Delivering stirring sermons is just the beginning of how Pastor Ronnie Farmer, Jr. serves God and gives back to the community. Through his colorful, emotion-rich artwork and live painting, he said he spreads the gospel and messages of social justice.
A native of Augusta, Georgia, Farmer’s art career began at Augusta’s John S. Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School and continued as he earned his degrees at Kentucky schools Berea College and Asbury Theological Seminary. With influence from teachers, an independent study and early work as a pastor, he cultivated his art into what it is today.
Before moving to Marion two years ago, Farmer served as the artist in residence at the Overseas Ministry Study Center in New Haven, Connecticut and had traveled around the world and country as an artist and missionary with The Evangelical Alliance Mission (TEAM).
Today he is the executive pastor of Real Community Covenant Church, but Farmer said his favorite job title is dad to Elisha, Micah and Acacia and husband to Sarah. He and his family never expected to live in the Midwest, he said, but they made the transition after Sarah was recruited to teach at Indiana Wesleyan University.
“It has been a great transition for our family,” Farmer said. “We have really had a great opportunity to connect with a lot of great people here and been able to establish a lot of great relationships.”
Farmer said his artwork and mission work focuses on how the church can bring reconciliation around social justice issues and celebrates figures who have shaped the church and the black community.
“A lot of my paintings focus on reconciliation and justice and really ask what does it look like for the body of Christ to address [those] issues,” Farmer said.
From scenes of the Bible to pictures of strength in adversity, each work is an expression in vivid color and emotion. Through the power of art and live painting, where he creates pieces in front of an audience, he makes the scriptures come alive at events and during some sermons. He said live painting and visual arts are especially impactful because it helps visual learners process messages, situations and concepts.
“God himself who is the ultimate artist is calling us, as pastors, to use art in a redemptive way,” Farmer said. “...This is a way that people can see the word become flesh because they see it and hear it from someone actually preaching to them while doing it.”
Some of his most powerful live paintings are not his own work, he said. While working with TEAM in Vienna and working as a chaplain at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, he spoke with people experiencing trauma and helped them process their pain through art.
“We used art as a vehicle to process trauma,” Farmer said. “Whenever people experience trauma you need a safe space. … To ask them to create an image that expresses that trauma is helpful. Sometimes words fall short of helping them process that pain.”
Right now, Farmer’s church is launching a language immersion preschool, while he is personally preparing to start a series of paintings focusing on little-known abolitionists who helped end the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. With the series, he plans to focus on scenes showing black and white people working together to end slavery.
“So one of my hopes is to bring to view the work of abolitionists who have shaped our city and our mission to pursue justice from a faith-anchoring point,” Farmer said. “I want to really hone on stories where white and non-whites worked together and celebrate reconciliation in that way and show historically how those groups worked together.”