Books and Travel, Part 5: Mull, Iona, and The Scottish Hymnary (4th Edition)

There were a lot of ferry trips to make this all work. Leaving Campbelltown we went to Kennacraig for the ferry to Islay and then returned there. Then it was off to Oban to catch the ferry to Craignure on Mull. Mull was interesting driving as all the roads on one lane with passing places – roads we have come to call “sausage link roads” for the way they are depicted on the paper maps. We stayed in a lovely B and B in Fionnphort. It was just a short walk from there to the ferry to Iona.

Iona’s claim to fame is St. Columba coming from Ireland to support and sustain Christianity in Western Scotland. His cathedral is there, and it is interesting to see it and the history that surrounds it. Iona has become a real tourist attraction because of the St. Columba story and because of the Iona Community. This is their story: The Iona Community was founded in Glasgow and Iona in 1938 by George MacLeod, minister, visionary and prophetic witness for peace, in the context of the poverty and despair of the Depression. From a dockland parish in Govan, Glasgow, he took unemployed skilled craftsmen and young trainee clergy to Iona to rebuild both the monastic quarters of the mediaeval abbey and the common life by working and living together, sharing skills and effort as well as joys and achievement. That original task became a sign of hopeful rebuilding of community in Scotland and beyond. The experience shaped – and continues to shape – the practice and principles of the Iona Community.

This ecumenical community has greatly influenced ecumenical work over these last 80 years or so, most notable through its music. John Bell has written songs that are part of Christian worship worldwide. It was interesting to note that he was the chair of the committee that formed the latest hymnal of the Church of Scotland – The Church Hymnary (4th Edition) 2007. It is a mark of his influence that he was invited to this task.

We enjoyed our day on Iona, although I did not find it a moving faith experience. It’s a beautiful place, but overrun with tourists from around the globe, and I wasn’t totally impressed with everyone’s clarity about the history. It appears to have just become another “place to go.” But I am grateful for the ministry and music of John Bell, and the continuing witness to peace and reconciliation by the Iona Community.

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