Network shares story of Ky. church’s spiritual medicine

MIKE BEYER/For Viceland Steve Hupp, a shaman operating a church in Taylor County, is preparing for a ceremony in an image provided by a cable network documenting his work.

“I set up a physical location in a place that was a dry county, where you couldn’t even buy a beer and I’m slinging the strongest psychedelic known to man,” says Steve Hupp in the opening episode of the latest Viceland documentary series “Kentucky Ayahuasca.”

Taylor County residents Steve and Teri Hupp are featured in the show, which began airing in November. It centers on their team at Aya Quest, a church they opened in Camp­bellsville a couple years ago.

The series, which consists of 10 episodes and airs at 10 p.m. each Wed­nes­day, follows several individuals as they come to take part in ceremonies “searching for enlightenment, salvation or healing from any number of afflictions from depression and PTSD, to recovery from emotional or physical abuse and addictions of all kinds,” according to a news release from the network.

What is Ayahuasca? It is an entheogenic brew made out of Banisteriopsis caapi vine and other ingredients. The brew is used as a traditional spiritual medicine in ceremonies among the indigenous peoples of the Amazon basin and is known by a number of different names.

In the show, Steve discusses how he was a “serial bank robber” until a botched robbery in Meade County in 2000 landed him in federal prison. Ac­cor­ding to Steve, that is where his journey to discovering Ayahuasca began.

He met a Peruvian man in prison named Guadelupe, who first told him about it. After being released from prison, Steve tried Ayahuasca, which led him to being trained as a shaman and later opening Aya Quest.

Steve and Teri have been at their location off Greensburg Road for about four years, Teri said. Prior to setting up at their current location, Steve frequently would travel and bring the Ayahuasca to them.

Teri said that Kentucky’s religious freedom laws simplified things for them in establishing a permanent location for the church, and furthermore, federal rulings back up religious groups’ rights to use substances for religious purposes unless the government has compelling reason to infringe on those rights.

Steve and Teri are originally from Louisville. They moved to Camp­bells­ville from LaRue County, as Teri said the commute became too much of a hassle with their church being in Taylor County. She said they fell in love with the area and decided to make Camp­bells­ville-Taylor County their home.

From there, the church took off.

The church accepts people of all religious backgrounds.

“This is very spiritual,” she added. “… Everyone who does this kind of comes to whatever their religious beliefs are.”

Teri said they aren’t at odds with Christianity.

“A lot of people get this bizarre misconception that we are against Jesus. But we really aren’t. We walk with Jesus every day. Jesus was a beautiful teacher and a beautiful healer,” Teri said. “We aren’t at war with Christianity or anything like that. What we are doing is allow people to reach out to their higher power, whatever it is or however they see it, on their own terms and help people who really need it.”

Another misconception is they are using drugs at the church, which she said isn’t true. She says Ayahuasca is more of a medicine or in their church, a sacrament.

“This is not anything remotely close to a drug,” Teri said. “… Words are very poor tools when it comes to anything Ayahuasca-related … there is nothing you can really say to accurately describe the experience.”

The show on Viceland came about after a representative from the network reached out to Steve and Teri, telling them someone who previously participated in a ceremony at Aya Quest had spoke highly of it and the network was interested in doing a documentary.

From there, the idea evolved from a single episode to a 30-minute docuseries to a 10-part series with each episode lasting an hour.

“The interest in what this can do to help people is definitely there,” Teri said.

The show, which was filmed during the summer, features people coming from various parts of the country to take part in the ceremonies, which Teri said that is normal. They have had people travel from nearly every state, as well as Canada, Germany, Scotland, South America, and other countries.

Being accepted to participate in an Aya Quest ceremony takes multiple steps. The process, Teri said, is to ensure the safety of everyone involved.

It begins with a confidential application, which includes applicants listing any health conditions. That’s important because Ayahuasca can have adverse effects with certain health conditions. The process also ensures that no one younger than 21 participates in the ceremonies.

“We really make an effort to work with everyone that we can, but safety is our primary concern,” Teri said.

Ceremonies typically last three days and two nights, and participants stay at the church and are supervised around the clock, Teri said. The participants are free to leave beginning at 6 a.m. each day, she said.

At first, she said she and Steve were skeptical it might not provide an accurate representation, but so far they like the way the program is produced and think it offers an accurate portrayal.

“We want people to see that its not all kittens, puppies and rainbows,” Teri said. “It’s not a magic bullet and it doesn’t fix everything for you but it helps you fix things.