Traffic in Reno was light on Saturday morning near the intersection of Wells Avenue and Ryland Street, except for a man wearing a mask and dragging a 8 foot tall wooden cross along the sidewalk. Behind the cross, a dozen people carried flags to include the American flag, Christian flag, the flag of Israel and a prisoner of war flag. I parked my car and grabbed my camera and approached at a safe distance to take a photo.
Danny Rost, or Pastor Danny as he is known, is one of the founding pastors of A Voice in the Wilderness Church located next to Reno’s downtown police station on Second Street. Earlier in the week, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak directed religious organizations to suspend worship services over Passover and Easter to help ensure safe social distancing protocols. A few hours after the cross procession, by phone, I asked Pastor Rost if he had cancelled services at his church in response to the governor’s directive. He said he had, but that his congregation is different than most.
A Voice in the Wilderness was founded in 2005 in a conference room at Diamond’s Casino in Reno. After a couple years the congregation moved to a space in the shopping center at the corner of Wells and Ryland between the liquor store and the beauty shop. Ten years ago, the church moved into the old blood plasma center on Second Street next to the downtown Reno police station.
“We are a different kind of church,” Rost said. “Our congregation rolls over probably 75 percent every six months. We tend to minister to a lot of the people that are coming out of Second Street (the police station) and living on the river, living out of cars. So we don’t have your standard type congregation where everybody’s together for years and years.
“The church is a hospital. Voice in the Wilderness is sort of a spiritual triage center where the hopeless people, the down and out, those that have lost their footing can come in, and we preach the gospel. We preach Christ. We preach the truth that the Bible, a foundation of faith I know that helps them get back up on their feet and find a direction to move in again. A lot of people over the years have moved on to more standard congregations.
“When Pastor Dallas and I started Voice in the Wilderness, it was six of us, and we prayed, ‘Lord, send us the ones the other churches don’t want.’ And yeah, he’s been faithful and it’s been a great blessing.”
Pastor Rost was clear that the cross processions on Wells Avenue and in Carson City are not protests against the governor’s directive but a 19-year tradition that he is bound by God to continue.
“This isn’t any form of rebellion,” Rost said. “This is an annual event that we do to put the cross out into the public eye because there’s so much secularism attached to the resurrection Sunday. This is a little reminder that Easter isn’t about bunnies and spiral ham dinners. It’s the most momentous event in human history.”
Pastor Rost explained that the procession had drawn the attention of a Reno police officer who asked the group to maintain and expand its social distancing margins during their march, and the representatives of at least 7 other churches in the region were happy to comply.
Rost said the tradition is based in the milestones of the week preceding Easter, the day according to the New Testament when Jesus rose from the dead after being crucified on what is known as Good Friday.
“I’ve been doing this for 19 years. Good Friday, every Easter weekend we take the cross to Carson City and we start at the north end of town and walk it down the main highway through the center of Carson City. We always stop at the State Legislature building and we pray for our state. We pray for our nation. We pray for the gospel to get out to the world. And then we continue the crosswalk to the south end of Carson. And then the day after, on the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter, we do a loop around Reno with the cross,” Rost said.
According to Rost, he and his pastoral colleagues have no intention of jeopardizing anyone’s health by conducting worship services or the cross procession. He said he must balance what he sees as God’s commandment and the rules of society.
“There’s a tension that exists between faith and let’s say, prudence,” Rost said when asked about the governor’s social distancing directive. “We try and do everything we can to show wisdom and prudence. I don’t believe that faith is necessarily a shield from the bad things of this world. The Lord says that we will suffer. And it’s just the end result of that excess suffering that sets us apart who have faith.
“We’re not going to be foolish. We’re following all reasonable guidelines. We’re maintaining social distancing. We don’t want to appear to have a spirit of rebellion. We are called to submit to the authorities that have been appointed over us. But then again, we’re also called to obey God and called to proclaim the good news of Jesus, bringing those two things into alignment.”