Our journey ended with reminders about mission in our modern day. On Iona, Rev. Peter Macdonald, the leader of the Iona Community, spoke to us about the long history of the island, of St. Columba and archeological discoveries. (Next year will mark the 1450th anniversary of St. Columba’s arrival on Iona, he noted.) He also spoke of Rev. George MacLeod who founded the Iona Community and organized the reconstruction of the ruined Benedictine monastery.
“There were some clergy and laypeople, thank God, who woke up to the fact that the working people weren’t part of the church,” Macdonald said. MacLeod was one of those people.
“We must remember Christ was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves; on a town garbage heap,” MacLeod wrote.
The aim of the Iona Community is to hold together the need for spiritual retreat and personal spirituality, and the need to go out from places of sanctuary to care for those in need, Macdonald said. It is “about rebuilding this common life [which is lived together on Iona] back in an urban setting. The work of Iona then and now begins when you leave.”
In Glasgow, we spent time at a Presbyterian church in the Gorbals area—a place once known as a dangerous slum. Today conditions have improved, but it remains an area fraught with tensions between Protestants and Catholics, and longtime residents and recent immigrants and refugees.
Terry Strain, a native of the Gorbals, spoke to us about Bridging the Gap, an organization that aims to build relationships among children of different religious and ethnic backgrounds.
We also heard from Rev. John Harvey, a retired minister and former leader of the Iona Community, who helped establish a group ministry in the Gorbals.
“What we’re trying to do is really what the Iona community is about,” he said. “The Iona Community is wherever there are members. We try to make it work on the ground.”
As the pilgrimage drew to its close, we prepared to return to our homes and spoke about what insights we would take home with us. A pilgrimage is a journey—an physical way of working through elements of transition in life and faith, Rev. Dr. Lynne McNaughton said. Travel separates us from routines and comfortable surroundings. It makes us vulnerable and makes us more aware of our dependence on God and the community, she said. As we return home, we see our familiar spaces in the light of new experiences.
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
—T. S. Eliot, The Four Quartets