May 30, 2012 -- A "serpent-handling" West Virginia pastor died after his rattlesnake bit him during a church ritual, just as the man had apparently watched a snake kill his father years before. (Rick Barbero/The Register-Herald), Pastor Chris Wolford, of Grundy, Va., watches David Culberton, of Hinton handles a rattlesnake during his church service held in McDowell Co. at the House of the Lord Jesus church in Squire, WV (Rick Barbero/The Register-Herald), House of the Lord Jesus Church in Squire, WV (Rick Barbero/The Register-Herald), Pastor Chris Wolford steps on a rattlesnake during a service held at the House of the Lord Jesus Church in Squire, WV (Rick Barbero/The Register-Herald), Church worshipers watch Pastor Chris Wolford step on a rattlesnake during a service held at the House of the Lord Jesus Church in Squire, WV (Rick Barbero/The Register-Herald), House of the Lord Jesus church in Squire, WV. (The interviews were also later compiled and edited into a fascinating book by Nancy and the siblings’ lesbian mother, Casey.) "He lived 101/2 hours," Wolford told the Washington Post Magazine. Wolford pointed to scars on his hand, bites he’s received since he began handling serpents. Wolford, a well-respected serpent handler in his small community, sat in a pew in his church, dressed in his Sunday best with khaki pants and a lavender button-up shirt. Pentecostal pastor Mark Wolford, 44, hosted an outdoor service at the Panther Wildlife Management Area in West Virginia Sunday, which he touted on his Facebook page prior to the event. “My father was an alcoholic, a mean man, but when he began serpent handling, I saw a change in his life,” Wolford says. I hated to see him go, but he died for what he believed in. "I know it's real; it is the power of God," Wolford told the Washington Post Magazine last year. First Amendment: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. "He laid it on the ground," Vanover said in the interview, "and he sat down next to the snake, and it bit him on the thigh.". The McDowell County church of Pentecostal faith welcomes all, without judgment, according to the church’s pastor, Chris Wolford. Robin Vanover, Wolford's sister, told the Washington Post that 30 minutes into the outdoor service, Wolford passed around a poisonous timber rattlesnake, which eventually bit him. “I knew he got a hold of something unexplainable because he was a new creature in Christ. "When he got bit, he said he wanted to die in the church. Playing guitar in background, David Culberton, of Hinton. Like many serpent handlers, Wolford refuses to seek medical attention after he is bitten. This documentary explores the individual experiences of Pentecostal Christians at the Scrabble Creek Holiness Church, in Scrabble Creek, West Virginia. “The Bible says God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt any man. “I used to be a drug addict. Wolford realizes many people on the outside of what he and his church members take part in may see it as “odd” or as “tempting God,” but, he says, it’s far from that. Although he spent most of his life in a serpent-handling church, it wasn’t until Wolford went through a time he said was his lowest point before he actually began taking part in it himself. That being said, Pentecostals do sometimes die from snake bites, though when word of a death—or even near-death—reached to our church, it was rare enough to elicit little more than an exasperated head shake—no one ever thought it wasn’t dangerous, most thought it was idiotic. “It’s about waiting for God, being patient with God. "We did not know that this event was happening, and if we had known about it or if we had been asked for permission, permission would not have been granted," Hoy Murphy, public information officer for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, told ABC News. The poverty and geography of Appalachia fosters a desperate, insular kind of faith, and in the common context of poor health, the spiritual and corporeal congeal into a complex delusion of “miracles” and inexplicable, supernatural forces. “I no longer desire the drugs, or desire the alcohol. Many parishioners said that nearby hospitals would purchase the subsequently expelled venom to produce antivenom, adding to skepticism surrounding the “spirituality” of snake-handling. With unembellished, almost flat narration, Adair describes the practices of Scrabble Creek Pentecostals. Vanover said Wolford was then transported to a family member's home in Bluefield about 80 miles away to recover. Following his death, … Preast, who was bitten nine times in 35 years, died in 2002. “I had seen him become a great man, and I knew I wanted to take part.”. Wolford said watched his own father die at the age of 39 after a rattlesnake bit him during a similar service. “I realized that what he got a hold of, he loved enough to die for. The film, created with his lesbian sister Nancy, showed a truly diverse array of subjects speaking plainly about their lives and experiences. Snake handling, also called serpent handling, as a religious rite is observed in a small number of isolated churches, mostly in the United States, usually characterized as rural and part of the Holiness movement.The practice began in the early 20th century in Appalachia and plays only a small part in the church service. Mark 16: 17-18 reads, "And these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues. Jason Stone, of Ruth, N.C. handles a rattlesnake, right, and pastor Chris Wolford, of Grundy, Va., prays during a church service held in McDowell Co. at the House of the Lord Jesus church in Squire, WV, Strychnie in a mason jar up near the altar at the House of the Lord Jesus Church in Squire, WV (Rick Barbero/The Register-Herald), Robin Wolford Brandon, left and Fran Dawson Wolford, wash Vicie Haywood, of Bluefield, feet during a foot washing ceremony held at House of the Lord Jesus Church in Squire, WV. God will move when he knows you’re ready.”. There are moments of Holy Ghost People though, that will ring pretty familiar with any former Pentecostal. Fran Wolford was the wife of Mack Randall Wolford who died in 2012 of a snake bite during a church service. You do it when you’re ready, when you have the faith. Adair’s impulse for treating his subjects with sympathy wasn’t totally personal though. He and his brother, Mack Wolford, are the second generation of Wolfords to take part in serpent handling. He says it all boils down to faith. He shouts into the microphone excitedly. He wipes sweat from his forehead as he begins passing the snake to other men within the church. The documentary includes faith healing, snake handling, speaking in tongues and singing. “Someone is tempting him more by not believing in taking up serpents than I am by believing. Her husband Mack Wolfword died of a snake bite in 1983 and her son Mack Randall Wolford died of a bite in 2012. He says his dad had found something worth dying for. Praying collectively for a “brother” or “sister”‘s health was common, but actual faith healing was done at special services or events, rather than during regular sermons. Mack Wolford died in 2012 from a snake bite he sustained during a service. While Wolford gets into the worship, he begins to open the box, bringing the serpent to the forefront. He became a better man with this, and I saw that.”. Hoy said West Virginia state park rules prohibit animals other than dogs and cats on the property. (Rick Barbero/The Register-Herald). He grabs the jar of poison and takes a sip. He says anyone who attends his church is given the option to not handle a serpent or sip on poison; nothing is forced. You have permission to edit this article. Seeking medical attention for a bite isn’t frowned on after getting bitten, Wolford says, but is uncommon. A jar with a clear substance is perched near the altar. It felt like someone took a hammer and was beating me in the heart with it. (Rick Barbero/The Register-Herald). Winds SE at 5 to 10 mph.. Participants are Holiness, Pentecostals, Charismatics, or other evangelicals. After the opening the documentary jumps to personal interviews. But as the situation worsened, he was taken to a hospital where he later died. A woman recounts an experience following a series of surgeries where a mysterious child brings sweetened milk to her deathbed for a few days; by the grace of God, she was healed, her recovery the result of her trust in the Lord, an act of God here on earth. Winds SSE at 5 to 10 mph. “We may look different, we may act different, and we may dress different; but we don’t look down on anyone.”, — Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; follow on Twitter @jnelsonRH. Sign up now to get our FREE breaking news coverage delivered right to your inbox.
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