Good morning, y’all. Turns out the “poncey” class in Great Britain didn’t realize that a third of their wealth was going to be washed away by their xenophobic vote to leave the European Union. It’s a shame that the English people have been led astray by their nobility for so long. It seems like after a few hundred years you’d get past the idea that the monarchy has your best interests at heart. They certainly did in Ireland, or at least most of it. Looks like Scotland has finally got a clue. I’m in favor of England, like the cheese, standing alone. We’ll see how it goes.
Speaking of best interests bring us back to our retelling of the history of the church once know as the Little Church in the Valley. It would have been in the best interest of the church if the Elders had been able to squash the story about the church in the North Georgia Gazette. The Elders just didn’t have the clout to dissuade the paper from running an article that was clearly going to up the papers’ readership. Even if it was sensationalism, the picture was worth a million words. The picture accompanying the article was of the Right Reverend Dale E. Bread being bitten squarely in the face by a large timber rattlesnake. The article was penned by a young journalism major, Howard Doohan who was working as an intern for the paper. The article was as follows:
“What you see before you is the Right Reverend Dale E. Bread practicing his faith at the Full Gospel Original Church of God in Nunsuch, Georgia. Sunday, August 16th was the annual Summer fish fry for the little church nestled in the mountains. Reverend Bread had taken his snakes outside to continue his ministry while the picnic was being prepared. From the looks of things, “Old Ben”, the rattlesnake in the picture, had checked his contract and there was nothing in it about two shows a day. Serpentologists also speculate that Old Ben probably didn’t appreciate being taken from the air conditioned church into the 98 degree heat without being given a few minutes to acclimatize.
An eye witness account relates that the Reverend Bread reached into the snake box, grabbed Old Ben by the tail, and had begun a dance routine that looks a lot like a fellow trying to stomp out a fire that is burning up his legs. Just as the eye witness was taking a picture for the church newspaper, Old Ben doubled back and popped Reverend Bread on the bridge of the nose. Evidently the only one who was not stunned into stupefaction was Old Ben, who used the confusion to slither off into the weeds.
The eye witness, who wishes to remain anonymous, further details that the Reverend Bread proceeded to “speak in tongues” at such a loud and rapid voice that some of the words sounded like words banned by the church and most polite societies. The Reverend Bread was taken by ambulance to the hospital in Blairsville. Old Ben, who we are told was named for a former member of the church, was last seen beating a path to the Chattahoochee National Forest.
Many readers will make a judgement based on this scene, probably along the lines of, “if you play with fire, you’re gonna get burned”. This reporter’s personal opinion is not far from that assessment, but, I will say there are other religions that also have peculiarities that could result in harmful physical results. Fasting, flagellation, pilgrimages, circumcision are all practices based in a religious belief that could go badly. Where snake handling varies from the other practices is that it can quickly and instantly result in death for the practitioner.
Appalachia has been poor since the dawn of creation. The little local churches scattered throughout the mountains don’t have the financial means to build monolithic structures with elaborate audio-visual to keep the parishioners attending. It is a fact of life, ten percent of poor will always be poor. Churches trying to compete for the meager tithe available in their communities have been forced to come up with nuances that set them apart from the other congregations. Thus, snake handling was born. When the church throws in “speaking in tongues” and the “laying of hands”, you’ve got a pretty compelling attraction for people who are not interested in the more traditional houses of worship.
At the time of this writing, Reverend Bread is undergoing anti-venom treatment and is expected to recover. It is believed that Old Ben will be just fine.”
An emergency meeting of the Elders was called for that night to discuss the church’s options. It was determined that Elder Wiley would handle damage control as far as the details of the story went. Elder Cheatum would take care of whatever Reverend Dale needed in the way of medical treatment. Elder Diggum would contact the Church of God home office and see if there were any ministers available, “by the hour”. The Elders knew from past experience that recovery from a snake bite was a touch and go situation, particularly from a timber rattler, the most venomous snake in North America. Reverend Dale had taken the shot square to the face. A very unfortunate turn of events.
Elder Cheatum felt the old familiar dread as he pulled into the hospital parking lot on Monday, August 17th. He located Reverend Dale’s semi-private room and forced himself to enter the room. Reverend Dale was propped up in the bed connected to all sorts of machines using assorted widths of tubing. The young reverend’s head was swollen up about twice its normal size. His appearance was that of a Jack O’Lantern. The Elder reached for the Reverend’s hand, but there was not one free of tubing. Stepping back the Elder smiled and said,
“A man is talking to God. ‘God, how long is a million years?’
God answers, ‘To me, it’s about a minute.’
‘God, how much is a million dollars?’
‘To me, it’s a penny.’
‘God, may I have a penny?’
‘Wait a minute.’”
If the Reverend smiled it was indiscernible because of the swelling.
“How are you doing, need anything?”, the Elder asked. The Reverend gagged a couple of attempts at words and finally just shook his head “no”.
“Ok, well I just came by to let you know that we’ve got everything covered and all you have to do is get well.” The Elder continued, “Any idea how long you’re in for?” The Reverend just shook his head “no”.
“Ok, I’ll see what I can find out.” the Elder said as he backed out the door. “Be well”, and then he was gone. As Elder Cheatum drove out of the hospital parking lot, he remembered his last visit to the hospital had been to visit Hap Johnstone. “I sure hope this turns out better than the last time I was here”, he thought as he headed back to Nunsuch.
The newspaper hit on Wednesday, August 19th. The Elders had felt fortunate that the story didn’t make it to the Atlanta papers and TV networks. Fortunately for the church, the news of the death of civil rights icon Julian Bond was more important than a story about some preacher who got himself bit by a snake. Unfortunately for the church, the story of a man being bitten by a rattlesnake was going to be in the local paper. When it’s a preacher, and he’s bitten in the face, it’s going to make the front page. Elder Wiley had failed miserably at his mission. The Elders were going to need a lot of sugar to make lemonade out of these lemons.