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Re-enactor brings gospel to battlefield
Daniel Burke, Religion News Service
July 20, 2010
5 MIN READ TIME

Re-enactor brings gospel to battlefield

Re-enactor brings gospel to battlefield
Daniel Burke, Religion News Service
July 20, 2010

GETTYSBURG, Pa. — From his

Old Testament beard down to his scuffed boots and battered Bible, Alan Farley

looks the perfect picture of a Civil War chaplain.

On a dusty field five miles

from where the Battle of Gettysburg was fought 147 years ago, Farley acts the

part as well, thundering sermons from his home-made pulpit, praying with

bedraggled soldiers, and handing out tracts with titles like “Everlasting

Punishment.”

The thousands of soldiers

and spectators at the Gettysburg Civil War Battle Re-enactment in early July

could be forgiven for swallowing the chaplain’s performance — the tracts look

aged, the religion old time.

But it is no act, says

Farley, it is a divine calling.

For 26 years, Farley has

driven thousands of miles, distributed millions of pages of tracts, and

delivered hundreds of sermons — all for one mission: bringing Civil War

re-enactors to Jesus.

“No one was reaching them,”

said the 59-year-old Virginian. “They are gone every weekend and most wouldn’t

darken the door of a church, ordinarily. But they need to get saved.”

Farley’s Re-enactor’s

Missions for Jesus Christ combines modern means with 1860s-style evangelism to

reach the estimated 50,000 Civil War enthusiasts who live to relive famous

battles like Bull Run, Antietam and Shiloh year after year.

Pitching a cross-steepled

tent beside the battlefields, Farley and a handful of volunteers in period

dress pray with re-enactors, promote a Civil War chaplains’ museum in

Lynchburg, Va., and preach as often as event organizers will allow. Farley

estimates that 1,800 re-enactors have been led to Christianity through his

ministry.

RNS photo courtesy Alan Farley

Alan Farley, a Civil War re-enactor preacher, brings a very contemporary gospel message to battlefield re-enactments.

One day, he hopes, he’ll see

an evangelical revival like those that blazed through Confederate camps during

the Civil War.

In some ways, Farley and his

family are typical Christian missionaries, albeit with an unusual mission

field. They live in Appomattox, Va., where Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses

S. Grant in 1865. But the Farleys spend 40 weeks a year away from home,

crisscrossing the country in

an RV that carries Alan and his wife, Faith, to scores of Civil War

re-enactments and events. Often their 20-something children — both re-enactors —

come along.

Fifteen churches support the

Farleys through their monthly mission budgets. “Just like missionaries going to

Africa, or Ireland, or wherever,” Farley said. Farley was ordained by an

independent Baptist church in 1994, at, of course, a Civil War re-enactment.

While many fellow

re-enactors adopt a specific historical persona, Farley does not.

“I feel very strongly that

if I portrayed somebody, and somebody realized I was not that person, they

might think the message or gospel I’m trying to share with them is also phony,”

he said.

Re-enactors spend countless

hours learning to dress, shoot, and speak like Civil War soldiers. But for all

their historical high-mindedness and fastidious attention to period detail,

re-enactments can be bawdy affairs, with modern-day enthusiasts assuming the

role of dissolute soldiers on the eve of bloody battles. Then as now, drink and

gambling are the biggest vices.

At a re-enactment two

decades ago in North Carolina, where Farley was playing a Confederate soldier,

he read the Bible in his tent as the moon rose. It was the Book of Ezekiel,

where God warns that those who do not dissuade backsliders will be held

accountable.

“I said, ‘Lord, are you

speaking to me about these re-enactors?”’ Farley recalled. “And the Lord said, ‘Look

at them singing and carrying on around the campfire. My son died for them and

no one is coming to them. If you go, I’ll give you the strength.’ From then on,

my burden was for the re-enactors.”

Since re-enactments are

often held on isolated farms, getting to church on Sunday and back by

battle-time can be nearly impossible. Farley resolved to bring church to the

men. He began with 15-minute sermons held in the shade of an oak tree between

battles. At the recent Gettysburg re-enactment, Farley led two services packed

with hundreds of soldiers and spectators in a tent beside the battlefield.

That’s where Williams

Collins of Portland, Ind., heard him on July 4, just hours before he rushed

into battle as the Color Sergeant in Pickett’s Charge. Three years ago, Collins

said, Farley saved his life — eternal and temporal.

“I was going down the wrong road.

He brought me back and gave me a new outlook,” he said.

Not everyone appreciates his

ministry, Farley admits. Some chaplain re-enactors, turned off by his

evangelism, turn tail when they see him coming. Some spectators and re-enactors

turn up at his 1860s-style worship services expecting a show, only to find real

conviction.

Farley’s preaching blends

past and present — he keeps 200 period sermons in boxes in the RV — but they

leave no room for middle ground: you are saved, or you are not. Each service

closes with an altar call.

“It’s the same message men

150 years ago were preaching,” he said. “That never changes.”

The preacher has no patience

for chaplain re-enactors who dress the part but lack the passion.

“I run across men out here

who portray chaplains and have the mannerisms and the dress of a Civil War

chaplain down to a ‘t,”’ Farley said. “But when they preached I realized they

were not genuine. They were just reading a sermon that someone else preached.”