Middlesboro, KY (WDBJ) -- The Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name Faith in Middlesboro, Kentucky says it is only following the signs as expressed in the Bible. But one of those signs includes the unusual practice of snake handling...
Gregory "Jamie" Coots, the Pastor of the congregation says "To know that you are holding something in your hand that could take your life and yet you had no fear and it was just like holding a puppy dog, I mean there wasn't any fear there.
On this night, seven people handle a variety of rattlesnakes, copperheads and cottonmouths. The church requires that you're 18 to handle snakes. But younger people are allowed to take part in the worship service.
Matthew Loop, a Church Member, says, "Some people wouldn't understand the church but God would understand the church and I would. Some people wouldn't but I would."
Gregory "Jamie" Coots, the Pastor, says, "When the spirit is moving, you're annointed to do anything, you're protected, God's hand protects you from all things.
Churches that handle snakes quote the 16th chapter of St. Mark to support their practices.
Gregory "Jamie" Coots, the Pastor, says, "These signs shall follow them to believe. In my name shall they cast out devils and we believe in actually praying for people that are demon possessed and seeing them delivered. They shall speak with new tongues. Of course all the churches believe in speaking in tongues. They shall take us serpents and we literally believe that means a snake. If they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them and we down through the years have drank strychnine and different things."
And it's not just how this congregation worships that sets it apart.
Gregory "Jamie" Coots, the Pastor at the church says, "Women wear dresses all the time, women don't cut their hair, the men don't wear shorts. We don't wear, like the wife beaters, tank tops, ya know.
Fewer than 50 members worship here. Some travel hours to attend services on Saturday night's and Sunday morning's.
Nathan Evans and his wife live in Buchanan County, Virginia. They spend the night at Pastor Coots' house every weekend.
Cora Garrett lives in Lee County, Virginia. It takes her an hour to get to Middlesboro.
Cora says, "I handled my first serpent in West Virginia. Yeah, parents took us out there when we were teenagers and the Lord moved on us a man to bring us a serpent. We held our hands out and it was great. And I've handled them here ever since. It's my life."
Coots also mentors young ministers like 21 year old Andrew Hamblin a pastor in LaFollette, Tennessee.
Pastor Andrew Hamblin of Tabernacle Church of God
I would tell the ones that thinks I'm crazy, Ya, know-I am not-I am a sound mind man. I've got four children and one on the way-a beautiful wife. I've got a good home. I've got a good church I pastor I'm not a crazy man I don't preach to people and say this rattle snake is going to take you to heaven because we're not begotten by them snakes we're begotten by the
word of God.
Both Hamblin and Coots have been biten several times.
Gregory "Jamie" Coots says, "I made a vow when I first started handling serpents that I would never go to a doctor. That has kept me from going. There's been times had I not made that vow I don't know what I would have done."
But others didn't survive.
Gregory "Jamie" Coots says, "I'll say this, I don't actually want to die of a serpent bite, but I had rather die and leave these walks
of life with a serpent bite knowing it's people standing around me praying as to be in a car wreck and people standing around me cussing. I would rather die in that spiritual atmosphere-even if it does mean a serpent bite."