Limerick Reformed Fellowship
Rev. Martyn McGeown, missionary
38 Abbeyvale, Corbally Co. Limerick, Ireland
Wednesday, July 15, 2020
Dear saints in the Protestant Reformed Churches,
The last few months have been tumultuous for the Limerick Reformed Fellowship. On March 9, the CPRC Council, recognizing the LRF’s unviability, voted to withdraw me, the missionary, which effectively means the closing of the mission field. Since, sadly, we have seen the departure of people from the mission group in the last year, the conclusion of the Council was inevitable: we lack the criteria necessary—a large enough group, potential officebearers, and prospect for growth—for mission field viability. The decision, which Rev. Angus Stewart and Elder Brian Crossett communicated to LRF mid-March, was a huge, unexpected blow to the people here, but upon reflection they were able to understand. Nevertheless, many tears were shed, as the hopes and dreams of many for a Reformed church in Limerick were shattered.
The second reason for turmoil in Limerick is COVID-19 with the accompanying government-imposed restrictions to public gatherings. On March 22, just after the government had limited indoor gatherings, we worshipped as a congregation of only ten souls (young mothers and small children stayed away as a precaution). It was also the last Sunday that the Wattersons were in Limerick. Anga Watterson was very close to the end of her pregnancy at the time, so the Wattersons decided to move to Northern Ireland, so that they could be settled before their daughter Lara arrived on May 6. In a very short period of time, therefore, the Wattersons found work and accommodation in Northern Ireland before travel became impossible. Thus, the LRF is already down one family.
Most of the other members plan to relocate to Northern Ireland to join the CPRC, although not as rapidly as the Wattersons did. One family is making plans to move before the end of 2020, because on January 1, 2021 Brexit will make relocation from a EU country (Republic of Ireland) to a non-EU country (Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom) for non-Irish citizens more complicated. Others plan to relocate sometime in 2021, God willing. It thrills a missionary’s heart to see the Ruth-like faith of the people here, willing to forsake life in Limerick to join a true church in Ballymena. I know—and have heard—how painful it has been for them to inform their families that they will be moving to Northern Ireland, but they have bravely faced that pain in order to enjoy the benefits of church member-ship.On March 29 we conducted our first “home service.” Because the Irish government prohibited all gatherings of people outside one’s own household and restricted movements of people to within 5 km (3.1 miles) of their homes, we were not permitted to gather in the hall, which was closed to the public; or even in our homes, which are too small to allow for social distancing anyway. A solution was quickly organised: I preached from my study through a computer with the various families watching from their homes. The solution even permitted singing, so that one family led the Psalm-singing, while the rest joined in. Various participants were muted so that, for example, during the sermon no one could interrupt my preaching, and during the singing, I was muted—only Larisa was privileged to hear my singing! The program, which I called “bubble church,” because the various people appeared in “bubbles” on the screen in front of me, enabled me to see my congregation while I preached, which helped me. Preaching to a blank screen is not enjoyable, nor is preaching to an empty room. The setup also permitted us to chat afterwards, so that we could still enjoy fellowship together. After fourteen weeks of “bubble church,” “bubble Bible study” (on Tuesday evenings we studied James and have now begun Ruth), and online catechism, we were very eager to be back together again. In the meantime, I preached on texts such as Deuteronomy 32:11-12 (“Jehovah Stirring up Our Nest”), Jeremiah 48:11-12 (“Moab Not Emptied from Vessel to Vessel”), a series on Psalm 46 and an ongoing series on Ephesians 2 (“The Gentiles Brought Nigh”).
Finally, after the Irish government permitted indoor gatherings for public worship again, we met on July 5. What joy it was to go back to the hall—even with a diminished congregation of fourteen and the obligatory social distancing! I preached on Psalm 122:1 (“Rejoicing in the Call to Public Worship”). Currently, we are also permitted to have six visitors to our homes, so we have resumed Bible study (on Ruth) in our house. We also resumed in person catechism: Old Testament History for Beginners for three children, one of whom who still joins by Skype from Northern Ireland. The Catechism season was actually over, but the families requested more Catechism, citing the great benefit that it has been to their children’s spiritual development.
Where does a missionary go when his work of almost ten years abruptly ends? We are so thankful for our sister church relationship, which makes me eligible for a call from a PRC congregation. Unbeknownst to me, God, who cares for His church, was already working to provide for our future: on March 22, the Sunday after the announcement, I received the call to be the pastor of Providence PRC (Hudsonville, MI), which call I accepted on April 4. Larisa and I are very grateful for this provision of a future place to labour.
Of course, it is not as easy as getting on a plane and heading to Michigan: immigration is a major hurdle. On April 28 Larisa submitted an I-130 (“petition for alien spouse”), which according to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website has a processing time of 12.5—18 months! After obtaining further legal advice Providence PRC filed two additional immigration petitions (R-1 and I-360—for religious workers) in mid-June: they have currently 8—10.5 months processing time. The immigration lawyer hopes for a late 2020/early 2021 approval for the R-1. May God move the hearts of the immigration officials!
In the meantime, travel is greatly restricted. Only recently did the Irish government permit us to travel more than 25 km (15.5 miles) from our homes. International travel is not recommended, and the government recommends/requires a 14-day self-isolation period on return to Ireland. Besides, I am not permitted to travel to the USA because I do not qualify for an ESTA, which is essentially a visa waiver for tourists to the USA. To qualify for a short-term visitor visa, I would have to demonstrate that I do not intend to immigrate, which is difficult to do, for in the long-term, I do intend to immigrate.
So we wait on the Lord, while the LRF slowly winds down and the wheels of government agencies turn. In the meantime, for those who have asked, I am still missionary-pastor under the care and oversight of the CPRC Council. I will continue to preach, lead Bible study, and teach catechism to the group here, until I am permitted to travel elsewhere. “Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD” (Ps. 27:14).
In Christian love,
Rev. Martyn and Larisa McGeown