#52 Serpent Handlers: Jolo, WV: Church of the Lord Jesus w/Signs Following

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BEEP BEEP BEEP…..

“I’m up!  I’m up!”  The buzzing alarm clock read 5:01am.

BEEP BEEP BEEP!  BEEP BEEP BEEP…

“Seriously, seriously; this time I’m up.”

I slowly opened one eye and looked at the clock as if it had intentionally done me wrong.  Grudgingly, I planted both feet firmly on the ground, stretched my arms behind me while releasing a lioness like yawn, and gradually made my way toward the shower.

By 6:15 the entire crew had arrived.  Pastor Banks, Kip, and Bee all piled in my Honda Accord.  “It’s supposed to snow.”  Bee said cheerfully from the back seat, reaching for her seatbelt.  “Great!  Let’s hope after driving nearly 7 hours into the snowy West VA mountainside that we actually find this church.”  We all laughed at the absurdity of the situation.  “Even if we don’t find it, that’s okay with me.  It’ll be an adventure!” Bee said kindly.

Driving

Driving

I had researched the famed Church of the Lord Jesus with Signs following in Jolo, WV for weeks online.  After calling numerous disconnected numbers, having quite a few emails bounce back, and reading many a blog that confidently assured me that the practice of snake handling is now extinct; I admit, I was discouraged.  My gut was telling me this wasn’t going to happen, but I was determined to try. 

The night before leaving, I made one final attempt to get some solid information on the snake handlers.  I stumbled across an online forum dated 2009.  On it, Diane Addair, wife of preacher Jimmy Addair, from a different holiness congregation was debating a member of the Jolo church about which congregation possessed more faith.  I read as many people made accusations about Mrs. Addair and her husband after a non-snake handler inquired about the practice and she posted directions to her church on the forum.  “You’re a recruiter.  You should be ashamed of yourself giving out addresses to outsiders who just want to gawk.  You don’t even have snakes!” they claimed.

After reading the back and forth correspondence, I sat on my couch with my head in my hands, silently debating whether or not I would venture out into this obscure part of West VA.  “Well, this is all I have to go on”, I told Pat while closing my laptop.  “Someone in 2009 had snakes somewhere in the West Virginia Mountains.  I’m going to give it a shot.”

There was no 911 address to the Jolo church, but fortunately, Diane Addairr did give the following directions to the Apostolic House of Prayer, “When you enter Jolo, see the fork, take a right.  Then go straight and two more rights, go down the hill and you’ll see our church down by the chicken houses.”  Based on the little information I had, I felt compelled to give one final warning before we left.  “As long as you all know that we have about a 50/50 chance of actually finding this snake handling church, and you’re okay with still coming along, then let’s rock.  Oh, one last thing too.  Do you remember when I told you that I had something else to share with you about the serpent handlers but wanted to wait until the right time?  Well, now that you’re here, I feel like its safe to mention.  The serpent handlers are known to drink strychnine from time to time as a test of their faith, but it’s not like you have to drink any or anything.” I started the car and put it in reverse while Bee insisted we don’t stay for potluck.

Jolo marketing department

Jolo marketing department

Hey, I have an idea.  How about I say a prayer before we go” Pastor Banks said.  I put my foot on the break and placed the car in park.  Still in my driveway, we all bowed our heads as he asked God to guide our trip and His will be done.

It was almost dawn.  When I got on the interstate I set my cruise control on 75 with one hand and carefully sipped on my hot peppermint coffee with the other, briefly attempting to steer with my knees. 

“Hey!  Hands on the wheel, Jessica!” 

“Awesome”, I said while smiling.  “A back seat driver sitting in the passenger seat.  I just love those, pb!”  PB is how I refer to my pastor.  After we got to know one another, there was something about Pastor SO AND SO that seemed uptight and formal to me.  Every time I said it, it just felt forced.   I asked early on if he minded the nickname and apparently several kids from the local Christian school referred to him the same way, so it seemed only fair I got a pass. 

