The Rev. Alan Farley — 25 Years On The Road
In Battle Of Good & Evil
By Julio C. Zangroniz
(July 2009 Civil War News)
The Rev. Alan Farley describes his Christian ministry in the world of Civil War reenacting as “still fighting against the Devil after 25 years.”
The Appomattox, Va., resident, and his wife Faith, daughter Katherine and son Benjamin, are truly devoted to advancing the work of their ministry, the Re-enactors Missions for Jesus Christ (RMJC). To that end they spend untold days on the road, in a recreational vehicle with license tags that read “RMJC,” traveling tens of thousands of miles each year to preach the Gospel wherever they are invited.
Farley is one of the few full-time reenacting preachers and certainly the one who has been doing it the longest. Before he became a bona fide minister, he was a military reenactor, getting his start with the 5th Alabama Battalion in 1979.
His conversations with one of the group’s leaders led Farley to attend the program recreating the Battle of New Market. Soon after, he joined the ranks for good.
“I was excited about it, after finishing an involvement in car racing,” where he drove a 1958 Corvette, he recalls with relish. “Racing was not a profitable venture, though it was fun.”
Farley continued to participate in some half dozen Civil War reenactments a year. Naturally, his enthusiasm for the hobby grew.
“I found myself reading and researching more,” he says. After about three years he achieved the rank of first sergeant. He served in that capacity for about a year before “ugly politics reared its head.”
It wasn’t fun anymore, so Farley “took a month off to decide what I wanted to do.”
During that time, he was contacted by a representative of the Stonewall Brigade, another Confederate reenacting group that was interested in assembling a full staff, including a chaplain.
As a result, Farley parted company with Archer’s Brigade in Bentonville, in 1984, to join up with the Stonewall Brigade as their full-time chaplain.
He was formally ordained in 1987. He was licensed in 1987 in Virginia and in 1991 quit his job with a heating and air conditioning business to become a full-time chaplain. Farley was ordained into the Gospel ministry in 1996. “We are Christians first and Independent Baptist by church affiliation,” he says.
“It was a very difficult decision, because I had a wife and two babies and I was giving up a very lucrative salary to go into something where I had no support at all. It was scary,” he admits.
At the time, Faith was manager of a residential community in Falls Church, Va., a post she would give up to follow the life of the itinerant preacher.
The couple encountered many obstacles and roadblocks. “We were doing an impression that was not widely done, so we had to document everything that we did,” Farley says.
“We were attacked by some members of the press, with someone once advocating that we needed to be camped with the hot dog vendors,” Farley recalls with a laugh.
What was his biggest obstacle? “Most people don’t want the conviction of the Gospel in camp, and they would do things to hinder us.”
He continues: “Nowadays, cooperation is much better. We are bridging the gap with commanders by going to them, trying to make friends and getting them to publicize our efforts.”
Twenty-five years ago “there was no time and place for church services at reenactments, whereas now it is a regular part of the weekend program.”
Farley says interest in church services continues to grow. “We had almost 900 in attendance at three services in Gettysburg last July, and the single service at Olustee, Fla., regularly attracts around 200.”
Farley participates in a couple of dozen events a year as well as preaching in about 20 churches in various parts of the country that cooperate with the RMJC ministry.
At many events, the enterprising man of the cloth offers a Saturday night revival meeting as an alternative for participants who prefer to pass up entertainment opportunities generally found around the camps, barn dances or formal balls.
Farley’s work is far from a weekend endeavor. “We were extremely busy during the week, researching and publishing a newspaper [The Christian Banner] that, at its height, went regularly to as many as 7,000 subscribers in 17 different countries,” as well as at least 30 states, notes Farley.
The copies were mailed free, thanks to donations from many supporters. Now it is done through e-mail and people can add their names and addresses to the mailing list through the ministry’s Web site: http://rmjc.org.
Site visitors will also find an updated chaplain’s schedule, a gallery of recent and historical photographs and news about the ministry’s activities.
The entire Farley family is actively involved in their ministry. Faith sews, makes quilts and tats, as well as having a lead role with mentoring female reenactors and keeping the family’s rolling household in good shape.
Katherine is an accomplished wool spinner, producing quality socks and quilts, while Ben is a practicing farrier, as well as a blacksmith and a refurbisher of antique guns.
During his sermon at the February Olustee event, the Rev. Farley revealed that RMJC has distributed over a million pages of information via free tracts. He acknowledged that “none of what we have been able to accomplish for these 25 years would have been possible without the generosity of the reenacting community.”
Some of his sermons are originals and some are historical ones preached during the war. Farley is well known for bringing plenty of “fire and brimstone” to his services, though the preacher is not without a sense of humor.
At Olustee, for instance, he opened by observing that a reading from the Book of Hebrews “proves that the husbands were to make the coffee in the morning!”
After the congregation enjoyed a hearty laugh over that revelation, the preacher switched into high gear:
“Father we know you are in this tent… help us reclaim the backsliders and comfort the weak… we need to understand that this is real… the battle being fought underneath this tent this morning is real… the battle between good and evil!
“…listen to your sentence, folks, already pronounced against you… what shall be the end of this journey? …nothing can save but the blood of Jesus Christ!” Farley exhorts.
Kenny Rowlette, director of the National Civil War Chaplains Museum [see sidebar], calls Farley “one of the most unsung heroes of the Civil War reenacting community,” not only for his work at the reenactments, but also because of the numerous off-season presentations Farley makes to home-school, public and private school students, clubs and other organizations.
Farley says, rather surprisingly, “public speaking is very scary. I’m like a long-tailed cat at a rocking chair factory, but I know the battle before me, a battle between good and evil.”
When asked who is winning so far, he declares emphatically: “God! I know because I read the back of the book!”
National Civil War Chaplains Museum
Early on Sunday morning at Olustee, Alan Farley stands proudly behind a wooden easel that holds drawings of what will become the National Civil War Chaplains Museum on the campus of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. It will be the very first museum of its type in the country, if not the world.
“We are ready to go into full-fledged fundraising mode,” he says, estimating that the facility will cost about half a million dollars.
The first phase will require “about $200,000-$300,000, just so people can start looking at things.”
The facility will seek to educate the public about the role of chaplains, priests, rabbis and religious organizations during the American Civil War.
Its mission will include the preservation of religious artifacts and the presentation of programs that will aim to illustrate the influence of religion on the lives of political and military personnel during that era.
The Chaplains Museum can be contacted through director Kenny Rowlette at: 2043 DeMoss Hall, 1971 University Blvd., Liberty University, Lynchburg, VA 24502; by telephone at (434) 582-2087; or at http://chaplainmuseum.org
(See October 2005 Civil War News story.)