A West Virginia preacher famous for holding dangerous snakes during sermons has died after a rattlesnake bit him last weekend.
Mark Randall “Mack” Wolford, 44, was bitten during a Memorial Day gathering at park, the Washington Post reported.
“His birthday was Saturday, and all he wanted to do is get his brothers and sisters in church together,” his sister, Robin, told the newspaper.
Wolford was profiled in the Post last year for his unconventional ways of testing faith. He believed that the Bible says Christians must handle serpents to test their faith in God.
“Anybody can do it that believes it,” he told the Post last year. “Jesus said, ‘These signs shall follow them which believe.’ This is a sign to show people that God has the power.”
Lauren Pond, a freelance journalist who had recently worked with Wolford on a project, told the Bluefield Daily Telegraph that there were about 25 people in the park for Wolford’s ceremony.
She told the newspaper that Wolford was bitten in the thigh, but members of the congregation seemed unfazed.
“I don’t think anyone necessarily expected it, but they’ve dealt with it before so it’s not such a huge shock maybe,” she said.
He was eventually transported to Bluefield Regional Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.
Serpent handling is controversial and illegal in many states. But according to a 2003 National Georgraphic report, it shows no signs of going away.
“Serpent handling is maintained through powerful families whose children have carried on that tradition for up to four generations,” one expert told the magazine at the time. “There are a small number of converts, but they generally maintain themselves through these families, and by people marrying into the tradition.”
Wolford, according to the Post, was passionate about keeping the tradition alive.
“I promised the Lord I’d do everything in my power to keep the faith going,” he said in October. “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 involed.”
Park officials told the Charleston Gazette that poisonous snakes are not allowed in the park where the church cermony was held.
“We do not allow people to bring poisonous snakes into the park,” State Division of Natural Resources spokesman Hoy Murphy said. “If they did it, it was without the park people’s knowledge.”
What a strange practice. Pentecostal madness…