I spent much of the last week on the Isle of Iona off the west coast of Scotland, living and working and worshiping at Iona Abbey. When my friend Teri invited me last fall to join the trip she was planning with a group from the church she serves, I almost immediately decided to go along. I have heard about Iona from numerous friends, and we have used the resources produced by the Iona Community and the Wild Goose Resource Group numerous times at the First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone, so this trip was a long-awaited opportunity to experience this legendary place that has been an important part of my spiritual journey even before I actually journeyed there.
The trip and the place did not leave me wanting. The particular week we attended is known as “Wild Goose Week” because it is the time when members of the Wild Goose Resource Group attend and lead worship and other events. These special events were certainly a big draw for me, but in the end, the overall experience of living in community in this place was actually more formative.
Iona Abbey has a long history as a place of Christian faith and practice. Legend holds that Saint Columba arrived on Iona in 563, establishing a center of Christianity on the island that was used as a base for evangelism throughout Scotland. It is thought to be the place where the historic Book of Kells originated. After the Reformation era, the Abbey was abandoned, but it was reconstructed over the last 100 years and today serves as the spiritual home of the Iona Community, an ecumenical group devoted to justice, peace, and the integrity of creation.
As a guest at the Abbey, I was expected to participate in the full life of the community there, joining in twice-daily worship services and assisting in various tasks necessary to provide for the daily life of guests and staff. I found this to be surprisingly fulfilling, with the worship services providing much-needed spiritual nourishment for my time on the island and beyond. The work was even enjoyable, as I made some new friends in our shared daily tasks of preparing toast for breakfast!
The programs were also very helpful and enjoyable, with the highlight of most days being a “Wee Sing” with the inimitable John Bell. I learned a lot about making space for worship and did a good bit of thinking about how to revitalize and reinvigorate worship. Members of the Wild Goose Resource Group also led most of the worship during the week, and they brought their deep well of creativity and interest to the gathering.
One day also meant a full seven-mile pilgrimage around the island. Over 100 people made their way around the island, stopping at important and beautiful spots to pray and reflect on the journey. This was one of the most meaningful parts of the week, and I expect that I will reflect further on it in a future blog post.
My time on Iona was truly a wonderful one. I did not find the immediate and deep spiritual connection I expected, but over the week I developed a better link to the spirituality of this place. The long history of nearly 1500 years of Christianity in the very place where I lived and worked could not escape me, and over the week I felt this connection deepen all the more. It was a joy to join the countless saints who have gathered in this place over the centuries to worship and work for God’s deeper presence in the world, and I look forward to going back sooner rather than later!
You can browse through some of the many photos from this part of my journey in the gallery below.