Ministering to the Civil War Reenacting Community since 1979
Chaplain Alan Farley andThe Re-enactor's Missions for Jesus Christ
by Connie Payne staff writer for Civil War Courier
As a result of attending the annual New Market, VA reenactment on Mother's Day weekend, 1979, Alan Farley fell in love with it……all of it. 38 years later, he is still in love with it.
After spending nearly 5 years in the ranks, Alan, a devout Christian, felt compelled to begin holding chapel services. In 1983, Alan added the role of chaplain to his impression, while still maintaining his role as 1st Sgt. within his unit. Carrying out the duties of 1st Sgt. while trying to ensure that those who wished to worship had a venue and time to do so was a difficult one, and the services were poorly attended. "I was trying to do a dual role….and it didn't help that most event organizers, at that time, did not schedule any time for a chapel service" says Farley, "After I found 15 minutes here or maybe 20 minutes there, I would have to go through both reenactment camps informing everyone of where and when we would have a service." With attendance never topping 15 participants, Farley felt that God was not blessing his efforts.
Politics and bickering within the brigade that Farley belonged to were "at an all time high", and Farley questioned whether he should even remain in reenacting. Disheartened, he took a month off, and dedicated that time to prayer and fasting, asking for the direction he needed to make his decisions clearer. He received the direction he was looking for, in a clear personal message to leave behind the military impression and "put down the musket and pick up the Sword, the Bible". From that moment on, Farley decided to dedicate himself to a full-time, period-correct Chaplain's impression.
At Bentonville, NC that year, Farley shared his decision with his regimental and brigade commanders, and was informed by his brigade commander that there was no room for a chaplain, and that they could not lose a musket. Farley resigned on the spot. Seeking out the host unit, he discovered that a chapel service had actually been scheduled, and offered his services, which were quickly accepted. Knowing that the 11th North Carolina Band was also in attendance at the event and scheduled to perform on both Saturday and Sunday, Farley met with their conductor and asked if they might participate in the chapel service. Not scheduled to return on Sunday until just prior to the afternoon battle, the conductor changed the schedule for Farley, and included the band in the church service. That Sunday service saw nearly 85 people in attendance, and Farley felt confident that his decision to take on a full-time chaplain's impression had been divinely confirmed.
Shortly after returning home from that event, Farley received a phone call from the commander of the newly formed Stonewall Brigade, Col. Rusty Todd. Seeking to put together a correct Confederate brigade command staff, Todd had filled all positions except chaplain, and had asked his staff for recommendations. Farley's name was mentioned, and the position was offered to him. Farley was eager to accept, but informed Todd that he would have to be allowed to hold a church service at every event that they attended, and that every member of the staff would need to be present. Todd informed him that he would have it no other way. Farley joined the Stonewall Brigade in late 1984.
In March of 1985, after being referred by Col. Todd, Farley found himself in contact with Harold Wyatt of the Saylor's Creek event committee. An immediate bond was formed between the two men, and plans were soon made to include a Saturday evening service at the event. The idea was to allow an "out" for those men who wanted no part of the drunken antics that can sometimes occur in military camps on Saturday evenings. Nearly 30 men showed up. It was during this Saturday evening meeting that their vision for a ministry outreach was shared, a vehicle through which they could minister to the reenacting community and Civil War enthusiasts in general. It was decided that the ministry would be called, "Re-enactor's Missions for Jesus Christ". Over the years it has become known as RMJC.
The next several years saw organizations and units split, politics and personalities clash, and many changes take place within the reenacting community. Farley found his niche with Lee's Lieutenants, a group of individuals who portray Generals and personalities from the war, using these impressions to accurately teach history. One of the main vehicles they use for getting their message out is a program they provide called, "Meet The Generals". Besides their usual participation in School Days and one-on-one discussions with spectators and reenactors alike, the Generals are often asked to participate in the Sunday church services.
As word of the RMJC grew, so did interest in the group. At one time over 60 men portrayed chaplains and colporteurs (chaplain assistants) across the country, stretching from the West Coast to the East Coast, and most points in between. A newsletter was started to introduce new members, and to keep everyone informed of the happenings of the group. Farley shared that this newsletter was then opened up to anyone interested in reenacting or the Civil War era in general, and that it "grew beyond our imagination." At the height of The Christian Banner, the group was mailing over 7,000 newsletters every month to over 30 states and 17 foreign countries.
Such growth and enthusiasm also brought some heartbreak and concern. Even though the RMJC required a "Statement of Salvation Testimony" and an agreement with their ministrys "Statement of Faith" from those who took on the roles of chaplains and colporteurs, complaints came in from reenactors that the chaplains were using their platform to further their own beliefs. Some were using modern day paraphrased Bible versions as opposed to the version used during the 1860s, and some led reenacting groups in modern-day chorus' as opposed to the hymns of the War period. As men were confronted, some came in line with the vision of the RMJC and its historical standards, while others quit. As time went by, some left reenacting altogether or became busy in their own home congregations and personal lives. Some were simply never heard from again. Today, the RMJC has only a small handful under their ministry, but they are dedicated men who desire nothing more than to see God's hand at work in their ministry.
