Snake Handling Pastor Dies of Snake Bite

By Joshua Witchger 05-31-2012
Rattlesnake. Image via

Rattlesnake. Image via

Pastor Mack Wolford — an eccentric snake handler and Pentecostal minister — was bitten by a deadly rattle snake at an outdoor service (or “evangelistic hootenanny”) at Panther Wildlife Management Area in West Va. He died shortly after, surrounded by friends and family, which, coincidentally, is the same way his father (also a pastor and snake handler) passed away nearly thirty years ago.

According to The Washington Post, “Wolford [like his father] 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.” As the article points out, Wolford comes from a niche tradition in where the gospel words in Mark 16 are taken literally (and somewhat peculiarly), to “take up serpents and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them…”

Throughout his career as a minister, Wolford was energetic and open about his practice; he would even take reporters on expeditions through the Appalachian region in search of snakes for his prayer room and larger church ministry. After the snakes were collected, he’d handle them publically during services, alongside worshippers speaking in tongues and singing, letting the snakes crawl around his body.

The late pastor had been bitten before, but this time, the rattlesnake venom spread quickly through his body.

In October he told The Washington Post, “I promised the Lord I’d do everything in my power to keep the faith going… I spend a lot of time going a lot of places that handle serpents to keep them motivated. I’m trying to get anybody I can get involved.”

Perhaps his legacy will inspire others to purse the merits of a slithery spirituality. 

Joshua Witchger is an online assistant at Sojourners.

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