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Looking Back

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Looking Back

August 1972

Friendly Isle of Peace

By Vere Hodge

Some of us, at the joint meeting of several Parochial Councils in Somerset, had only the vaguest idea of where Iona was, and still less idea of why our Bishop (of Bath and Wells) should suggest taking us there. But obviously he must have a good reason, and it sounded fun.

We learned that Iona is an island about half way up the Western Coast of Scotland, near Mull. About 563 A.D. St Columba sailed there from Ireland, and founded an Abbey which became a missionary base for that side of Scotland.

St Columba belonged to the Celtic Church, whose members had come from Ireland to Somerset (especially Glastonbury) during the early centuries A.D., and to whom we are indebted to the establishment of the first churches in our villages. For us to visit Iona would thus be the re-forging of a very ancient link.

Thirty-two of us landed safely on the jetty at Iona on Wednesday, 19th April, and immediately, the tone of the coming five days was set by the friendly welcome we received at the Argyll Hotel and at Highland Cottage.

This friendliness of the part of the Iona residents was a big factor in our happiness there; and the Rev. John Harvey, warden of the Iona community and in charge of the Abbey, made us feel at home in the Church of Scotland Services.

We joined in morning and evening worship at the Abbey, and we were invited to provide two servers at the Abbey Communion Service on the Sunday.

And on the Monday morning, the day we left, the Warden invited our Bishop to celebrate Holy Communion in the Abbey, using the Episcopal Church’s form of service. This communion followed the rule of Iona Abbey in being open to all Christian believers.

It was an atmosphere of friendliness that we were invited to share in worship and in Communion with our Church of Scotland hosts; it was unthinkable to us that we should have a Communion without inviting them and their friends.

During our stay we learned about the work of the Iona Community; we saw some of the holy places on the island, and most of the party visited Mull.

The Bishop of Argyll and The Isles very kindly came over specially and spent Friday with us; a long journey for him. He led us to the Hermit’s Cell, and told us about the Celtic Church and the present Episcopal Church in his Diocese.

We felt that the weather was a special gift to us. A few days before our arrival, the ferry from Fionnphort had been unable to run owing to high seas, but our crossings were completely calm. Our Bishop (but no one else, I think) bathed from Port Ban. There was no rain while we were there, and by day the sun shone brilliantly almost all the whole time; so we came home with the memory of God’s creation at its most beautiful.

“It seems like a dream,” one said. Another spoke of the residents: “Peaceful, kind and loving.” He was moved that they should be so warm towards complete strangers.

We do not imagine that life on Iona is always sunny, either literally or metaphorically. We had heard of some of the Island’s problems; lack of employment for young people, for instance.

And in any place where the forces of good have a stronghold, the forces of evil will attack when they are able. But good has the upper hand, and ‘friendliness’ is the word which summarises Iona (and Mull, Oban and Glasgow Central Station) for us.

Our pilgrimage was a memorable, exciting and enriching experience; our very sincere thanks to all those friends, known to us and unknown, who smoothed our journey and made us welcome. Already some of our party are asking, “When can we go again?”

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