part of the experience, he said.
The pastor would not say if the church's youth ministry leader would be disciplined for the event.
Reality Santa Barbara has about 4,000 congregants at three locations in Santa Barbara, Carpinteria and Ventura. It is part of a "family of churches" that started with Reality Carpinteria and grew to include new churches in Los Angeles, Stockton, San Francisco and London. Another Reality church will open in Boston this fall, according to the website.