I am a member of the Limerick Reformed Fellowship (LRF), which is a mission work of the Covenant PRC in Northern Ireland. While Northern Ireland belongs to the United Kingdom (UK), Limerick, where the LRF is located, is a city in the Republic of Ireland, a sovereign country independent of the UK. This political difference also defines the difference in religious background, explaining the unique (from a PRC mission work point of view) situation in which the LRF finds itself. Northern Ireland is a roughly even mixture of Protestants and Roman Catholics, and while a lot of the Protestants are in liberal, apostatising denominations, and many don’t even go to church regularly, Northern Ireland nevertheless has one of the highest concentrations of bible-believing evangelicals in Europe. In that way it is somewhat similar to the United States. The Republic of Ireland, on the other hand, never truly had a Reformation, such that Protestants are a tiny minority, and only 1-2% of the population are evangelical. Most of the evangelicalism is of the independent Baptist and Pentecostal type, with little to no knowledge of Reformed theology. The nominally Roman Catholic majority is highly secularized, with religion being mostly restricted to Easter and Christmas church attendance; the loss of cultural influence of the once dominant Roman Catholic church was recently underscored by the Irish people voting in gay marriage in a landslide referendum in 2015, during which any appeals to religion for an argument against gay marriage were considered faux pax. Thus the majority is in reality highly secular in the post-Christian, post-modern sense: despising any hint of Christianity while being mostly ignorant of its teachings, they have embraced evolution, hedonism, relativism, and leftism, along with a smidgen of humanistic politeness to give a self-righteous veneer of love.
Thus our mission field, even though in a nominally Christian country, is vastly different from that of most PR churches: the few evangelicals around us mostly despise Calvinism in general and our mission work in particular, while the majority of secular Catholics despise all religion (though non-Christian religions are despised in a politically correct way). As such, most people are not really willing to listen to even the first introduction we make. The question of an unconditional covenant or the free offer of the gospel mean as much to them as the necessity of supersaturation for nucleation means to someone not acquainted with physical chemistry.
Nevertheless, the white horse of the gospel is going forth conquering and to conquer, even in Limerick, Ireland. Jesus, the Lord of the church, has gathered about 15-20 of us from a mostly evangelical independent Baptist background to meet twice a Lord’s Day to hear Reformed sermons by our faithful missionary, Rev. McGeown. Through faithful preaching (we do not have the Lord’s Supper yet as we still lack elders) as well as catechism classes and Bible study, we are being continuously built up in our faith, and most of us have fully embraced the Three Forms of Unity as understood by the PRC. We are learning to live together in the communion of saints; to be better fathers, mothers, children, employees, students, neighbours; to live the antithetical life of grace. As such, we have very similar trials to any established church. That there are so few of us carries the obvious difficulty of discouragement and a lack of older people to be role models (as many of us are young parents), although it does create a very close bond between the members who all know (and love!) each other quite well. Furthermore, King Jesus has been constantly adding people to our fellowship, both through the birth of four covenant children (all of whom Rev. McGeown baptised) and through evangelical contacts becoming convinced of the Reformed faith. Despite this, our fellowship has not grown numerically over the past 2-3 years, as additions have been counter-balanced by very painful losses of members mostly returning to generic evangelical churches.
Recently, however, we have had increased interest from several Muslims and a Hindu. Ireland, like most other Western nations, is experiencing a huge influx of immigrants from India and Muslim countries, and it seems these people are much more interested in talking about religion. The evangelistic lectures that we hold every 2-3 months and have widely advertised in the past are, apart from our own members and usual contacts, only being attended by a handful of Muslims and Hindus that we personally know through work. In years past we focused these lectures and our outreach on the evangelicals in the city, which we seem to have exhausted in terms of interest; we subsequently targeted pious Catholics, with little fruit, and then attempted to reach the unchurched, the secular, for whom we now run very basic lectures such as “Looking at the Meaning of Life” and “Who is Jesus?”, though we have so far also had little to no interest from such unchurched people.
Although we all know it isn’t about numbers, we all are concerned about the lack of numerical growth overall, and would really appreciate prayers for this. The aim of our mission work is to be established as a proper church with elders and deacons; even if all our current members were sufficiently spiritually mature, we would probably still lack the numbers needed to make this happen. Furthermore, we need wisdom to know how to engage people in our culture and to be faithful witnesses to our families and colleagues. We also have several members and families who are experiencing deep, and in some cases long-term health trials. Thus for both these reasons, we covet your prayers that we may remain enthusiastic about the wonderful truth of God’s particular grace that we have learned and now live every day.
Last, let me say that we are all extremely thankful to God for the PRCA: thankful for the rich doctrinal heritage we have received through the PRC, of the Reformed faith in all its glory (the glory of God) as it defends the sovereignty of God and the immutability of his love in all spheres of theology and (covenant) life. We are also extremely grateful for your financial support of our mission work and our missionary pastor. And we are certain that Jesus will build his church, because this he has promised.