By Tim Ellsworth
Associate VP for Communications, Union University

Union graduate Erin Mount takes part in the Scripture reading marathon under Miller Tower. -Photo by Kristi Woody

Union graduate Erin Mount takes part in the Scripture reading marathon under Miller Tower.
-Photo by Kristi Woody

JACKSON, Tenn. — Despite drenching rain and forceful winds, the Scripture reading marathon at Union University went on as scheduled.

About 500 volunteers from Union and the broader Jackson and West Tennessee communities are participating in the five-day public reading of the Bible from start to finish. The event was designed as a kickoff and wrap-up of sorts for REF500, a celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, from March 9-11 on the Union campus.

That festival, and the Scripture reading marathon, are sponsored by the Ryan Center for Biblical Studies at Union. The first two days of the Scripture reading were March 6-7, with the last two days scheduled for March 13-14. The reading began at 6:30 a.m. each day and continued until midnight. An abbreviated day of reading will take place March 9, from 6:30 a.m.-3 p.m.

Each of the volunteers read for 10 minutes in a tent set up under Miller Tower. The event is co-sponsored by B&H, which provided free copies of the new Christian Standard Bible to the first 200 volunteers who signed up.

Ray Van Neste, director of the Ryan Center, said the marathon was an appropriate way to bookend the Reformation celebration, since the Scriptures played such a crucial role in that revival.

“I’m telling people, ‘There may not be anybody there when you get there. You just read,’” Van Neste said. “Scripture itself has its own power.”

Van Neste said while a large portion of the volunteers are Union faculty, staff and students, many people from the community are participating, from children to retirees and every age in between, from a variety of denominations.

Jackson Mayor Jerry Gist was one reader, and Union University President Samuel W. “Dub” Oliver took seven reading slots. Faculty and administrators from several area schools, both public and private, also volunteered.

“I’ve been really pleased with how it’s gone,” Van Neste said. “There are always a lot of things that could go wrong, and they haven’t.”

Steven Len White, music minister at Colonial Baptist Church in Memphis, made the drive up Interstate 40 to participate. His text to read came from Leviticus, and he said the experience was worth the trip.

“I got to read about scabs and purification and some very interesting and intricate details about what to do with an individual when they were afflicted with something,” White said.

Melinda Stewart, assistant program director in the department of continuing studies at Union, read from Numbers 16 and said she was privileged to be a part of the marathon.

“Scripture was inspired by God,” Stewart said. “You’re so closely connected to God with the word, because that’s who he is.”

Van Neste thanked Cody Curtis, an assistant residence director at Union, for helping to coordinate the event. The reading is being streamed live at