Carrying the cross

MIFFLINTOWN – One year later, the calls keep coming and small white crosses continue to pop up on lawns across the Juniata Valley.

The bold symbols of faith are part of a movement brought to the area by the River Church of Juniata County.

Cross the Country was initiated in 2008 in Frankenmuth, Mich., because of an athiest’s efforts to remove displays of religion on public property. In response to his complaints, hundreds of residents made their opinions known by placing small crosses in their front yards.

The quiet, but powerful community movement picked up steam around the country through emails and became known as Cross the Country.

William Kern, a member of River Church, discovered the movement and brought the idea to his Life Group leaders, Ron and Sue Rickenbaugh. The group decided to take on the project and build crosses for their congregation.

More than 150 two-foot-tall wooden crosses were given away during the church’s Palm Sunday service last year, and demand has only grown from there. Ron Rickenbaugh said he has made about 3,200 crosses since he started building them in early 2012.

“I never ever thought it would get this big,” Rickenbaugh said, adding that he was blown away when calls kept coming in.

Dane Walters from River Church said he has been reaching out to pastors and churches in other areas and encouraging them to join the movement too. For him, the project has strength in numbers.

“We (Christians) felt like we were a minority,” he said about the increasing opposition to public displays of religion.

Placing a cross in the front yard and seeing them while traveling through town makes Christians feel connected, he said. The crosses are also a way for residents to stand up and say, “Hey, I’m here and I believe,” he said.

“It shows our faith without getting right in their (athiests’) face,” Rickenbaugh agreed.

In the year since the project began locally, crosses have been planted all over Juniata County and are spreading as far as Selinsgrove and Snyder County. Rickenbaugh said a number of local businesses have cleared shelves or added displays to offer crosses to their customers. He has even had special orders for smaller crosses with keyhole slots to place on apartment doors or hang in college dorm rooms.

“That’s showing a lot of faith,” he said.

Even better, some of the crosses Rickenbaugh sees locally are slightly different dimensions than his own, which means other churches and groups have joined the effort, he said.

From Pennsylvania to Massachusetts, Ohio, Rhode Island, Florida, North and South Carolinas, Georgia, Texas, Connecticut, Alaska, Canada and more, white crosses are showing up in the lawns of many believers, Walters said.

“It’s been overwhelming,” Sue Rickenbaugh said of the response. “We appreciate our church so much for the support they give us.”

River Church funds the project, and has also received generous donations of money or supplies from community members and businesses too.

Overall, Ron Rickenbaugh estimates well over 6,000 crosses made by churches and groups across Juniata County.

Building and painting the crosses keeps him busy in his retirement, but Rickenbaugh said he will keep making them “as long as the phone keeps ringing.”

“I feel God is telling us to make them, and He’s gonna put them where He wants them,” he said.

Patterns for the crosses are available for anyone who is interested in spreading the cross display. Each cross ends in a point so it can be placed in a lawn or a plant pot. The crosses are free of cost and available to everyone.

“God is still alive today,” Rickenbaugh said.

“…and He’s moving,” Walters finished.

Anyone interested in displaying a cross or acquiring more information about building them may call Ron and Sue Rickenbaugh at 436-6539 or Dane Walters at 436-9204.