Iona Abbey, Scotland (Exterior)

Iona Abbey, Iona, Scotland


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Iona Abbey
Location: Iona, Scotland
Date of visit: Sunday, 1 June 2014, 10:30am

The building

St Columba came to Iona in 563, where he established a small monastic community. Columba's monks were driven out by Vikings in 800, and little remains today of his monastery. Four hundred years later a Benedictine abbey was founded on the site. Dissolved during the Reformation, the abbey fell into ruin. The buildings were extensively restored in the early part of the 20th century, and it is these buildings that we see today. It is a strong stone building with a square tower. The windows were plain and the white light spread over the altar during the service.

The church

From their website: "The Iona Community, as a radical movement and organisation, is committed to living out the Christian faith in the areas of: hospitality, diversity and inclusive community worship; faith and spirituality; social justice and human rights; politics and campaigning; gender justice and human sexuality; environmental stewardship; peacemaking and non-violence; and healing and reconciliation." The abbey accepts bookings for "contemplative experiences" for "learning, fun, worship and reflection" held in the chapter house. Guests stay in shared bedrooms with washrooms, take their meals in the magnificent refectory, enjoy contemplative walks among the abbey cloisters, and worship in the medieval abbey church itself.

The neighborhood

The tiny island of Iona is reached by ferry from Fionnphort on the adjacent Isle of Mull. We could see the abbey from the boat. It enjoys a spectacular view of the sea, and the abbey grounds feature sculptures and crosses (some reproductions) from St Columba's time. On Iona itself there are a few hotels and shops, plus many beautiful flowers, birds and places to walk.

The cast

The Revd Joanna Anderson, the Island Centre's directress.

What was the name of the service?

Sunday Morning Eucharist.

How full was the building?

Very full, about 200 people. The service was attended by many people who had travelled from round the world to be there.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

A woman welcomed us and gave us some information. And a man at the front, who was one of the singers, said, "You are women visiting."

Was your pew comfortable?

Brown wooden chairs, very comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

People chatted and spoke nicely to us and to others. The singer gave a rendition of Kyrie Eleison just before the service started.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good morning and welcome, especially our visitors."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Iona Community Worship Book and Church Hymnary.

What musical instruments were played?


Did anything distract you?

One of the hymns – I forget which – mentioned Jesus being angry. I tried to think of the times where Jesus' anger is mentioned in the gospels.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Lots of singing, very basic songs that the congregation could easily join in. Not happy clappy, but our arms didn't remain stiff at our sides either. We had communion, bread and wine, brought to us; we did not have to go to the front and kneel. "The Scottish way," I thought to myself. The bread and wine had been carried by lay visitors to the community. Everyone was invited to take part in the communion, which was open to members of all churches. The bread was a round homebaked loaf broken into sections that were carried to the congregation. We broke off a piece and passed it to our neighbour. The wine came in tourquiose blue green (the colour of the sea and the sky) pottery chalices. This was also passed along the rows from from person to person. Those who did not wish to partake were asked to pass the bread and chalice to their neighbour.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

15 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

8 – The Revd Joanna Anderson spoke well and we could hear her as she made sense.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The events we have been commemorating over the past few weeks, and will continue to commemorate, were holy times indeed: the Resurrection, the Ascension, the coming of the Holy Spirit. They remind us that it is time for us to trust God. What great joy and faith we have to love God, to become God's partners. God carries us. Celebrate the Holy Spirit. God's work has been done.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The overall message of the service was of love and celebration. How heavenly!

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

Pity we could not actually have been there to witness the Resurrection, the Ascension, and Pentecost.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

We were invited to have a cup of tea in the abbey cloisters and share oat cakes and get to know more of the people who attended. People all chatted to us. We each got an oat cake and were told to share it with other people, but it wasn't always clear just how we were to do this.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

We all went out and around to get the tea and coffee and oat cakes.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

8 – It was a lovely church. If I lived on Iona I would like to worship there regularly.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

Yes. I felt it was a very uplifting service.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

What a beautiful place it is! We noticed that from the cloisters we could see that there was a flock of white doves living in the tower.

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