Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Holy Week and Easter on Iona

One of the first things I did with my sabbatical was to go to the island of Iona for Holy Week and Easter. It has been a fantastic privilege to spend Holy Week as a recipient instead of as a leader and to do so on an island so steeped in history and prayer made it even more special.

Iona is a long way away off the west coast of Scotland. It is where St Columba and his 12 companions brought the Christian message to the north of Britain and for a long time was a centre of prayer and pilgrimage. In the 20th century there was a revival of prayer and christian pilgrimage on the island through the work of the Iona Community. They have the Abbey on Iona as a base and most of the buildings were rebuilt by them. They are a dispersed ecumenical community throughout Scotland and the world but constantly offering hospitality at the Abbey. I was able to take my family with me and we joined with over 30 others to be a temporary community for Holy Week. The resident community come from all over the world and are a mix of people who have been there for 2-3 years, people who have just arrived and will be only staying for 8-10 weeks and various shades in between.










The Abbey



The island is only small but really beautiful. It is a tourist destination but only for limited numbers. It took us about 8 or 9 hours from Manchester, including 2 ferries and so it is fairly isolated. During our stay we experienced all types of weather including a storm that was bad enough for them to cancel the ferry for the day.

Living as I do in a big city it's easy to largely ignore the extremes of nature but on Iona I felt much more in touch with the weather and more vulnerable. There are also no street lights so on the clear nights the stars looked fantastic!
The community put on a full but relatively relaxed programme. There was prayer in the Abbey at 9 am and 9 pm each day and a variety of sessions that we could join in. We also could go to the art room and make things to decorate the church for the services. We also worked in small groups to prepare stations of the cross for Good Friday. There was also plenty of time to explore the island.

In the craft room I made a large hand out of chicken wire. This wasn't anything I'd ever done before but was very satisfying and the hand was used in the Abbey for the Good Friday service.

The weather for our Good Friday outdoor Stations of the Cross was not great but it was very moving as we started on the jetty and moved through the village and up to the Abbey


One of the things that struck me during my stay was the way that the resident community all had a turn at leading the worship. They were a good model of the way in which all people can take part in leading worship and certainly something I want to do at home in Salford is to get more people involved in leading worship.

On Easter morning we assembled for a dawn service at 6 am. Due to the lack of street lighting on the island it was very, very dark and dawn really was fantastic. After the service I watched the sun come up over the hills of Mull. It was a powerful combination of liturgy and nature. The glorious weather that we had on Easter Day was almost as if it had been planned specially.

Watching the sun appearing over the hills of Mull and the Sound of Iona.

There are plenty more photos posted on Facebook if you want to see more.


Easter in the Abbey.                                                             The hand is transformed. 


If you haven't visited Iona, please do think about doing so. It isn't very easy to get to, it isn't cheap but it is very, very special. 

Big thanks go to all those who shared Holy Week and Easter with me - A very mixed group of people but a privilege to be with you all at such a special time in such a special place.

Christ is risen...                   

He is risen indeed, Alleluia!





What I'm learning during my sabbatical (part 1)

The first thing I've learnt is not new but something I keep forgetting and it's the simple rule that "almost everything takes longer than you think it will".

Yesterday afternoon I was just going to do one thing but first I had two small, quick things to do. I never even started on the main task!

Monday, 13 April 2015

God Unknown

I'm currently on Sabbatical (study leave) for 3 months, which is a fantastic privilege. Because of family commitments it's not easy to go away for a lot of the time but we have spent Holy week and Easter on Iona (which will be my next post). I've also enjoyed going to church as a normal punter, having a relaxed pace and having the time to read.

This book is one I've been reading.
It's a good read and nicely thought provoking. By Ian Mobsby of the Moot Community in London, it's an exploration of the Trinity. He accuses the church of neglecting the importance of the Trinity and sees "Emerging Churches", such as Moot, as calling us back to a more balanced Trinitarian approach.  It is certainly true that in many churches one person of the Trinity is emphasised to the detriment of the others and that this leads to unbalanced theology and practice. It is perhaps not only in Emerging Churches that there is a renewed emphasis on the mystery of the Trinity but he has important things to say about how a fuller Trinitarian Theology can speak into our current cultural setting.

I haven't finished reading the book yet, so might well have more to add but some key words and thoughts are:
Apophatic: An emphasis on the mystery of God, where we talk of what God isn't, and get to understand God by personal experience rather than logical reasoning.
Perichoresis: The mutual, loving relationship of the three persons of the Trinity. A dance of love, that invites us in.
Panentheism: God's active presence in all of creation (Not the same thing as Pantheism, which limits God to being the same as nature)

Ian makes good use of Rublev's Icon of the Trinity, which has spoken to many of the importance of the mutual interconnectedness of the persons of the Trinity. Ian has found this Icon to be very important in many Fresh Expressions of church, although in my experience it has a wider appeal and usage than he credits. He has some challenging things to say about our current post-modern cultural setting where "spirituality" is viewed positively but traditional forms of church are not. There are very positive opportunities for the church if we are able to seize them but also dangers. We certainly need to speak in new ways, which are often actually old ways. Ian speaks of the Ancient: Future Church as one that doesn't use modern, rational arguments but rediscovers the mystery of God and invites people in to experience the more complex Trinitarian God who is Creator, Redeemer & Sustainer.

We live in interesting times. The internet has radically changed our relationship with information, we are more defined by what we consume than what we do, we are loathe to commit but keen to try out. In this milieu the church needs to find new ways to authentically discover more of what God is doing in God's world and share this with others. Ian Mobsby has some useful thoughts for us and I certainly think that diving into the mystery of the Perichoretic Trinity needs to be at the heart of what we do.