Love thy neighbor: Pastor who struggled with coronavirus encourages others to wear masks
In his letter to the church at Philippi, the Apostle Paul wrote: “In humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.”
As a pastor, that is the way Ed Toler tries to live his life.
Toler, who is from Winchester and is now pastor of Harvest Church of God in Louisville, has recovered from COVID-19 after a long and difficult struggle.
In a post on his Facebook page on Aug. 4, he showed a picture of himself wearing a black cloth face covering and explaining why.
“I wear the mask.
I have coronavirus.
I wore it before I had the disease.
I’m not sure how effective it is or if it even works at all. But I am choosing to wear it.
I wish someone had worn one for me.”
In that post, he said wearing the mask might keep others from getting “this dreaded virus” that had upset his and his family’s life for six weeks.
A few days after posting that message on social media, Toler posted another message saying his latest test was negative, and that he and his wife, Dana, were “thankful and overjoyed” to begin recovery.
It had been a long, hard road.
“For about two and a half weeks, it was rough,” Toler said in an interview he gave The Sun when he was still sick. Dana helped speak for him because he had a severe and constant cough.
He described his first symptoms as being sore and hurting.
“My bones seemed to ache,” he said, “I had horrible headaches, and I became tired.”
At first he thought it might have been allergies because he lives in the Ohio River Valley and could see the clouds of pollen.
That Sunday of the last weekend of June, he preached inside for 25 minutes then went outside to preach for the parking lot service, but seven minutes was all he could do. He was hurting.
“Within a couple of days, I had diarrhea. I was throwing up. I could not eat anything,” said.
He was quarantined in a guest bedroom with a private bath, and Dana brought him his meals.
For a week, his fever hovered between 101 and 103 degrees. He was restless and couldn’t sleep. His days and nights were all mixed up, and he was lost in a “fog.”
Toler got sick right after Father’s Day weekend, when his children, Jeremy and Hannah, who live in Lexington, and his mother, Linda Toler of Winchester, had visited.
Fortunately, no one else in the family got the disease, and no one else at their church had it.
He doesn’t know how or where he got the virus, but it happened after he had cleaned the church.
Harvest Church of God had resumed in-person worship services in June with social distancing and other restrictions after having only drive-in services in the parking lot in the spring.
“I didn’t allow for a cleaning crew to be there at all. I wanted to take care of that because there were so many unknowns,” he said.
He said he didn’t go out except to Meijer and Walmart, and several trips to Home Depot for cleaning supplies.
“It was so frustrating, because I would be the only one in the store with a mask on,” he said.
That was before the mask mandate.
“I started wearing a mask before it was mandated,” he said. “I didn’t know, and I still don’t know, how effective they are, what they do exactly.”
His doctor and nurse have said the same thing, he said.
But being the pastor of a church, he said, he felt he needed to “set an example of preferring our brother, putting other people first, and it was just a way for me to say, you know, ‘I care about you,’ and ‘We are concerned about your health.’”
“That’s the only way we’re going to defeat this is for somehow everybody to participate and do what we can,” he said.
A few days before, he said, he was telling his wife that “so many would not have died if somebody had loved them and honored them enough to wear the mask.”
Toler grew up in Winchester and graduated from George Rogers Clark High School in 1983. He married Dana Stamper, who is also a preacher, and started the Church of the Living God on Franklin Avenue.
They left Winchester for North Carolina in 2012 and pastored there before ending up in Louisville.
Unlike some Christians, Toler said, he is not a determinist. He doesn’t believe everything that happens is God’s will. But he believes God can bring something good out of bad things. The Bible says so, he noted.
“Scripturally, we’re not told that we’re exempt from anything,” he said. “The only promise I give people, and the only promise that had been stable in my life, is that Jesus said, ‘I will always be with you.’
“The part of my faith that has been proven in the past six weeks is … the Lord has been there with me. He has provided for us. He took care of us. And that’s what I share with people.”
Toler is worried about the residual effects of the virus — that it might affect his lungs, and he won’t be able to preach. For now, he said, he and Dana will “tag team” so he can pace himself at the pulpit.
Toler said he is dismayed that the coronavirus has become such a contentious issue, one that has caused so much anger and division. It shouldn’t be like that, he said.
Toler said his advice to others is to “love your community” enough to follow whatever the safety guidelines are, and do it, not because the government is coercing people to do it, but “do it as an act of love.”