We left the Northumbria Community on Sunday at 2pm and caught our trains from Berwick to Edinburgh to Glasgow and arrived at Oban about 9:30pm. In the morning we caught the ferry to the island of Mull, the bus across Mull and the ferry to Iona. The journey to Iona takes you from the pastures of northern England and lowland Scotland through the southern highlands of Scotland with the lochs and hills to the coast. Iona is cold and drizzly, but the people here are welcoming and rugged.

Iona is a small island to the west of Mull, one of the Hebrides islands in the southern Highlands of Scotland. It's history is rich. St. Columba came here in the 6th century from Ireland and established what is considered to be the cradle of Christianity for Scotland and England. The Holy Island of Lindisfarne, which we visited last week, was started by Aidan, who came from Iona in the 7th century.

In the 12th and 13th centuries the abbey of Iona was built, along with a nunnery that provided education, hospitality to pilgrims and cared for the sick. During the reformation, when monasteries were dissolved, the abbey fell into ruin. In 1938 George MacLeod, a Scottish Presbyterian minister from Glasgow had a dream of rebuilding the abbey and creating a Christian community on Iona that trained young ministers. In the 1940s and 1950s the abbey was restored with roofs and the Iona Community became an active ministry in the historic Abbey. I met a woman named Maggie, now in her late 80s who was a student when the roof was put on the Abbey. She and her husband were married for 54 years, and since his death she comes to Iona alone from Edinburgh. She glows as she talks about the Abbey and the Iona Community.

The Iona Community is committed to worship renewal, justice and peace, and raising up a new generation of passionate followers of Jesus. Like the Northumbria Community is a dispersed community with members and friends all over the world. They also have created their own worship book, song books and resources all available at their bookstore. In the summer the abbey program increases to accommodate visitors and members for themed weeks, including a youth festival, which took place this week. More information can be found on their website. Because the Abbey was full, we stayed at a bed and breakfast and created our own retreat: morning and evening worship at the Abbey, walks around the island, our own prayer times and reading.

Tuesday morning we joined about 50 (mostly students) for the weekly six hour pilgrimage walk around the island. The guides were Iona Community Staff who stopped at sites along the way for some history, a reflection, scripture reading, challenge and prayer. We started at St. Martin's cross, placed in front of the Abbey in the 8th century. Since then the cross has always stood here in this place on this island as a symbol of Christian faith.

We walked down lanes and paths, through working farms and across the grassy area above the beach that serves the dual purpose as shared grazing area for sheep and cattle, and 18 hole golf course. This is the landscape where golf was invented. No need for irrigation, manicured greens or artificial sand traps.

We got to Columba's Bay where he originally landed in 567 with twelve monks from Ireland in a coracle, a wooden boat wrapped in skins. When they could not see Ireland, they decided to stay. The reflection was on the times when we have to leave the old behind and embrace the new. We all picked up two rocks, one representing the old which we threw into the ocean, and another representing the new which we kept. As we visited the Hermit's cell, an ancient circle of stacked stones, we reflected on the need to have a place where we can be alone and be ourselves before God. As we stood on one of the highest places on the island we thought about those places of vision where we feel God's presence and gain a new perspective. And we ended our pilgrimage in the oldest building on the island, the church in the cemetery where it is believed Columba died. We remembered that we will all die one day, but that death is not the end, but the beginning of new life in Christ. We sang and prayed to end our day together.

On our first day on Iona we met two women in their 70s and 80s from Ayrshire, Scotland who came over on the bus and ferry. Monica has been many times before, staying at the Abbey, the Bishop's House, and different lodgings on the island. We saw them at dinner, worship at the Abbey, and again at tea while we rested on our pilgrimage around the island. They became our pilgrimage friends, running into them every day until they left on Thursday. They have been friends for forty years and travel together often. We all felt blessed to run into each other and learn more about each other throughout the week.

Yesterday it was cloudy and rainy in the morning, but in the afternoon it started to clear and we took a hike up to the highest place of Iona called Dun I. We made it our own short pilgrimage walk, using our prayer book along the way. The sun came out and it was beautiful; we could see east across Mull, to the south of the island and west to the flat islands, the purple highlands across the sound in the distance, the green grassy peninsula that looked like a golf course, the tall grass, the outcroppings of rock and the white sand beach, the clouds turned from stormy gray to white, whispy clouds. I got into the water—it was cold and I was afraid my heart would stop, but it was worth it.

We went to the evening worship which was a thanksgiving celebration for the youth festival. After the service we talked with the priest and an adult leader from Sweden who brought 17 confirmation students from Denby Lutheran Church. This is part of their confirmation curriculum which begins in December with students coming to worship, then they meet for a few weeks in preparation for this week, then will meet another week to wrap up their experience. Earlier in the week I spoke with a fifteen year old boy from Sweden. He doesn't come from a religious family, but he's always been interested in God, and he's really happy to be here. It was surprising and encouraging to see so many kids from Sweden participating in the Iona Community.

The community worships every evening and morning. The evening services all are thematic: welcoming on Mondays, healing on Tuesdays, peace and justice on Wednesday, etc. The healing service was very inclusive, inviting people to be prayed for any kind of brokenness—physical, emotional, spiritual, relational. For peace and justice we focused on praying for Israel and Palestine. The liturgy asked God for humility and integrity as we prayed for difficult challenges "in the land where Jesus walked." Students read a summary of the history of Palestine and Israel as moving boxes were being placed between the choir and the nave, creating a wall of separation. We prayed for peace, for the end of conflict and for justice.

In the morning services the liturgy reminds people of who they are in Christ, and their commitment to living for him. The leader prays the liturgy for forgiveness and people give the assurance of pardon. Then the people confess their sin and the leader assures them of God's forgiveness. "We will not make an offering that costs us nothing" is included the closing liturgy.

My take away from Iona is one of visionary, courageous leadership. Columba began a monastic community with a vision of spreading the good news. The Abbey was built with vision to welcome pilgrims and care for people. The Iona Community was created with vision to make faith relevant to the average person in Scotland and to work for peace and justice as followers of Jesus. And there is vision in the hearts of individuals who are seeking God together with others from around the world in worship and service.

Saturday we reverse our trip back to Edinburgh. We'll stay two nights in Edinburgh, visiting the John Knox house, St. Giles Church where Knox preached and the Edinburgh Castle. Then next week we've decided to return to the Northumbria Community for five days before heading to Durham.


  1. Hi Mike and Amy,

    I've enjoyed your blog and am looking forward to your next update. It looks like you're keeping cool while Moscow bakes at 95 - 100 degrees.

    Rick J.

  2. Mike & Amy,

    Your weather looks like San Diego!! Cool! Really enjoy reading of your adventure. We miss you!

    Barb J


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