- Snake Salvation | National Geographic Channel Fall 2013
In the hills of Appalachia, Pentecostal pastors Jamie Coots and Andrew Hamblin struggle to keep an over-100-year-old tradition alive: the practice of handling deadly snakes in church. Jamie and Andrew believe in a bible passage that suggests a poisonous snakebite will not harm them as long as they are anointed by God’s power. If they don’t practice the ritual of snake handling, they believe they are destined for hell. Hunting the surrounding mountains for deadly serpents and maintaining their church’s snake collection is a way of life for both men. The pastors must frequently battle the law, a disapproving society, and even at times their own families to keep their way of life alive.
- Snake-Handling Preachers Open Up About ‘Takin’ Up Serpents’ : NPR 100413
Snake handlers dwell at the edge of the spiritual frontier — a community of people who are willing to die for their faith three times a week in church. Members of the Pentecostal Holiness Church take up venomous serpents to prove their faith in God. The practice is still widespread in Appalachia, though mostly hidden. | Pastor Jamie Coots warns about the scent in the snake room behind his house in Middlesboro, Ky. | “It’s strong, so I’ll go ahead and tell you that,” he says as he unlocks the squeaky door. We’re greeted by the rattles of dark-complexioned pit vipers lying about in glass cages. The air in the snake room is warm, musky and malevolent. | “Got rattlesnakes: the timber rattler and the canebrake,” says Coots, inventorying his reptiles. “We have northern copperheads. And that’s the only two cottonmouths we have.” | Coots is a well-known snake handler here in southeastern Kentucky. He’s 41, stout and bald, with a Vandyke beard. He’s the third generation of Coots to take up serpents; his 21-year-old son, Little Cody, is the fourth. | “Takin’ up serpents, to me, it’s just showin’ that God has power over something that he created that does have the potential of injuring you or takin’ your life,” Jamie Coots says. | Worshiping with snakes dates back more than 100 years, but today, the major Pentecostal denominations denounce the practice. | There are an estimated 125 snake-handling churches scattered across Alabama, Georgia, the Carolinas and Appalachia, where the tradition is strongest. Snakes in church are against the law everywhere but West Virginia, though in most states it’s a misdemeanor offense the authorities don’t bother with. | The National Geographic Channel followed two snake-handling preachers off and on for a year for a called Snake Salvation that will air this fall on Tuesday nights. Pastor Jamie Coots is one of the series’ subjects. | The Tabernacle Church of God in LaFollette, Tenn., is a short drive through the Cumberland Gap from Coots’ church. The pastor here is Andrew Hamblin, a lanky, charismatic 22-year-old, who is the other preacher featured in the TV series. Hamblin wants to modernize the practice of handling snakes in church. He posts photos of himself with snakes on his Facebook page, and he aspires to pastor the first serpent-handling megachurch.
- Snake Salvation: One Way to Pray in Appalachia | TIME.com 090913
Andrew Hamblin handles poisonous snakes every Sunday in the name of Jesus. At just 22, he leads Tabernacle Church of God in LaFollette, Tenn., a Pentecostal church that practices a rare, century-old Christian tradition of worshipping God with venomous snakes like timber rattlers, cottonmouths, and copperheads. He plays mandolin, loves zombie movies, receives food stamps, has five children, and now is he is a star in a new 16-episode National Geographic reality series, Snake Salvation, premiering Tuesday about Appalachia’s serpent-handling churches.
Blue Hole: Little Miami River
What is a village? A small place, yes, as wide as the world, layered with histories and stories, where you can walk wherever you want to go. In my vision of that place, a river like the Little Miami runs through it, and still water like the Blue Hole remains as transcendent as the day in 1851 when Robert Duncanson painted it.
Big Water: Lake SuperiorI’ve canoed on Lake Superior for almost as many years as I’ve been losing eyesight. I return year after year like a migrating loon to learn the other side of a slow, uncertain process that we could call “going blind.” After 35 years with the lake as my teacher, I know what lies on the other side. I call it letting go of sight. Read my essay Big Water.