Last Friday, I visited a snake handling church. It took several months to find it, because the practice is extremely rare. The church is located in Section, Alabama, which is a little less than 2 hours from where I live.
Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos to share. I wanted to take pictures; however, it seemed disrespectful. I also felt like I would be violating their privacy.
I was concerned about how the church members would react to me. There is no way I could just blend in with the regulars. I have very short hair, I am covered in tattoos, and I was wearing pants. However, they were nice and welcomed me to the church. Several of the ladies took time to talk with me and the preacher even invited me to have dinner at his house with him and his family.
The first part of the service involves worshipping God by singing and offering praises. They used various instruments and it was rather loud. People raised their hands and their bodies would shake as they were worshiping. Others walked around the building and prayed in tongues.
During the singing portion, the preacher picked up a copperhead snake and raised it into the air. A second man also tried to pick up the snake, but the snake attempted to bite the man. The preacher came over and prayed for the man, so he could try again. His next attempt was successful and he also held the snake over his head.
Several other men held a small flaming torch and they started putting their hands on top of the flames. They also held the torch close to their chest and directly under their chins. After a few seconds, they praised God for not allowing them to get hurt by the flames and passed the torch to another man.
I was disturbed by the small children playing in the aisle ways of the church. A two year old girl was allowed to room free as they were worshiping. What if someone drops the poisonous snake and the child happens to be near them?
The worship lasted an hour and was followed by an hour of preaching. The best way to describe the preacher’s sermon, it was convoluted. The preacher jumped from one topic to another and then back to a previous topic.
The main points of his sermon: it’s a sin for men to have long hair, it’s a sin for women to have short hair, it’s a sin for women to use makeup, it’s a sin for women to wear pants, it’s a sin for women to be in a leadership position over a man, if you are filled with the Holy Spirit you will speak in tongues, you must be baptized in Jesus name to be saved, you must be filled with the spirit and speak in tongues to be saved, other denominations are sending everyone to hell by teaching false doctrine, you should only marry a holiness person, and failure to keep any of the commandments will result in physical illnesses as well as an eternity in hell.
At the end of his sermon, the preacher looked at me and said God will accept you as you are and if your hair is short you can still come unto God and be saved. Even though it’s awkward when the preacher speaks directly to you and everyone in the congregation knows what he is talking about, I felt like he was trying to reach out and teach the gospel. He did not condemn at any time, so that’s a plus.
All in all, I am glad I went to the service. It was an interesting experience and I learned a few things about a fringe religious group that I didn’t know.