Our 2014 living-learning experience in Appalachia began in LaFollette, TN at the Friday night service of the Tabernacle Church of God. Pastor Andrew Hamblin has become quite well known for reviving the tradition of handling serpents in worship, and we experienced the practice firsthand–from the back rows of the church, of course.
Andrew, who is the same age as most of our college students, welcomes visitors to the services, but he explained at the beginning of the service that if serpents are handled, no one unknown to church members can approach the altar. “There’s death in that box,” he said. The three-hour service did include snakes, as well as the sign of fire (in the form of a propane torch). The recent death of Andrew’s mentor Jamie Coots (one of the featured pastors in the Nat Geo series Snake Salvation) was mentioned several times in the service, and at least one family from his church attended the service on Friday night.
The experience (the entire service and not just the reptilian interludes) will allow for some significant reflection throughout the week and beyond. Next up: A tour of the Middlesboro, KY community garden and tour of Gap Cave at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. Snakes on Friday; bats on Saturday. And with beautiful weather, maybe a few other critters in between.