Pastor beats COVID, returns to pulpit, but his Santa Rosa church remains unmasked
“For you, Lord, have delivered me from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the Lord in the land of the living!”
Ross Reinman called out that message to the congregation of Calvary Chapel The Rock, the Santa Rosa church he pastors, in his prayer to start off the 9:30 a.m. service last Sunday.
Reinman put particular emphasis on “land of the living,” and his words were greeted with thunderous applause and whoops of joy.
Pretty much everyone in attendance at The Rock knew Reinman had come perilously close to exiting the land of the living. As the pastor went on to recount in his “pre-sermon,” as his opening remarks are known, he had spent two weeks in a hospital ICU, stricken with a serious bout of COVID-19, then had labored through another month and a half of slow recovery.
“When I came home six weeks ago, I was a complete invalid,” Reinman said. “I couldn’t walk up one step. I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t breathe on my own without oxygen, 24/7 I had that hose up my nose. … 24/7, I couldn’t feed myself, I couldn’t take care of myself.”
Reinman, a trim 61-year-old, said he lost 26 pounds while fighting off the virus. He is clearly on the mend. The week before his return, he reported, he had logged a 20-mile bike ride.
But Reinman has not developed an appetite for county-mandated public health restrictions.
“I have a renewed appreciation for the seriousness of the disease,” the pastor told his flock. “But nothing else has changed, because God’s truth doesn’t change. So in other words, God’s commands will always supersede and come over man’s mandates. Always. Even if I die, nothing in that regard changes.”
Houses of worship have been granted wider latitude than many other group settings during the pandemic. In early February, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the state of California, striking down the state’s prohibition of indoor services in the wake of a devastating winter coronavirus surge. Six-foot distancing rules and singing bans also have fallen by the wayside.
But religious settings are not without restrictions. The California Department of Public Health issued guidance on June 18 requiring the use of face coverings for all workers and members of the public, in all public and workplace settings. That includes churches, which are supposed to keep extra masks on hand in case someone forgets theirs.
The rule is widely ignored at Calvary Chapel The Rock, if Sept. 5 was any indication. At least 200 people clustered in the sanctuary for the midmorning service that day. Perhaps 10-12 wore masks. There was no outdoor viewing option, though The Rock’s sermons — not the pre-sermons — are later posted online.
Masking can be seen as an individual decision, but it also appears to be unofficial policy at The Rock. Reinman remained vocally adamant about the mission of his church, and how it might be diminished by Sonoma County’s health order.
“A lot of people asked, well, now have you changed your mind?” he said. “Changed my mind about what? We were always about listening to the Lord, following his decrees and creating an environment here where his gospel and ministry can go forth. And that can’t happen where faces are all covered, and we’re 6 feet apart and we’re not allowed to sing.”
A few minutes later, Barbara Reinman, the pastor’s wife, came to the podium to say a few words. She, too, tested positive for the virus earlier in the summer, but wasn’t hit nearly as hard as Ross, a survivor of Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Some have concerns
Some people associated with Calvary Chapel The Rock aren’t so glib about the church’s loose COVID protocols. Several current and former members reached out to The Press Democrat in July to note Reinman’s hospitalization, and to express concerns about the health of the congregation.
Those conversations resulted in a published story that the pastor specifically cited in his Sept. 5 sermon. He called the article a “hit piece” and said it was filled “with exaggerations, with falsehoods, with lies, slander.”
Neither Reinman, associate pastor Adam Wilson nor congregants returned phone calls or emails for this story.
At least two of the original Press Democrat sources are even more concerned now, considering the pastor’s compromised health.
“I think the biggest thing that bothers me, especially in light of what’s happened — not just with Ross but with the delta variant, and also the previous article and how he mentioned it — it’s that they know they’re doing something wrong, and they don’t care,” said one of those sources, who requested anonymity out of concern for damaging his relationships with people in the church.