By Tom Midlane @GoldenLatrine
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Videographer / director: Ruaridh Connellan, Dan Howlett
Producer: Tom Midlane, Ruby Coote
Editors: Thom Johnson, Ian Phillips
A NEW documentary has captured the startling moment a controversial American pastor is bitten by a deadly snake during a service.
Cody Coots is the pastor at the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus’ Name church in Middlesboro, Kentucky - one of America’s only remaining snake-handling churches.
The dangerous ritual had already cost the Pentecostal church its previous pastor, Cody’s father Jamie Coots, 42, after he was bitten by a rattlesnake and killed in 2014.
And the shocking footage shows Cody Coots - his shirt splattered in blood - collapsing and being helped from his altar as the snake’s potentially lethal poison begins to take hold.
The church’s story is told in My Life Inside: The Snake Church, the first film in a new series from Barcroft TV which gains unprecedented access to people who’ve chosen to live outside the norms of modern mainstream society.
The church’s unique way of showcasing their religious devotion - they also drink poison and handle naked flames - is inspired by the biblical verse in Mark 16:18: “They will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them”.
After being bitten, Pastor Cody asks to be taken to the mountaintop where God will judge whether he lives or dies.
But one of his congregation defies him and takes him to hospital, where doctors reveal that the snake came close to severing the temporal artery - which would almost certainly have killed him.
Cody’s friend, and fellow preacher, Big Cody - who drove him to the hospital - told Barcroft TV: “Most people bit in the face are dead in five, ten minutes.
“I mean, his own daddy got bit in the hand and within seven minutes was dead."
The two-part My Life Inside: The Snake Church follows Cody as he recovers from the bite and re-evaluates his life and faith in the wake of his brush with death.
Snake-handling churches started appearing in the Appalachian Mountains over a hundred years ago.
The death of Cody’s father thrust him into the pastor’s role at the age of just 23 - making him the fourth generation to take up the snake-handling vocation.
Cody told Barcroft TV: "When the Bible says serpents, it means a poisonous snake.
"When the old man got bit he died within probably 10 minutes, it’s a nasty bite.
"Every time he’d ever got bitten, I’d never seen him drop a snake. And I’ve seen the snake hit the floor I thought, “We'll just take him home”.
"He walked back to the bathroom and the last words he did say to me was, 'My face feels like it’s on fire'.
"I stepped out of the bathroom and then I heard a scream and when I went back there he just went limp.”
In the US, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that between 7000 and 8000 people are bit by venomous snakes each year, and about five of those people die.
Rattlesnake bites are generally not fatal as long as they are treated quickly.
In the past six years there have been three recorded deaths in the US from snake bites during religious services.
Cody’s father Jamie Coots’ was killed in 2014, 60-year-old David Brock died after being bitten at a Pentecostal Church in Kentucky in 2015, and 44-year-old pastor Mack Randall Wolford died after being bitten by a timber rattlesnake during an outdoor religious service in West Virginia in 2012.
Incredibly, Mack Randall Wolford’s father - who was also a snake handling pastor - also died from a snake bite almost 30 years earlier.
But Cody and his congregation's beliefs mean they continue to risk their health - and lives - at their Sunday services.
During the services worshippers lay hands on the sick, pray, sing, and listen to sermons led by Pastor Cody, who often picks up snakes from a box and carries one or two of them aloft while he preaches.
As the congregation becomes more and more enraptured by the message, they often shout, sing or even speak in tongues, while praising the Lord.
The service reaches its peak when those who feel moved by the Holy Spirit are invited to come up to the front, and handle fire, drink poisons, or hold up the snakes for themselves, while singing and dancing.
Around 14 people regularly worship each Sunday, but services can last between 90 minutes and up to five hours, depending on the fervor and intensity of the occasion.
Cody’s wife Tammy, 25, said: "That church is their blood, you know. It started with their family and it’s going down with their family.
"It is not for me. I wasn’t raised in this religion. I met Cody through my dad and we just clicked. I was just, like, crazy over him.
"Me and Cody didn't talk about religion until after we got married and all I said is, “God, what did I get myself into”?
"I do worry that Cody is going to leave this world like his dad did. I don't ever want that to happen to him because I love him.”
The church can be seen as repressive towards women, who are not allowed to wear make-up, and must dress in skirts instead of pants.
Meanwhile the women are not allowed to preach in church, although they can handle the snakes, hold aloft fire balls, and drink poison if they feel moved to do so during the weekly services, which can sometimes last up to five hours.
The first series of My Life Inside: includes films about devil-worshippers in Oklahoma, and teenage girls in Louisiana who go through intricate ceremonies with their fathers in which they pledge to remain virgins until married.
My Life Inside: The Snake Church premieres on Barcroft TV, on YouTube, from Friday August 17