Remembering and visiting Iona

By Willard Roth
February 18, 2010

The first in a series of 2010 Lent blogs from Willard Roth focussing on places of particular spiritual intensity and interest across Britain and Ireland.


Iona seems a right place to start my Lenten e-reflections. It is the place we intend to begin in June 2010 on a US Mennonite pilgrimage to a range of Celtic sites. It is the place to which I return for the eighth time. It is the place where the Celtic way has called numberless pilgrims since Columba and his twelve disciples arrived in 563 and founded a beehive monastery. It is the place from where pilgrim missionaries moved east, extending Christian faith across Scotland, England and into Europe. It is the place from where pilgrim monks, pursued by Viking raiders in the eighth and ninth centuries, fled with the Book of Kells, and on return put up high Celtic crosses. It is the place where Benedictines built an abbey in the thirteenth century and George MacLeod’s Iona Community rebuilt in the twentieth. It is the place that continues to beckon AMBS Celtic pilgrims in century twenty-one.

I remember Columba’s first words when he saw from his coracle the little island ahead: Behold Iona! A blessing on each eye that see-eth it. I remember Samuel Johnson’s acclamation: That person is little to be envied whose piety would not grow warmer among the ruins of Iona. I remember MacLeod’s oft-quoted line: Iona is a thin place poised between heaven and earth.

I remember my final journal entry on my first visit. “Now the afternoon sun has broken through clouds. The sea is brilliant in multi-tinted blues and greens topped with whitecaps. Two women sit on the silver sand before me. Sheep graze on the steep hillside behind me. My cup is empty beside me. I’m reminded that as afternoon coffee is short-term pleasure, so a week at Iona must draw to a close. If I never return I thank God for the enrichment. But I pray I shall come again.”

The modern day Iona Community ( is a dispersed Christian ecumenical community working for peace and social justice, the rebuilding of community and the renewal of worship. It is now known and connected across the world.


(c) Willard E. Roth is a retired pastor in Mennonite Church USA, having held many posts for the Mennonite church nationally and world wide. He has also been involved with the Academy of Parish Clergy (ACP), and has a specialist interest in journalism and communications.

** Willard Roth is co-leading, with Marlene Kropf, a Celtic Pilgrimage on behalf of the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) in Elkart, Indiana. It will take place from 11-28 June 2010. For details, visit The Pilgrimage, which will move across Scotland, Ireland, Wales and England, is now fully booked.

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