Have you all ever heard of “To Build a Fire by Jack London?’ PB asked.  “Nope” we all said in unison.  “It’s short.  It’s about a guy caught in the wilderness and how he manages to fend for himself, like man against nature kinda thing.”  He opened up his laptop, raised the volume as high as it would go and we all silently listened.

As the story played, I drifted off into my own thoughts, dreaming about what the day might bring.  20 minutes into the narrative, because of a startling statement, I tuned back in.  “It was 75 degrees below freezing.  The snow was piling high.  The desperate man wanted to live so he decided to kill his dog to take advantage of its body heat.” 

What the heck are we listening to?” I said looking at PB rather confused.

Oh, Pastor Banks.  That’s awful.”  Bee murmured from the back.

Beautiful West Virginia landscape

Beautiful West Virginia landscape

He let out one of his signature laughs and urged us to continue.  About 5 minutes later the story ended.  Luckily, the man who was caught in the wilderness did not murder his poor helpless dog.  But it seems he did freeze to death.  The story about man and beast, while rather despairing, was somewhat appropriate given the nature of our adventure.  

After we briefly discussed how ridiculous it was that PB played such a tale, large snowflakes began to fall from the sky.  “What a coincidence.  It’s like 75 degrees below outside and it’s almost as though we’re headed into the wilderness.” I said somewhat jokingly. There was that signature laugh again.  Bee immediately reminded him of how much she disliked the story, and we continued to drive up the snowy mountain. 

I had put Jolo, West Virginia into my GPS without any specific address, and it read that we were 10 miles out, so I knew we were getting close.  “Let’s stop and ask someone how to get there” PB said. 

I drove my car up to a portly man dressed in overalls and a red trucker hat standing out in his front yard.  “Ask him.” PB said while smiling.  “Not a chance!” I replied.  Concerned that the West Virginians would think I was teasing them, I absolutely refused to ask a soul where the snake handlers were located.  Instead, I rolled down PB’s window and turned my head in the other direction as if I had nothing to do with the rest of the folks in the car.  “Um, hello.  Excuse me.  We’re looking for a serpent handling church.  Do you know where one is?”  PB asked.

Alm.  You can, alm go right Jolo, 3 forks. Alm.  Jolo them there down that parts handle them um, snakes.  Signs following, Jolo.”  I was clueless as to what the man had just said but apparently PB speaks West Virginian.   “Okay, looks like we’re headed in the right direction, we need to just get to 3 forks.”  He said.

The lady from the forum's church

The lady from the forum's church

When we approached 3 forks I saw a sign that read “Pastor Tommy Addair: Church service 1pm” 

That’s the lady from the forum’s husband!” I said enthusiastically.  “Okay great!  We found at least one church!”  It’s as though I got a shot of life after seeing the sign. “If there’s no snake handling at the Signs Following service, it’s totally fine now.  Because no matter what, we’re going to church and I’ll have something to write about.  I enjoyed the time with you guys too so no matter what, I’m happy! I said.  I was so wound up I almost believed myself.  While I was relieved that the trip wouldn’t be a total waste, I was still anticipating some disappointment if we couldn’t find the serpent handlers. 

A mile ahead, we finally entered the tiny town of Jolo. It was just then that I realized my new found energy was actually butterflies.  “I’m nervous!” I admitted.  “And I’m not sure what I’m more nervous about; the idea that after driving 6 and a half hours we may not see any snakes, or the fact that we might all end up in a snake-handling church!” 

I’m nervous too” said Bee.  Kip sat quietly in the back, snapping photos of the landscape.  We had only a few minutes before the 1pm service was supposed to start.  We kept driving around the curvy mountain, about another 3 minutes up the road and there it was; the famous snake-handlers, Church of the Lord Jesus with Signs following. 

