Everyone wants to be part of a story. The desire to be connected to a winning or positive story drives much of our behavior, including the brand-name apparel we wear, the cars we drive and the groups and associations we join. There is a disconnectedness to our nation at the moment that some have described as “the lonely crowd” — plenty of connection on social media but no connection to family, neighborhood or community. What if the connectivity answer was found in a Bible? In this instance, I am not referencing the teachings contained in the Bible, though those words do connect us in divine and extraordinary ways. I am talking about the binding stories of family Bibles.
For centuries, family Bibles were not only a prized possession but also the place where personal information, important events and red-letter days were recorded. Passed down from generation to generation, each family Bible was unique and contained one-of-a-kind information. Families could remember dates of births, baptisms, marriages, deaths and significant events within its pages. Often oversized and prominently displayed, the family Bible contained not only the stories of ancient prophets but of important relatives.
Sadly, as society has marched forward, countless family Bibles have been left behind. Often discarded during a move or taken to a thrift store as a donation, many family Bibles have been lost completely or have become disconnected from the family whose story, genealogy and family history they hold.
Several years ago, Joseph Kerry was at a yard sale when he came across a beautiful oversized Bible open to a page showing a history of the family. When rain began to fall from the darkened clouds above, Kerry saw the story of that family literally begin to wash away. He grabbed the Bible and took it to a safe, dry space, then purchased it. In that moment, a movement was launched — Bible Rescue.
Kerry isn’t interested in merely saving, preserving and displaying Bibles. He is passionate about reuniting Bibles with a living family member connected to it. He described the effort saying, “We believe that when a family Bible is reunited to a living descendent, it strengthens that family. The Bible brings them closer together and serves to turn the ‘hearts of the children to their fathers and mothers’ and serves as physical proof to the power and role of faith through time.”
The effort is really summed up by Kerry’s declared quest to rescue Bibles, restore and preserve them and ultimately reunite them with connected living family members.
Bible Rescue Collection is one of the largest in private hands with over 1,000 family Bibles. On Saturday, Oct. 20, the Bibles will be available for the public to see at the Bible Rescue headquarters in Ogden, Utah.
Far from a collection of dusty books, it is a treasure trove of stories. One Bible belonged to the family of Samuel Wheeler. Wheeler assisted Gen. George Washington in slowing down the British as the American forces retreated to New York. Wheeler built a chain across the Hudson River to prevent British ships from sailing the river in pursuit of Washington. He later constructed the original iron gates to old Christ Church in Philadelphia. After the war, he was elected a member of the House of Representatives in the state Legislature in Pennsylvania.
It is extremely rare to find a family Bible with family history information for black families born before the Civil War. It is almost unheard of to find such a Bible that contains the old tin photographs of pre-Civil War black families, given the cost of photographs at the time. But the Charles Burns family Bible, in stewardship of Bible Rescue, is well worn, but the photos of this African-American family are preserved and priceless.
Charles Burns was a young black man, born into slavery and could not read or write. As a freed slave, Charles worked odd jobs as a stagecoach operator and farmhand to provide for his wife and nine children. One of his grandsons went on to be chairman of the largest black-owned and operated supermarket in the county. Another grandson, Charles Thurgood Burns, was a first cousin to the first African-American justice of the Supreme Court, Thurgood Marshall.2 comments on this story
On loan, through Brent and Charlene Ashworth, and on display are the Joseph and Emma Smith family Bible, Hellen Keller’s Bible and one page from a Gutenberg Bible. Each contains unique stories and fascinating histories.
Stories in the Bible teach important lessons for families. The stories contained in family Bibles link and unite descendants, forge bonds that strengthen homes and foster meaning and a sense of belonging for generations yet to come. Gutenberg gets credit for taking the Bible to the people, but the people take credit for creating their own legacy in a family Bible.