Early on in the growth of the ministry, the group was able to partner with Dr. James Ellis (who has since been promoted Home to Glory) of Fundamental Baptist Home Missions of Bessemer City, NC to reprint original gospel tracts; Confederate, Union and US Christian Commission. They printed these tracts "on faith", and the group would then pay for the tracts as the Lord would provide. In 37 years the group has reprinted over 90 different titles and distributed well over 2 million pages of these tracts, always relying on donations to take care of the printing and distribution costs, and always operating "by faith". At Gettysburg in July of 2008, over 30,000 tracts were distributed. RMJC has also re-printed over 20,000 Union and Confederate New Testaments for the soldiers at different times in the past. In 2014 they had their 4th re-printing of the period New Testaments. In 2016 they decided to print tri-fold tracts containing true stories from the War that were not put into tract form. At the Gettysburg event that year they gave the spectators over 5,000 of these "new" tracts.
Farley maintained a full-time, secular job for the first several years of the RJMC's existence. Often leaving on Thursday evenings when he could get a Friday off, he would arrive late to an event, dedicate himself to a weekend of preaching and teaching, and then drive all Sunday night to make it home so that he could return to work Monday morning. In 1991, Farley took a leap of faith and quit his secular job, dedicating himself to full-time ministry. In 1994, while participating at the reenactment in Wheeling, WV, he was officially ordained.
Since his decision in 1991 to leave his secular job, he and his family have taken on the role of "missionaries living totally by faith." They travel as a family over 35,000 miles each year, attending between 20 and 25 reenactments across the country. Farley walks through every door that the Lord opens, preaching "protracted" meetings, patriotic Sunday's, pulpit supply, and attempting to fill pulpits as they travel to help with expenses. By his side is Faith, his wife, who left her secular job in 1992 when they moved from Falls Church, VA to Appomattox County, VA. At that time, Faith joined Alan on the road full time, and was able to not only provide support to him, but was able to be home with their children. Her own personal prayers had been answered.
A true "family affair", the Farley's eagerly embrace both their 21st and 19th century lifestyles. Faith sews, quilts and tats, and plays an active role in the ministry, particularly with female reenactors. Daughter Katherine, nearly 20, spins wool with an antique spinning wheel, knits socks, and quilts. Son Benjamin, 18, is already a farrier, does his own blacksmith work at reenactments and is gaining a reputation for rebuilding and refurbishing antique guns. Both children work actively within the RJMC ministry. In 2013 both Katherine and Ben got married and have left re-enacting. Faith says they (Alan & Faith) have come full circle, now going to re-enactments as they started, without kids but older and slower.
In Farley's 33 years of ministry, and 38 years of reenacting, his stories and remembrances could fill a book. "The good times have far outweighed the bad" he says, "…we have allowed God to stay in control." Taking the bad with the good, Farley says death has taken several friends throughout the years, some of them younger than himself. Never discouraged, he states simply that, "The consolation we have is in knowing that many of these friends who have passed on were led to the Lord through this ministry."
The same 33 years has seen over 3,000 people brought to the Lord. From Jewish to Muslim to those of nearly every denomination who had left their religious beliefs somewhere behind them. It is to the lost and the unchurched that Farley has such a heavy heart. When asked what keeps him going, he stated humbly, "I guess it's the knowledge that the vast majority of reenactors still need the salvation of the soul that only Jesus Christ can give. Just as any other missionary, God has burdened our hearts for these unreached people."
If you are interested in assisting with the efforts of the RMJC, or would like more information, you are encouraged to visit the links below, or to contact Chaplain Farley with questions.
NOTES OF INTEREST AND OPPORTUNITIES PROVIDED BY RMJC
For more information on RMJC, visit their website at: www.rmjc.org
Weekly Devotional - RMJC offers a "historical devotional" that is sent weekly via email and can be requested by contacting Chaplain Farley at [email protected]
Tracts - RMJC also provides bulk orders of tracts for others to give away. You pay only their printing and shipping costs. They also offer sample packs of either Confederate or Union tracts for a nominal cost. Those can also be requested by contacting Chaplain Farley at the above email address.
Claplains Museum - RJMto start a new museum, C has also been collecting religious items from the War for over 25 years. "The National Civil War Chaplain's Museum" was started in 2010 is run by Kenny Rowlette and housed on the Liberty university campus. It is dedicated to the work of the chaplains, South & North, Black and White, priests and Rabbis as well as the over 5,000 United States Christian Commission delegates who ministered during the Civil War. To learn more about this museum, visit www.chaplainsmuseum.org
Donations - If you are interested in making a tax deductible donation to the RMJC, you can do so by sending all contributions to Chaplain Alan Farley – P.O. Box 670, Concord, VA 24538