At noon on Sunday, one of the oldest members of Church of the Covenant Presbyterian in Anniston will open to the first page of the Bible and read, “In the beginning…”
Three days later, another volunteer will read the Bible’s last words: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.”
It’s a marathon reading called a “Bible-a-thon.” Members of Covenant Presbyterian and community volunteers will work together to read the Bible, cover to cover, 24 hours a day.
They figure it will take about 72 hours, said George Lauderbaugh, the church member who proposed this idea. Lauderbaugh recently retired as a history professor at Jacksonville State University.
Readers will read for about 15-30 minutes each.
“You have to come in wherever the person in front of you left off. You don’t get to pick what you read,” Lauderbaugh said. “You might wind up in the middle of a long genealogy. Or, in the Old Testament, in the middle of particularly brutal wars or slayings.”
He added: “We thought about just reading the New Testament, because we’re a small congregation — about 50 members — but we decided, let’s just go for it.”
Church members have recruited a variety of community members to read, from firefighters to police officers to teachers to political leaders.
Some are planning to bring family Bibles to read from.
Several JSU students — one from Ecuador, one from Guatemala, one from Venezuela — will read passages in Spanish. Another volunteer will read in German. The church is hoping to finds readers who speak Latin and Greek.
A member of Temple Beth El will read a passage from the Old Testament. Members of other local Presbyterian churches will participate, including First United Presbyterian Church, which is predominantly African-American, and Anniston Korean Presbyterian Church, whose volunteers will read in Korean.
South Korea is home to some 10 million Presbyterians — more than there are in the U.S. — and there are several different Korean Presbyterian denominations in the U.S.
The idea for the Bible-a-thon came about as the members of Covenant Presbyterian were looking for different ways to connect with the community, according to pastor Lin Veasey. “We had done some teacher appreciation things at different schools, but we wanted to do something a little more inclusive,” she said.
“Because we come from the Reformed tradition, we are very Bible-focused. We were interested in reclaiming that part of our heritage, and letting other folks know we are connected very directly to the Bible,” Veasey said.
“One of the interesting traditions in the Presbyterian church — First Presbyterian Church of Jacksonville still does this, but very few do — they process the Bible in each Sunday. They open the front doors of the sanctuary and they bring in the Bible,” she said. “Our whole service is formed around the proclamation of the Word.”
The Bible-a-thon will kick off on Sunday afternoon with readings by the two oldest members of the congregation, Fleeta Todd, age 90, and Bob Field, age 88.
People are welcome to drop in and listen until 8 p.m. each night. After that, the youth of the church will be locked in with the pastor and will read through the night.
The church will reopen to the public at 6 a.m. each morning. The Bible-a-thon is expected to end sometime Wednesday morning.
The church is hoping to schedule one of its members, 66-year-old Greg Hall, toward the end of the Bible-a-thon. Hall's mother was one of the founding members of The Arc of Calhoun County.
Lauderbaugh participated in a similar Bible-a-thon years ago in Montgomery. “At the time, I was teaching nights. I would get off at 10 at night and go over to the church. There would be no audience whatsoever, but just reading in the sanctuary was a very uplifting and spiritual experience.”
If you’d like to volunteer to read for the Bible-a-thon, call the church at 256-820-4851. Leave your name and contact number and someone will be in touch.