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‘Spread love, not germs’

Kentucky’s governor highlights Presbytery of Transylvania’s ‘Love Your Neighbor, Wear Your Mask’ video

by Tammy Warren | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Matt Falco, senior pastor of Maxwell Street Presbyterian Church in Lexington, Kentucky., said when in-person church does resume — whenever that happens — his congregation will definitely be wearing masks. (Contributed photo)

LOUISVILLE — Pastoral leaders in the Presbytery of Transylvania are loving their neighbors by wearing their masks, and they are encouraging others to do likewise.

“Masks are an integral piece of our reopening protocols,” said the Rev. Schuyler Olt, pastor of Carlisle Presbyterian Church in Carlisle, Kentucky, who last week suggested creating a video to show the presbytery’s unity in protecting its neighbors as an expression of love. Since the video idea struck Olt out of the blue while scrolling through Facebook, reading all the banter about wearing or not wearing masks, he credits the Holy Spirit.

Olt shared the idea with the Rev. Philip Lotspeich, the presbytery’s general presbyter, thinking such a video would be an educational and motivational tool for members, not realizing it would soon be enjoying a much wider audience.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear featured the “Love Your Neighbor, Wear Your Mask” video during his daily coronavirus update briefing earlier this week. 

“I didn’t set out for it to reach the governor’s briefing,” said Olt, who is also city attorney for Jeffersontown, Kentucky. “I watch the briefings every day to see what’s changing and to follow the numbers. I was shocked that he picked it up [on social media].”

“We just wanted to make sure that we at least staked our claim as to why we wear masks. We’re not doing it out of fear; we’re doing it because we love our community,” Lotspeich said.

In a transitioning video screenshot, the Rev. Beth Garrod-Logsdon, Wilmore Presbyterian Church, and the Rev. John Leggett, Second Presbyterian Church in Lexington, show love of their neighbors by wearing masks. (Contributed photo)

Lotspeich sent an all-call email to pastors, providing about a day and a half for them to make and submit short videos of themselves expressing Jesus’ command to love our neighbors as ourselves by wearing face masks. The 14 short videos received were edited together by the Rev. Stephen Fearing, pastor and head of staff at Beaumont Presbyterian Church in Lexington.

“My mask says, ‘I love you. Spread love — not germs,’” said Olt in the video.

Billy Keith Adams, a commissioned ruling elder who participated in the video and serves as pastor of Doermann Memorial and Isom Presbyterian churches in Letcher County, said he misses the fellowship of in-person worship but is concerned about all the precautions needed before safely meeting in-person again.

“My congregations are mostly elderly,” Adams said. “I don’t want to be one of the ones who gives the virus to them. I’m concerned about keeping everything properly sanitized. I also think the absence of singing, hugging, shaking hands and breaking bread together will make the worship service a much less enjoyable experience and even awkward.” Online services, he said, have drawn a much bigger following than either church has ever had in the sanctuary on a typical Sunday morning.

Speaking of typical Sunday mornings before the pandemic rocked our world, those were the days in the not-long-ago past that Adams would lead the first service at one church at 10 a.m. and then drive 10 miles to lead a second service at the other church at 11:30 a.m. He also works full-time as a school counselor and coaches a high school soccer team.

“Pastoring two churches is actually easier than one would think. Our churches have been yoked for many years and both churches and sessions work well together. We always joke, ‘We are one congregation under two roofs,’” he said.

The Rev. Rob Warren, First Presbyterian Church of Mt. Sterling, and the Rev. Sara Benedetti, Second Presbyterian Church in Lexington, were two of 14 pastors participating in the Presbytery of Transylvania’s “Love Your Neighbor, Wear Your Mask” video. Warren quotes from 1 Corinthians 13 in the video. (Contributed photo)

With online services working so well for so many congregations, the presbytery has left it up to sessions to decide when and how to safely reopen.

“Sometimes it can feel like this particular situation is overwhelming,” said Matt Falco, senior pastor at Maxwell Street Presbyterian Church in Lexington. “I’ve found that the simple act of putting on a mask is a nice reminder that I personally can still make a difference in other people’s lives.

“As we get closer to resuming in-person services, Maxwell Street is still figuring out all the particulars of what that will look like, but we hope to be a model for our community,” Falco said. “We’ll definitely be wearing masks!”

Falco said the session feels it’s wise to wait and see how the numbers trend over the next couple of weeks as businesses and other organizations begin to reopen.

“I’ve been so grateful for the ways that our congregation has supported our mission and ministry,” Falco said, “despite being unable to worship together in-person on Sunday morning.”

The Rev. Dr. Hyeon Gu Lee, pastor of Lexington Korean Presbyterian Church, wears a mask and makes a heart with his hands to show love for neighbors during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Contributed photo)

The Rev. Dr. Hyeon Gu Lee, pastor of Lexington Korean Presbyterian Church, hopes the video will be a strong recommendation and awareness tool to promote why wearing a mask is essential to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. Wearing masks has proven effective in many countries, Lee noted, including South Korea.

Lee, who completed his doctorate in intercultural studies and cross-cultural partnerships last year after a decade of persistent, faithful study, said it was his wife who encouraged him to keep going and not to give up on his goal. She reminded him of the Christians in Sri Lanka who are keeping their faith in spite of many persecutions and hardships, people he has come to know and love through many short-term missions. She knew if they could keep going, he could too.

So, maybe it took 10 years, but he finished his doctorate with his wife’s encouragement. Maybe this virus seems to be taking a while, but is it too much to ask for leaders and others to show their love to their neighbors by wearing a mask?

“Some people who have the virus have no symptoms at all,” Lee said. “Wearing a mask is the best way to protect people around me and myself too. It’s two-way protection — the Golden Rule.”


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