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Handwritten chapters coming together to create Nebraska Corona Bible

Handwritten chapters coming together to create Nebraska Corona Bible

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Pages have come in from across Nebraska, Texas and are on the way from Switzerland. They have been written by third graders and people in their 90s. Some are strikingly illustrated. Some are scripted with beautiful calligraphy. Some are scrawled in sloppy cursive.

Those pages, each a chapter, will eventually come together in the Nebraska Corona Bible.

Created by the Rev. Thomas Dummermuth, associate pastor at Eastridge Presbyterian Church, the project that aims at having Nebraskans copy all 1,189 Bible chapters began in April and was initially set to be completed in mid-June.

As with nearly everything related to the coronavirus, the project has taken longer, and reached far more broadly than originally envisioned.

But so far, so good, says Dummermuth. 

This massive project has had Dummermuth's head spinning at times.

“There are projects of people who write Scripture," he said, using the St. John's Bible project — a handwritten bible commissioned by the Collegeville, Minnesota university in the late 1990s — as an example.

"I knew from the beginning, this is not going to be that. Even though we have some artists, really great artists' contributions, this is not going to be calfskin and gold lettering and those kind of things.

“It's really more, 'hey, I have paper. I have a way to write,' and they can be part of that," he said. "So I hoped it would take off really because I think these are times to be creative. These are times to do things differently. And I think it's also to do church differently, in nontraditional ways.”

Copying a chapter out of the Bible isn’t seen by some as creative. But, in Dummermuth’s view, it is a meditative, creative effort that echoes the past, much like other activities that can be done at home that have become popular during the pandemic.

“Some people took up canning and sourdough — there's a rediscovery of very old technologies,” Dummermuth said. “I see this kind of in that venue as well. ... It is ancient, right?"

He said people were copying Scripture for thousands of years, often doing it secluded in their cells, which conjures up images of the pandemic lockdown last spring.

"I was just fascinated by the thought, you know, that there was this monk in the seventh century, and he would sit in his cell and copy a writing that we still have today."

So far, more than 500 people have copied chapters for the Corona Bible. The exact number of copyists won’t be known until the project is complete and the names written on each chapter are compiled. In part, that’s because some churches took on entire books as a community project and didn’t list the individual email addresses of those copying each chapter.

“Genesis was adopted by Zion Presbyterian Church, and they did that as a congregation,” Dummermuth said as he paged through their contributions, noticing that some of the chapters are print quality, while there are others "that are barely legible."

“I think that's some of the charm of it,” he said. 

The project has attracted copyists from a range of Christian denominations, a heartening outcome for Dummermuth.

“Because it's the Bible, it really had a great response by folks not in the mainline churches, liberal churches, but in the Bible churches, nondenominational churches,” he said. “Often there's not much collaboration between the liberal and more conservative churches. But here we have a lot of folks, because these are Bible-reading folks.”

The project’s geographic footprints range from Omaha to far western Nebraska and beyond, in part, because of former Nebraskans who are now elsewhere. A Texan, for example, sent a note along with her chapter, saying she "was raised in Nebraska, went to Midland University, was a member of a Lutheran congregation, moved to Arizona and now in Texas.”

The chapter from Switzerland will come from Uwe Habenicht, who, in March, initiated the St. Gallen Coronabibel. Swiss native Dummermuth learned of the St. Gallen project and got permission to copy it in Nebraska.

Like the Nebraska effort, the St. Gallen project, which aimed to finish on Pentecost (May 31), has taken longer than expected.

Envelopes containing the chapters flooded the Eastridge Presbyterian mailbox in May and June and submissions continue to trickle in. The handwritten pages were sorted by book, then chapter by volunteers, who found a way to participate in the project and spend time at the church while maintaining social distance.

Now sitting in files, the pages aren’t yet ready for binding or reproduction. That’s because many of the submissions didn’t follow the format of writing on 8½-by-11-inch unlined paper and leaving 1-inch margins on each side.

“Guess what, people are not good at following directions,” Dummermuth said. “So we have some people who did really extraordinarily well, and others just had a page out of a college-ruled (note) book. Then they're smaller, and this wonderful piece of work (with colored illustrations) is too big. That has us, a little bit, scratching our heads. How are we going to (put the pages together)? Right now, the plan is to digitize it, and then print work from the digitized version."

Before any of that can happen, though, Nebraska Corona Bible needs to be completed.

There are still several chapters missing. Some have been spoken for, by individuals and congregations, but have not yet been turned in. The new deadline is Nov. 1 and everyone has been notified.

There are 181 chapters — all from the Old Testament — that haven’t been claimed. Only one chapter from Haggai remains, four from Proverbs and five from Numbers. But there are 36 chapters left from Ezekiel and more than 20 in four other books, including all 27 of Leviticus.

“We hope to fill the gap with a couple days of scriptorium, where we can replicate that idea (of monks copying Scripture in a monastery,” Dummermuth said. “Basically we'll have 10 people at a time to come in and to just write for however far they get for an hour, and then the next people can continue.

"I think that way we can fill most of those gaps."

The scriptoriums are set for Oct. 10 at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church and Oct. 17 at Eastridge Presbyterian. Details on the scriptoriums, including how to sign up, will be announced soon.

Dummermuth, who’s become a true Nebraskan since moving here in 2013, sees the scriptorium sessions as a suitable substitute for a fall without Husker football.

“Instead of football this fall, people can come on Saturdays and hand-copy Scripture,” he said. “They can go to the scriptorium instead of the stadium.”

Reach the writer at 402-473-7244 or On Twitter @KentWolgamott  


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