by Heather McMillan
Fourteen members of Wellington became part of a community in Iona. We noticed immediately that there was a pattern of work, worship and recreation. We also experienced the love and support given to us by the staff, volunteers and fellow pilgrims.
Activities took many forms: it was the tasks which brought us together, sharing washing up and preparing food for meals or the less glamorous tasks of cleaning floors, toilets and carpets which helped us to know each other better. Everybody spoke about the wonderful meals we had – home-grown vegetables in soup and salads, delicious lamb casserole, wonderful desserts and freshly baked scones at coffee time.
The pilgrimage proved to be top of the list for most of the group. The shorter pilgrimage mainly on paths and roads, visited many of the sacred sites associated with St Columba. The longer pilgrimage explored the more rugged parts of the island, where boots were essential.
Music played an important part too. Two Ghanians were a true delight as they taught us many of their country’s songs. We were really interested to hear about Ghana’s customs and culture, and the importance of aunties. Without aunties young people would find it very difficult to be married with the family’s approval. We also sang songs in English and in harmony. A highlight was the service on the last evening when our choir sang “Come all ye people” as they led us singing out of the church and through the cloisters to the refectory.
A trip by boat to Staffa was thrilling for all, as we saw the wonder of the cave and its pillars. It was easy to remember Mendelssohn’s Fingal’s Cave which painted in sound what we saw and heard.
As we landed on the island there was not a puffin to be seen.
The boatman told us, however, that once we had landed and were sitting on the grass, the birds would come. Our presence meant that the puffins would then be safe from predatory birds, like skuas. This little miracle did happen as we picnicked with the puffins.
Another highlight was the concert which we shared with a primary school class, staying at the McLeod Centre nearby. These were delightful children, helpful and chatty. Their poetry were excellent as was their lively song and dance. Four Wellington ladies “of a certain age” gave a rendition of the “Three Craws sat upon a wall”. This was done in costume with amazing crows’ heads made by one of the craws.
Worship in the Abbey was in its own way “out of this world”. The words were simple yet profound and piano music seemed most appropriate in this ancient building. The services were led by many different people working in the Abbey and we were all conscious that many thousands had worshipped here over hundreds of years.
Much of the enjoyment of this week was due to Norman and Ruth Shanks who oversaw all our arrangements, and to Alison Swinfen who led us through our spiritual journey, assisted by volunteers and staff who supported and helped us, in such a kind, discrete way, to experience the joys of life and care for each other in a community.
Sunshine, fun and faith on a beautiful island – what more could we have asked.