EYEWITNESS LOCAL NEWSSERPENT PREACHER DIES
from Eyewitness News Online
Southern W.Va. Snake Handling Preacher Dies From Bite
Reported by: Leslie Rubin
Web Producer: Leslie Rubin
Reported: May. 30, 2012 10:10 PM EDT
Updated: May. 30, 2012 10:35 PM EDT
Matoaka , West Virginia
A snake handling preacher in Southern West Virginia dies after being bitten at an outdoor church service.
Pentecostal Pastor Randall Mack Wolford died Sunday after being bitten by a Timber Rattlesnake at an outdoor church ritual in Mercer County. It's the same way his father died when he was just 39, but serpent handling was a tradition Wolford worked to carry on.
"It's still the word. And I guess there's time I've had a fear for him, but for the most part, no," says Wolford's mother in a documentary that was in the process of being made about his dangerous career.
The documentary, "With Signs Following," is set to be released later this year but with the sudden passing of the snake handling preacher, filmmaker Kate Fowler isn't sure how the story she's worked on for almost two years, with partner Mark Strandquist, will end.
"I think he was just a very dynamic person and there's a lot more to him than just a serpent handler from West Virginia," said Fowler.
Wolford was the pastor at the Apostolic House of the Lord Jesus in Matoaka in Mercer County. He worked tirelessly to carry on the tradition of his ancestors by engaging in snake handling, a legal practice in West Virginia. It is illegal in other Appalachian states, including Kentucky and Tennessee.
He was hosting an outdoor service at Panther State Forest in McDowell County when he was bit on the thigh by a snake he'd owned for years. He died just hours later.
"I am looking for a great time this Sunday," Wolford wrote on Facebook on May 22, according to the Washington Post. "It's going to be a homecoming like the old days. Good 'ole raised in the holler or mountain ridge running, Holy Ghost-filled speaking-in-tounges sign believers."
Fowler says Wolford made the personal decision not to seek medical treatment, but that's not something the church promotes.
"The 14th person to die of a rattlesnake bite in West Virginia in the last 50 years and a majority of those were in churches that handle snakes," said DNR Public Information Specialist in the Wildlife Division, Art Shomo.
Wolford refused to fear the creatures. He was known for slinging them around his neck and dancing.
Snake handlers point to a reading from the Book of Mark in the King James Bible that reads, "And these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues. They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover."
"The people in the congregation were his family members, and they prayed together and there was a lot of energy in the room and they cared for each other. A very close community. I wish honestly that I could believe in something the way that Mack did," said Fowler.
A viewing is set for 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. on Friday at Wolford's church. Funeral services will be at 11:00 a.m. the following day. He will be buried at The Hick's Family Plot in Phelps, Kentucky.
To learn more about the documentary, log on to www.withsignsfollowingfilm.com
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