At Civil War commemoration, reenacting the battle for souls

By Eugene Scheel (Washington Post 08/05/2011)

At 6 a.m. July 24, Jim and Joanne Craft and their daughter Jennifer handed out 19th-century hymn books, sang with attendees and prayed for their needs. This service heralded the reenactment of the First Battle of Manassas at Pageland Farm in Prince William County.

Many prayers on that street were for the livelihoods of those present - most being itinerant hawkers, like those of Civil War times, dependent on sales of wares as they move from one reenactment to another.

The Crafts are founders of Historic Faith Ministries, which had its genesis at a Locust Hill, Leesburg, reenactment of the First Battle of Manassas in 2001. Their services and events, always in tune with an era's history, have taken place from Norfolk to the District.

Jim Craft is a former U.S. Marine captain. After his tour of duty ended, he and his wife moved to Manassas in 1984. Now a civilian, he works in cyber-security for the Marine Corps. The Crafts are charter members of the Church of the Holy Spirit (Anglican) in Leesburg.

Before Jim Craft headed back to Pageland the following day, to help pull up tent stakes and pick up trash, I asked him why he and his wife started Historic Faith Ministries. He said, in part, "Civil War diaries and letters show how individuals were able to use a relationship with God to stand up against the immoralities of society."

On July 24, the Crafts' ministry sponsored two 7:30 a.m. services, Protestant and Roman Catholic, at opposite ends of the street and adjacent to hundreds of Union reenactors' tents, their occupants readying for the day's events.

I attended the Protestant Episcopal Morning Prayer service, its liturgy that of 150 years past. The Rev. Clancy Nixon of the Church of the Holy Spirit led the service, assisted by pastoral associate John Nuzum, soprano Kathy Henry and concertina player Steve Nelson of Alexandria. All were dressed in period finery, including the ushering wives and Kathy Henry's daughter Grace.

Nixon is tall and speaks forcefully. "If you think it's hot now, you don't know the heat you will experience if you don't know Christ your Lord."

He continued: "You may face death today from hot lead or heat stroke, and we want you to be rescued from the fiery furnace."

More than 200 listened.

After the service, Nixon explained that "Hellfire and Brimstone sermons," as he put it, and "the need to escape God's wrath" were normal messages in a Virginia torn by war - not the placebos of "Anglo-Catholic piety." His sermon certainly emphasized the need for repentance.

The Rev. Jerry A. Wooton, the imposing parochial vicar of Holy Trinity Parish, Gainesville, intoned the Roman Catholic service in Latin. As I spoke with him after the service, I recalled his clipped British accent from his years as assistant priest at St. John the Apostle Church in Leesburg.

"Pretty much the same as today's," Wooton said, "except there was no prayer to St. Michael [the Archangel], and the confiteor was part of the service." Wooton served Communion to 220 people, and adding some history, said that nuns living nearby always made the wafers. "And they still do," he said.

There had never been a Catholic service before at a local reenactment, Jim Craft said, and he hoped to add Lutheran, Presbyterian and Jewish devotions to future faith-based events. At the July 3 Independence Day service at the old Brentsville Union Church, sponsored by Historic Faith Ministries, an African American spoke for the first time, defying the church's deed that stated no black person, and no Catholic, could worship there.

"We're trying to work with the different traditions of faiths to reconcile man with man and man with God," Craft said.