Eyewitness account of a snake handling church in Kingston, Georgia.

NOTE: This article first appeared in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s now-defunct “Dixie Living” Sunday section, submitted by the author. Keep reading for current updates on the church.

Snakes have been part of religious ceremonies for centuries. Ancient cultures regarded them as everything from reincarnated spirits to treacherous beasts responsible for mankind’s sinful ways.

But, to a small group of Southern churches, venomous snakes represent the ultimate test of faith, as congregation members put the words of Mark 16:18 into action: “And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name . . .they shall take up serpents.”

Dennis Covington’s book Salvation on Sand Mountain, rekindled interest in “snake churches.” Assigned by The New York Times to cover the 1991 murder trial of a snake-handling preacher, Covington was so mesmerized by the church services that he handled venomous snakes himself. The media pounced on his bizarre story, questioning his sanity.

But I could relate to his experiences. Several years ago, I attended a snake-handling service near Kingston. It was one of the most riveting experiences of my life.

A vicious thunderstorm lashed against my windshield as I approached Kingston that night. After a lengthy search, I spotted a wooden, one-room building at the top of a hillside. Two tombstones stood ominously beside its makeshift driveway. A rusty, hand-painted sign read, “Church of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

A group of casually dressed elders studied me as I timidly approached the door. After convincing them that I only meant to observe, not to interfere, they became quite friendly. We complained about the weather and Atlanta sports teams like old friends on a porch swing.

Then the conversation turned to other matters, namely Satan. One elder matter-of-factly spoke about seeing a demon creep through the dense forest surrounding the church. “I saw his red eyes glowin’,” he said.

The Rev. Carl Porter, a pleasant, round-faced man, finally ushered me inside. Lightning had knocked out the church’s power, and gas lanterns swung from the ceiling beams. A four-piece country band softly tuned their instruments behind the pulpit. I was struck at how normal the scene was. These people were not toothless hillbilly caricatures, but everyday blue-collar families brought together by a common interpretation of the Scriptures.

Then the wooden boxes were brought in. Paintings of Jesus and the Virgin Mary adorned their sides.

Under the eerie glow of hissing lanterns, the preacher began. One by one, the members stood, gave testimony and asked for special prayers. At first, it seemed more like a community meeting than a church service, a pep rally for the “believers” against a persecutive outside world.

Porter asked if I wished to give testimony. “Pray for me,” I muttered The congregation nodded, thinking I was talking about my soul.

I was thinking about what was inside those boxes.

The service was unstructured and unpredictable. Fiery sermons followed calm moments of reflection, intense prayers followed gentle hymns. The “believers” scoff at the idea of handing out programs before a church service. Their services are guided strictly by the ebbing and flowing of emotions. No snakes are handled until the Holy Ghost “anoints” the church.

As the hours passed, a hidden energy swept through the room. The hymns became pounding, rockabilly-style numbers. People stomped their feet, shouted and danced, some banging tambourines and cymbals. Others spoke in tongues, writhing on the Boor. An elder buried his fingers in a teenage boy’s forehead, screaming at a demon inside.

As the music reached a fever pitch, the elders formed a semicircle around the pulpit, keeping the women and children at a safe distance. Porter opened the wooden boxes, pouring clumps of twisting rattlesnakes and copperheads onto the open Bible. They passed the snakes around, draping them around their necks, thrusting them triumphantly into the air. They became bolder as the music pumped faster and faster, tossing the snakes back and forth, stuffing them down their shirts, walking on them with bare feet. Porter grabbed handfuls at a time, the serpents twisting in his fists like Medusa’s hair.

But the snakes didn’t strike. They only stared at their captors, seemingly hypnotized by the pulsating music.

The “anointing” passed as quickly as it started After a brief benediction, the congregation parted into the stormy night. Several members embraced, telling me to come back whenever I wanted.

I drove home in a daze. The intensity of the service had been overwhelming. But the snakes’ lethargy bothered me. I began to wonder whether what I saw was real.

I returned to the church several weeks later for a reunion picnic. Snake handlers from across the country filled the tiny room, some from churches declared illegal in their respective states. During the services, a rattlesnake bit a visiting preacher.

Afterwards the preacher received medical help. “It’s the Lord’s will,” he said, icing his venom-swollen hand.


UPDATE (2021): Carl Porter, Jr. passed away in 2006. His grave sits in a small cemetery on church grounds. A distinctive tombstone features a photo of Porter handling snakes, with the inscription ‘They Shall Take Up Serpents.” The Church of the Lord Jesus Christ is no longer in operation.

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This Post Has 21 Comments

  1. Andy

    I knew Brother Carl Porter very well. He was a hero to me. A Great man who gave his all. I loved him deeply and he is sorely missed.

  2. Linda francis

    Very impressed with the believe and abilities of these people

  3. Daley

    Does anyone know the hours for this church? I am trying to visit it for a college research project but since they are sort of secretive I can’t find anything online.

  4. Chuck dukes

    This is Chucky dukes I was part of a piece of the book I made the Bible & had another inmate paint picture of brother Glenn he showed me many things I’m home clean 17 yes he laid hand on me one time never had I felt such calmness my number Mr Covington 229 457 5332 please call

    1. Delphia Neitzel

      Bro.Glenn is a very good man an has taught me many things t’s as well he is a very good teacher in the Lord,I admire him,I’ve sat in many congregation with him

  5. Andrew Hall

    Wondering if they would be open to non flash photography? There’s a video where CNN got a church in Tennessee and they were cool with it. Your thoughts?

    1. If it’s legal in a particular state then they’re likely more open, but I would get to know them a little bit before showing up with a camera.

  6. Dixie

    I’m more than happy to find this website. I need to to thank you for ones time for this wonderful read!!
    I definitely savored every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked
    to see new stuff in your web site.

  7. Janet

    You know what else is against God? Hate. That and wishing ill will to others. I bet you have no idea the horror and pain a copperhead snake bite can cause. Many times, the limb will swell and rot. I work in an animal ER and have seen it time and time again. It is awful. It can also cause anemia and issues with blood not being able to clot, and they usually die a slow and painful death. I wouldn’t wish that on any animal or person and though I am not a Christian, I didn’t think the Bible taught that…

  8. brigitte

    This is so against God. Having snakes in a church is so sickening and unbelievable. All these preachers should be bit by all these devil snakes Mabey they Will stop this horrifying belief that they have this is a devil sermon as far as I’m concerned

  9. Chris

    They need to read the whole Bible and keep it in the context it was meant to be in. 1 Cor 9 “Neither let us test the Christ, as some of them tested, and perished by the serpents.”

  10. Michael allen

    I grew up in this church, mighty fine people. They didn’t take up serpants all the time. But the sick was head, devils were casted out, but mostly people were getting saved. Thank you Jesus !!!

  11. Stephanie

    There is a song called*Pray with snake* by rapper Boondox. It about the snake handling in his home town-Newton County, Georgia.

  12. Cindy Van Lerberg

    um, snakes don’t react to music, but the vibrations therefrom, in the air. As snakes are deaf.

  13. Bob

    all Christians don’t play with snakes…in fact it’s pretty stupid to tempt God in doing so but hey if that’s what they wanna do let them do it i’m fine with a non snake handling church suits me just fine.

  14. Drew

    Christians really ARE idiots.

  15. ChicaChilena

    O_O… that is SO freaky….

  16. alan

    this is not only weird but creepy…

  17. Cece

    This is SO weird