Andrew Hamblin, 21, of Tabernacle Church of God in LaFollette, Tenn., holds up four copperhead snakes during church service on May 24, 2012. (Shelley Mays, The Tennessean)
"Snake Salvation" will feature scenes from church services where worshipers handle snakes, as well as the day-to-day struggle to live out their faith.
A pair of serpent-handling Pentecostal preachers who were profiled in The Tennessean last year are getting their own reality television show.
"Snake Salvation" is set to debut Sept. 10 on the National Geographic Channel.
The series will feature Andrew Hamblin of Tabernacle Church of God in LaFollette, Tenn., and Jamie Coots of Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name church of Middlesboro, Ky.
They are among a handful of believers in Appalachia who practice the so-called signs of the gospel, found in Mark 16: "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."
Coots said the series will feature scenes from church services where worshipers handle snakes, as well as the day-to-day struggle to live out their faith. "The main thing is for people to see that there is more to us than wanting to handle snakes," said Coots.
Coots said he welcomes the attention that the show will bring. It also gives him a chance to share his faith with a wider audience than his small congregation.
"We say we are in this to save souls," he said. "But people don't see us if they don't come into the four walls of the church."
A crew from National Geographic Television followed the two preachers in the fall of 2012 and the spring and summer of 2013. Sixteen episodes are planned so far, said executive producer Matthew Testa.
Testa said that because their faith is dangerous and illegal to practice in most states, serpent-handing congregations have been wary of the media in the past. By getting to know Coots and Hamblin, he said, viewers will get a view into a unique religious culture.
"We live at a time when, because of the Internet and television, we are all becoming more and more alike," he said. "To find a really distinct American subculture is incredibly rare."
Testa said the serpent-handling believers blend into the rest of society. They dress modestly -- dresses for women, pants and long sleeves for men -- but also shop at Wal-Mart. And both churches in the show are located in residential neighborhoods.
"This is the church next door," said Testa. "You could be driving right by them and have no idea that people inside are handling snakes."
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SOURCE: USA Today