Flamboyant serpent-handling pastor dies from rattlesnake bite

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JOLO, W. Virginia —

A West Virginia pastor who wanted to keep the practice of handling snakes during church services alive and was well-known for his flamboyant talents died after being bitten by a rattlesnake.

The Washington Post Magazine profiled Pentecostal pastor Mack Wolford last November.

Wolford told the Post he believed Christians should handle serpents to test their faith and if they are bitten, trust that God will heal them.

Wolford was bitten on Sunday at an outdoor service that he had high hopes to be a “homecoming like the old days,” with people speaking in tongues and having a “great time,” he said on his Facebook page, urging people to come.

Wolford turned 44 on Saturday and wanted to get church members together.

About 30 minutes into the service, Wolford laid the snake on the ground, sat down next to it and was bitten on the thigh, his sister said.

The pastor was taken back to a relative’s house in Bluefield to recover, as was customary when he suffered bites in the past, but he got worse and was transported to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Wolford’s father died at 39 under nearly identical circumstances that Wolford witnessed at age 15.