Personal accounts from IONA (2007)
I was the wimp who stayed at a hotel while the rest of the party shared chores and communal living at the MacLeod Centre. The departure day started with our taxi driver forgetting to collect us, and Improved from then on. Brian and Sheila came to the railway station to see us on our way with a prayer for a safe journey. Thank you to them and also to Tracey for arranging the visit; to David for his brilliant organisation of all our travel arrangements; to Caroline for organising our singing - yes I joined in, and to the young people who took time to chat to us oldies, especially Jacob who ensured I had all my requirements from the buffet car.
My hotel was not far from the Abbey and the Macleod Centre, and I was able to join in all the outside activities. The pilgrimage walk over the heather clad moors was a memorable experience as were the evening services at the Abbey. The Warden of the Centre invited me to join the Community for dinner one evening followed with entertainment by both visitors and staff, and made me most welcome.
At my hotel I made friends with a delightful elderly couple Will and Olwen. They had taken six days to drive from Wales to lona on their own pilgrimage, mourning the loss of their only son. He died last year and they wanted to reflect on the happy times they had enjoyed on the Island with him. They talked to me so much about their Daffyd, and on the last morning clasped my hands and thanked me for my support.
None of the other guests at the hotel engaged in conversation, and I believe I was meant to be there for Will and Olwen. Thank you for encouraging me to visit lona, it was a wonderful experience.
The Pilgrimage Walk.
Notes from an Iona Doubting Thomas
I would probably not have suggested going to Iona. Mainly as my impression was that it would be a silent retreat and probably out of touch with the real challenges of the modern world. But once it was agreed that we were going I decided to make the most out of it and be part of the group.
I did not really know our fellow travellers, yet formed an opinion of them all and was prepared for anything. Having convinced my daughter that she could survive for a week without Electric hair straighteners and that the boys did not need to be constantly attached to a computer game we set off on the expedition.
The Iona marketing machine said that the journey there was part of the experience. How right they were as we walked for a mile in the pouring rain with our suitcases along Oban Seafront at 9 o’clock at night to arrive at our Youth Hostel stopover. However the rain did not dampen our sprits as we ventured out again to get the promised deep fried Haggis and fish and chips which Joan had been talking about on the whole journey as if it was her only reason for going to Iona. The following morning saw grown adults trying to steal coffee un-noticed from the Youth Hostel kitchen as we were 2 hours before our booked breakfast time. I started to get to know the characters of my fellow travellers.
The weather was not a lot better and we finally arrived in Iona, after various forms of transport, soaking wet around 3pm that afternoon. We changed and were fed. That evening we were told the house rules and asked what we each wanted to get out of our stay in Iona. Apart from getting us all there and back safely, I had not really thought what I wanted. But as someone who always reckons to be in charge of every situation I thought it would be good for me to learn to live in a community on equal footing and accept people for what they were and not force them to do what I wanted them to do.
The following morning we awoke to beautiful blue skies, sun and spectacular views of the island, the beaches, the sea and Scotland beyond. From this moment you realised that Iona was truly a magical place and what was to be a very rewarding experience had just begun.
I could go on for ages describing the daily events but I will just mention a few of my memorable moments that made the week so special.
- Meeting with Monica in the art room each morning at around 6am to watch the sun rise and drink tea whilst everyone else slept.
- Stripping the willow with all of our party at the village Ceilidh.
- Letting the all children run home alone after the Ceilidh at 11.30 in the night in the pitch dark without a care as Iona felt so safe.
- Being part of the Otter team laying the breakfast each day and preparing the vegetables for lunch in the way they wanted me to and not doing it my way which would have been far better.
- Trying to understand why Peter needed so many electronic gadgets to keep him going through the night which bleeped at regular intervals.
- Swimming in absolute freezing water just to say that we had done it.
- Walking with the young and not so young on the 7 mile pilgrimage around the island and really enjoying the walking and the experience.
- Singing in Fingal's Cave on the island of Staffa and being asked by other teenagers if we could sing songs that they knew so they could join in.
- Watching James taking on the role of Nanny for the five children who just treated him like a big brother.
- Leaving your wallet and valuables on your bedside table in the dormitories for the whole week without any fear they would be stolen.
- Walking into the Abbey for the first time at night in the Candle light.
- Sitting down in the Cinema in Glasgow and then ordering cups of tea, ice creams and Maltesers for the whole party whilst we watched Evan Almighty.
- The fact that none of the doors in the centre were ever looked even at night.
- Sitting on the balcony at night in our dressing gowns whilst we talked about life in hushed whispers as the rest of the dormitories slept.
- Getting to know Catherine on the walk and realising that she had more zest for life and humour in her than many people half her age.
- Watching the joy on the children’s faces as they were making fires in the fields to boil water to make herbal tea.
- Dancing Grace before our meal in the Italian Restaurant in the centre of Glasgow much to the amusement of the fellow customers.
So by the end of the week I felt I and my children had really enjoyed our time and had benefited enormously from the Iona experience. I felt we had really got to know each other and had learnt to live together. I also saw the real human side to everyone in my party which was so far from my original view.
Finally the time came when we had to return to our normal lives, take back what we had experienced and make it just a normal part of our daily lives, And that worship, prayer and helping others should just be part of your normal everyday life and not be condensed into a set hour each Sunday when you sit down at the end of the service pray, and then tick the box to say that’s done for another week.
This message was really brought home to me as my strongest memory from Iona will be when at the end of the morning service we were encouraged to just leave the Abbey after the blessing without sitting down and carry on with the rest of our day whilst they played Off to Work We Go from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
I would encourage anyone to go to Iona.