Iona Calls

By Caro Penney (From Seeds February – March 2023)

Some, perhaps many, of you will have visited the inner Hebridean island of Iona. Especially if you were blessed with ‘good’ weather, you would doubtless have marvelled at the beauty of the shores, picked up a pebble or two, and perhaps have been lucky enough to hear the call of a corncrake.

Some of you may even have stayed in the Abbey as guests of the Iona Community, just as I did for the first time in summer 1984. After annual visits since – including one with a group from AUC in 1989 and another with Fiona a few years later – then becoming a Community Member 25 years ago. . . look where it’s taking me. . . back to the island! This time, for a four-year stint as Abbey Warden. Never did I imagine this, not even as I returned home last July after six weeks as a volunteer. What’s that about ‘God’s mysterious ways’?

Being warden is a real mix. It includes: responsibility for supporting staff and volunteers to maintain a vibrant and healthy community for all who live, work and visit the Abbey; ensuring the Abbey is a place of welcome, hospitality and challenge through the daily rhythm of worship, and creative, meaningful programmes; ensuring the work and concerns of the Iona Community are embedded within all the activities of the Abbey; leading by example, through the common life approach to work and worship, action and reflection; being part of the wider island community. Yes, it is a ‘demanding common task’ but, today, there’s a fantastic team of staff, most of whom I’ve worked and lived with, so we know each other well. That makes a huge difference as I start this new role, knowing too that there are challenges ahead, known and unknown.

Some of those challenges come from living on ‘an island off an island’: ferries delayed for 24 hours; power cuts which can last from a minute to several hours; dodgy WIFI; no doctor on the island. . . But what a privilege. Following in the footsteps of my predecessors, many of whom I know well.

Although I’m sorry not to be part of this year’s AUC group visiting Iona in the summer, I’m so looking forward to welcoming them! And over the next four years, I’d love to see more of you, whether you’re day visitors or staying elsewhere on the island, or Abbey guests.

For now, though, I give my huge thanks to you all – being part of the AUC community is another privilege in my life, not least this past year leading worship and covering for Fiona in the university’s multi-faith chaplaincy team. But, mostly, being with you. Thank you. The Iona Community’s ‘strap-line’ is ‘inspired by our faith we pursue justice and peace in community’. It could just as honestly be AUC’s!

Gathered and scattered, we go forward together:
Jesus calls us to leave the past – Jesus calls us to hope
Jesus calls us to travel lightly – Jesus calls us to faith
Jesus calls us to live fairly – Jesus calls us to justice
Jesus calls us to risky living – Jesus calls us to life

(anonymous: used in Iona Abbey service, Feb 2021)