Rev. Martyn McGeown
38 Abbeyvale, Corbally, Co. Limerick, Ireland, V94 K7ER
Tuesday, December 8, 2020
Dear saints in the Protestant Reformed Churches,
Within two weeks of writing my last newsletter (October 8) Ireland entered “Level 5” of the coronavirus lockdown. “Level 5” restrictions are the most stringent: no mixed household gatherings, which makes “in person” Bible studies or worship services at our home impossible; no public worship services (online only); and a 5km (3.1 miles) travel limit, except for “essential journeys.”
Two bodies are involved in these decisions: NPHET (The National Public Health Emergency Team, the medical professionals who advise the government) and the Irish government, who makes the actual decisions. It appears that NPHET is more cautious than the government, for NPHET’s advice is often much stricter than that adopted by the government. For example, the government is trying to “save Christmas” (not the religious holiday as such, but the pre-Christmas shopping spree on which many businesses rely) and the government wants to avoid being seen to “ruin Christmas” for families. Therefore, the Irish authorities imposed a “Level 5 lockdown” (October 21 to December 1) with the hope of a more relaxed Christmas-New Year period.
Two examples stuck out for me. First, NPHET advised allowing public worship only from December 21 to January 3, while the government agreed to allow public worship capped at 50 persons from December 1 until January 6 with a review thereafter. This came after a lot of lobbying from religious groups here, including a meeting of the Taoiseach (prime minister) with the Irish (Roman Catholic) bishops, as well as petitions from evangelical groups. We shall see how long freedom for public worship continues in January, D.V. Second, NPHET advised a ban on all travel to and from Northern Ireland. The government rejected that idea, and will review it on December 18 when inter-county travel is permitted. At the moment we must remain inside our own county except for “essential” journeys. Therefore, time will tell on whether I am permitted to travel to Northern Ireland to see my family at Christmastime and to preach in the CPRC in Ballymena. I would be very surprised if the Irish government ever closed the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The political ramifications would be huge.
During the “Level 5” period I contacted the local Garda (police) station seeking advice on holding worship services in my home. The officer with whom I spoke was very cordial and sympathetic to my concerns, but he said that there was no “wriggle room:” gatherings of any kind, whether religious or secular, in public or in private, were prohibited under the legislation. I have also heard reports of priests celebrating Mass with a handful of souls whose meetings the police interrupted and who were threatened with prosecution if they persisted. Therefore, I preached to the handful of souls entrusted to me from my study: I began with “Christ in the Midst of the Smallest Gatherings” (Matt. 18:20) and I am preaching a series on “The Kingdom Parables of Jesus” (Matt. 13).
On December 1 the “Level 5” restrictions came to an end and we were delighted to hear that public worship would indeed be permitted again. We have secured the hall for the month of December and the first Sunday of January, five Sundays, with the hope that we might be allowed to continue after that. With the Wattersons and Kuhs moved to Northern Ireland, and one other person making that transition, we have fewer than 10 people (including Larisa and me) in attendance. Still, we were very happy to be together on Sunday (December 6): for one thing we could sing again, something we cannot do very well over the computer.
We continue our Bible study online on Tuesday evenings (Prov. 6), and I teach catechism to Providence PRC (Monday evenings) and to my nieces (Thursday evenings). In addition, we are permitted to meet with one other household in a public setting, so we go for walks with various members when the weather is dry enough.
Shortly before the Kuhs left Limerick the LRF gave me a gift: they rebound my Bible in beautiful, soft leather with an inscription: “In Gratitude for 10 Years of Faithful Shepherding: With Love from the Limerick Reformed Fellowship 2020.”
As you have undoubtedly heard, our immigration appointment scheduled for November 6 was cancelled. The next available appointment, which we have booked, is March 8, 2021. That was certainly a disappointment, but in these trials, which are relatively light in comparison to what many others suffer, the Lord is teaching us patience. The Lord is good, and we remember His blessings to us.
“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