Snake-handling pastors aren't common, but they're still out there, actively engaging fatal serpents. Today, news spread that Pastor Mack Wolford died on Sunday after suffering a fatal bite from a snake he had owned and handled for years. The 44-year-old Pentecostal pastor, who was based in West Virginia, was well-known in the faith sphere.
What started out as a pre-planned outdoor service on Sunday afternoon at Panther Wildlife Management Area in Bluefield, West Virginia, quickly turned into something more sinister. About 30 minutes into the event, his sister claims that Wolford passed a yellow timber rattlesnake to a church member and his mother. When he laid it on the ground, it bit his thigh.
The service came to a halt not long after and Wolford was taken to a relative's home to recover. This apparently wasn't his first snake bite, so his family expected him to simply recover as he has on other occasions. But this time the situation was very different and he passed away later on that evening.
The Washington Post has more about Wolford and the reasons why he has continued the dangerous practice of snake-handling:
Mark Randall “Mack” Wolford was known all over Appalachia as a daring man of conviction. He believed that the Bible mandates that Christians handle serpents to test their faith in God — and that, if they are bitten, they trust in God alone to heal them.
He and other adherents cited Mark 16:17-18 as the reason for their practice: “And these signs will follow those who believe: in My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
Prior to the event, the Post claims that Wolford has posted numerous messages in support of the even, praising his snake-handling practices. On May 22, he wrote, "I am looking for a great time this Sunday. It is going to be a homecoming like the old days. Good ’ole raised in the holler or mountain ridge running, Holy Ghost-filled speaking-in-tongues sign believers."
He followed this message up with other comments the following day, writing, "Praise the Lord and pass the rattlesnakes, brother."
Here's the ironic part: Wolford's father died in 1983 from the very same thing. Following his tragic death, his son decided to continue participating in the process. Below, see him describe snake handling:
The Post continues:
“I am looking for a great time this Sunday,” he wrote May 22. “It is going to be a homecoming like the old days. Good ’ole raised in the holler or mountain ridge running, Holy Ghost-filled speaking-in-tongues sign believers.”
“Praise the Lord and pass the rattlesnakes, brother” he wrote on May 23. He also invited his extended family, who had largely given up the practice of serpent handling, to come to the park.
You can read more about Wolford and his family here.
(H/T: Washington Post)