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 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.
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.
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.