By KYLE THOMPSON
7 decades of rebinding Bibles
While the grass withers and the flowers fade and the Word of God stands forever, sometimes a particular physical Bible is precious to a Christian. Maybe it was passed down from generations, has copious notes or was a family Bible with records. A family in Greenwood has made it their lives’ work to preserve these irreplaceable copies of God’s Word.
Norris Bookbinding, owned by brothers Charles and Johnny Sproles — and operated by Charles’ children, Gib Sproles and Stephanie Jackson, and Nila Gardner, Johnny’s daughter — has been restoring Bibles since 1947.
Founder H.H. Norris hired 15-year-old Charles in 1950 to work part time after school. Younger brother Johnny started working for Norris in 1957. Learning the trade takes years, so in an effort to keep the brothers, “he sold us a little bit of interest in the business, just enough to keep us here,” said Charles. Norris died in 1968 and, over the years, the Sproles brothers bought the business bit by bit from the Norris family. Charles, 84, and Johnny, 81, still work daily in the workroom.
By the late 1960s, Baptist Bookstores (later LifeWay) started using Norris for all their Bible binding, and later, Family Christian Stores did as well. Norris binds annual archives for newspapers, Billboard, The Hollywood Reporter, and county records. They do church bulletins, school yearbooks and cookbooks. Said Gib,
“There’s no telling how many cookbooks that people have sent in that their grandmother had that are stained with cooking, falling apart.”
The vast majority of Norris’ business is rebinding old Bibles. Most of Norris’ clients are from the Bible Belt, but Bibles and books have come in from more than 30 countries and every state.
There have been some interesting requests through the years. Stephanie remembers, “We had a guy who wrote the Bible out – handwritten on paper.” It took four volumes.
Gib added, “One thing we’ve kind of gotten to doing more of is interleaving a Bible, where we put a blank sheet of paper in between each page (so the owner can take notes). A pastor we did that for took a video of it and posted it (online), and that took off.”
Customers choose to rebind worn Bibles instead of buying new ones for many reasons. Gib said, “I had a pastor in Florida call. His Bible was falling apart. He tried new Bibles to preach from, but he was so used to his that he said, ‘I can go anywhere I want to, blindfolded. I don’t want a different one. I want this one fixed.’”
Johnny added, “People have so many notes in them, too. They got notes all over the page they can refer back to. If you get a new Bible, you’re starting all over. Also, sentimental value is a lot. They get handed down. (There are) so many family records (in old, big family Bibles) going way, way back. People want to preserve them, and we’ll add new pages for them to fill out for years to come.”
“The Bible’s timeless,” Stephanie stated. “The Word is forever, and people have them on their tablets, but it’s nothing like having them from generation to generation. We just shipped one that’s going to be used in a wedding.”
Customers are often overwhelmed when they get their Bibles back. Norris was sent a video of a 90-year-old receiving her Bible after it was re-bound. Stephanie said, “She just wept. We miss out. We don’t get the joy of seeing these people get their Bibles back (in person). They call, they send letters — we’ve got tons of letters — but she just cried and said, ‘I can’t believe this is my Bible.’”
The family finds deep meaning in their work. “God’s Word. It’s God’s Word. That’s it,” said Gib. “We think we’re doing a service for God’s people and for God. That’s what we believe in.”
Stephanie told a story that illustrates this well: “I had a customer from Kentucky who sent four Bibles. He was having them done for his kids. He had cancer. When I called back, he had passed away. It was a tough conversation that day. I had his name on my desk; I was praying for him. Knowing there are Christians out there that are hungry for the Word and are doing their best to get it to the next generation … gives me a lot of joy.”
Nila added what may well serve as the business motto: “I’ve always heard it said, ‘If your Bible is falling apart, your life is not.’”
Kyle Thompson is a teacher, financial advisor, writer, musician, chess player and nerd living in Brandon. He attends Park Place Baptist Church.