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A Pilgrimage to Iona: Abundant Joy!

Jun 11, 2024

By Holly White
Parishioner at Grace-Calvary, Clarkesville

Shimmering clear water, gusty breezes, and azure skies welcomed members of Grace-Calvary as they stepped off the ferry onto the isle of Iona. The pilgrimage, a dream that emerged from a pre-Covid Education for Ministry (EfM) class, had finally become real. Led by Dr. Timothy Lytle, professor of philosophy and religion at Piedmont University, the small group from Clarkesville, Georgia linked arms with the world on a tiny island in Scotland’s Inner Hebrides. Immersed in Iona’s natural beauty and spiritual heritage, seventeen travelers became humble, reverent and spirit-filled.

Parishioners enjoyed comfortable lodgings, congenial staff, and locally grown meals at the charming St. Columba Hotel. Roaming on narrow lanes, folks set about exploring ancient ruins, well-tended organic gardens, and acres of sheep grazing near the shores. Sturdy wildflowers peeked through lichen-covered rock foundations where nuns and monks lived, worked, and prayed so long ago.

Worship services in the Abbey were simple, yet profound. Inclusive language and interactive experiences created connection as conversation flowed between pilgrims from many countries. The Celtic values of hospitality, community, love of the earth and of each other washed over all as an agape meal was shared. At one evening service, participants heaped stones, each symbolizing a personal commitment, in the center of the room. “Our small individual commitments, assembled together, will create positive change in the world,” the leader said. Powerful gestures married the ancient surroundings with current day challenges in individual lives and beyond.

Hiking out to St. Columba’s Bay, where Christianity landed on Scotland’s shores in the sixth century, walkers trekked through pastures filled with sheep, buttercups, and daisies, the sea visible in the distance. “Take time to be silent and listen to God,” said Bill Duffey, who was on his second trip to Iona. Folks dispersed to sit among the waves and the wind, discerning, dreaming and, yes, listening. The beach was covered in smooth, glistening stones which made a shimmering sound as the waves receded into the sea. Had Columba noticed those sounds so many centuries ago?

Leaving Iona was bittersweet. “I will be back,” several said. A priest from the Diocese of Mississippi shared the saying “If you come to Iona once, you come three times.” Friendships had grown, souls were nurtured, and commitment was strengthened to serve the God who created and inspired such beauty and tranquility for the ages. Gathering at the airport, Terri Todd, longtime Grace-Calvary member, summed up the trip. “I am fulfilled,” she said. Until next time.