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Christian Union: The Magazine
June 7, 2021

Riley ’22 Leads Communal Scripture Reading Initiative

By Tom Campisi, Managing Editor


Spring had finally arrived in Hanover, New Hampshire. On a warm May afternoon, amidst the golden sunshine, a group of students from CU Vox were spread out on blankets, reading the Bible out loud on the Dartmouth Green.

Communal Scripture Reading, initiated during this academic year by Tanner Riley ’22, has fostered a greater love for God’s Word and strengthened relationships within the CU Vox community, according to Noah Crane, Christian Union’s interim ministry director at Dartmouth College.

“It’s helping to develop the notion that Bible reading isn't just something you do quietly on your own,” Crane said. “It has also been a wonderful way for people to connect.”

cu vox tannerTanner Riley, Dartmouth '22

Riley, who is majoring in biology (modified with neuroscience), first experienced communal Bible reading in Europe during a gap year before attending Dartmouth. At a three-month Bible-study school based in Switzerland, a group of approximately twenty young adults read through the Old and New Testaments in three months. The course was led by Christian mentors and scholars.

“That Bible school showed me the immense value of reading scripture as a community—and what joy it can bring,” he said.

“The Bible came alive to me like never before, and I started to get excited about books that are typically overlooked, like Haggai or Deuteronomy. One of the things that I loved most about the school was that we didn't just read through the entire Bible—we read through the entire Bible out loud as a community.”

Due to the fast pace, the group ended up reading together in airports and buses, in public parks, and in cafes, “wherever we went, we carried our Bibles with us, and at any spare moment, we'd be reading out loud from Ezekiel or Zecheriah or Hebrews.”

The student president of CU Vox, Riley introduced the concept of Communal Scripture Reading earlier this year. 

“It is such a simple idea and, yet, we had never done it here before,” Crane said. “Tanner’s love for God’s Word is evident to all, so it makes perfect sense that this would be his idea to bring to the community.”

This is precisely the kind of faith-fueled action that Christian Union is seeking to foster in its mission to “develop and connect transformative Christian leaders.”

“Tanner is a good leader because he's an encourager, a recruiter, and a listener. He also loves to see communities flourishing,” Crane said.

Likewise, Riley credits Christian Union with helping him understand servant leadership. His biggest takeaway so far? “Humility, humility, humility. The CU Vox ministry fellows and past members of the exec team have modeled radical humility in the vein of Matthew 23:11. (“The greatest among you shall be your servant.) I’m so thankful to have such terrific examples and teachers.”

Academically, Riley is thankful for the opportunity to work in Dartmouth’s Sarpeshkar Microbiology Lab under such a renowned leader. Dr. Rahul Sarpeshkar is the Thomas E. Kurtz Professor and a Professor of Engineering, Professor of Physics, Professor of Microbiology and Immunology, and Professor of Molecular and Systems Biology. 

When the pandemic hit, the lab pivoted from iterative protein engineering to researching potential treatments for COVID-19 and ways to combat Sars-CoV-2, Riley noted. Working remotely from home, he helped Dr. Sarpeshkar and his lab sort through the pre-existing literature on the virus and past similar viruses.

Regarding future endeavors, Riley is considering pursuing higher education and getting a Ph.D. to do biological research or attending med school, and other alternative paths.

“I know that there are lots of exciting opportunities out there, and I'm in no rush,” he said.

Prior to hosting Communal Scripture Reading on the Dartmouth Green in May, CU Vox held the group’s meetings via Zoom, with typically four to eight people attending. For thirty minutes, participants take turns reading a chapter from a designated book of the Bible.

“I try to keep it short to honor my peers' busy schedules,” Riley said. “Sometimes, people will hang around afterward to discuss the passages.”

Hearing the words of Scripture read aloud can help you understand a passage in ways you never would while reading on your own, Riley said.

“Community is so important and reading the Bible together helps keep Christian community centered on the Bible. It inspires us to ponder the scriptures in a new light and ask questions and have discussions together.”

Riley noted that personal quiet time with scripture reading is only a very recent phenomenon in light of Church history.

“The Old and New Testaments were passed along and shared with faithful communities for thousands of years,” he said. “If we limit our Bible reading to personal quiet times, we are missing out on a rich oral tradition.”

With the Word of God as a lamp, whether he reads it silently or aloud with others, the future certainly looks bright for this young man. In the meantime, he will continue to be a key leader for CU Vox. 

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