Me, PB and Honey Bee @ Church of the Lord Jesus

Me, PB and Honey Bee @ Church of the Lord Jesus

No Church, No Heat

No Church, No Heat

We found it!”  I said, near ecstatic.  We drove up to the church and I immediately flew out of the car.  “Oh no!  It’s 12:55 but there are no cars here!” Knowing it shouldn’t have been the end of my world, I tried to hide the true depth of my disappointment.  All four of us approached the church only to find a small sign on the door written in blue ink pen.  It read, “No church tonight.  No heat.”  I desperately tried to look at the bright side.  I reasoned; we had fun driving up, we did find the Jolo church, and there’s another service right down the street we can attend so I will still have something to write about.  The truth was; the day wasn’t a total bust.  Was it worth nearly 15 hours in the car?  Well, maybe not, but such is life. 

We took a couple of photos with the church to prove we had actually made it and then headed to Tommy Addair’s church by the chicken houses.  Stay tuned for Part 2 at the Addair Church.

Church of the Lord Jesus with Signs Following

Church of the Lord Jesus with Signs Following

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9 Comments

  • Zee

    Zee December 29, 2010

    wow, that is bizarre… people really believe that they can (and should) handle snakes? *scratching my head*

  • Jessica

    Jessica December 29, 2010

    Hi Zee!  Hope you had a Merry Christmas.

    Apparently they take these 2 verses literally:

    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. (Mark 16:17-18)

    Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you. (Luke 10:19)

  • Zee

    Zee December 29, 2010

    thanks, Jess! my “Christmas time” just started because we “traditionally” celebrate it on January 7th (Ukraine’s supposedly Orthodox, but then I found out a couple of weeks ago that it’s not the official religion… go figure)... so on 25th we just had a holiday dinner at Church, without any service.

    heh… yeah… but i think the only guy who really handled snakes is Paul… and only because it first bit him.

    we have a saying over here: “God protects those who protect themselves” - while one can go far with this statement, for me it means that we probably should not consciously do things that might harm us (like handling snakes) unless absolutely necessary…

  • Jessica

    Jessica December 30, 2010

    I can’t imagine God wants me to go head to head with a rattlesnake.  That just CANT be the case:)

  • Zee

    Zee December 30, 2010

    at least not our God smile (although, His sense of humor is quirky sometimes….........) :D

  • Scott

    Scott January 01, 2011

    ““God protects those who protect themselves” - while one can go far with this statement, for me it means that we probably should not consciously do things that might harm us (like handling snakes) unless absolutely necessary… “

    This is a very interesting statement and very true, but let us go one step further…
    I realize that Zee is referring to physical harm, but it could easily be applied to spiritual harm as well. A believer in Jesus Christ should be careful to not place themselves in danger of spiritual harm. There are many false teachers and false prophets out there looking to lead people astray.

    Matthew 24:24 For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.

    Using the Word of God, believers need to be able to discern spiritual dangers and avoid them.

    1 John 4:1-3 Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.  (2)  Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:  (3)  And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.

    2Ti 3:1-7 This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.  (2)  For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,  (3)  Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,  (4)  Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;  (5)  Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.  (6)  For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts,  (7)  Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.

  • suzi phillips

    suzi phillips February 05, 2011

    I am looking for a snakehandling church to attend.Can you email me about your experience please? would like to know things about how to dress and what to expect. I’m nervous, but dtermined to go. Thanks-

  • colleen sexton

    colleen sexton April 01, 2011

    I have been to the church at Jolo to gather information for a book I am writing.  Although it took months and several trips to finally witness the serpent handling, it was an amazing experience. Research the beliefs of these people.  They are humble, and Pastor Payne is welcoming and friendly.  It was not at all scary as I supposed, but be prepared to witness the ultimate in faith.  My friends all think I am crazy but I was determined to see their faith in action.  It was definitely worth the five hour drive, and I can’t wait to return.

  • suzi phillips

    suzi phillips April 01, 2011

    Thank you so much for your comment. My husband & I go to West Virginia several times a year & I really want to go to this church. He thinks I’m nuts, but I think it will be amazing to witness the absolute faith these people possess. I have also been invited to attend the church in Edwina,TN. Circumstances have put that off for awhile, but I will report back when I go.

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