Don’t Wait, Don’t Wait

Andrew Hamblin snake handling

He who hesitates is lost.

Unfortunately, that famous quote describes exactly what has happened to me. Way back in December, I wrote of my plans to travel to LaFollette to attend a worship service at the Tabernacle Church of God. Pastor Andrew Hamblin, believing that a couple of lines in the sixteenth chapter of the Gospel of Mark (“And these signs shall follow them that believe…they shall take up serpents”) must be taken literally, was handling snakes at church on a regular basis. He and his mentor Jamie Coots had recently rocketed to national attention thanks to a National Geographic reality show called “Snake Salvation.”

But winter seemed the wrong time to take the trip. Hamblin had just had all fifty of his snakes, most of them sickly, seized by TWRA officials and was facing charges of illegal possession of Class 1(a species inherently dangerous to humans) wildlife. Though Hamblin promised his fellow “signs followers” that he could always get more snakes, we all know they’re not easy to find once the weather gets cold.

It only made sense to delay my trip until summer.

In the meantime, a lot of stuff happened. Hamblin was acquitted of the charges against him but National Geographic cancelled the second season of “Snake Salvation” anyway. In February, Jamie Coots–while handling a big timber rattler during a service at his own church, the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus’ Name in Middlesboro, Kentucky—got bit. He refused medical treatment and died within hours.

Then Andrew Hamblin’s wife Elizabeth, with whom—beginning at age 15—he fathered five children, announced on Facebook that she wanted a divorce.

What seemed to be the last nail in the coffin came with the padlocking of the Tabernacle Church of God’s doors by the building’s owner, Clyde Daugherty, who witnessed the snakebite that killed Coots. “Enough is enough,” Daugherty said. “I won’t make a mockery of God. There’ll be no more snake handling at my church.” Hamblin immediately began seeking donations to build a new church. His goal? Fifty thousand dollars. So far, he’s raised just over five hundred.

So does all this mean I’ve blown my chance to witness the taking up of servants?

Maybe not. Even if Hamblin doesn’t get another church of his own any time soon, chances are he’s already found other places to “handle.” Middlesboro, for one, where Jamie Coots’s son “Little Cody” almost immediately felt the call to pick up where his daddy left off. Pun intended.

I’m thinking I’ll ask the handful of people who signed on to go to LaFollette with me if they’re willing to make the drive to eastern Kentucky instead. If they say yes, I’ll try to schedule the trip before cold weather drives the snakes underground again.

Because I don’t want to fall victim to hesitation again. Especially since I discovered that the quote I opened this column with isn’t entirely accurate. The famous line Joseph Addison wrote in his 1713 stage play “Cato, A Tragedy” actually says “The woman who deliberates is lost.”

I’d hate to think he was talking about me.

(August 17, 2014)

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