Members, associates and friends
A candle in the window, from member Peter Millar in Edinburgh
In many countries and cultures, local communities place a lighted candle in the windows of their homes in times of trouble, fear or sorrow. Each one of us (many in self-isolation around the world) can offer a candle of hope in our own way as we face up to viruses and other massive global problems. I am self-isolated here in Edinburgh, yet we are all strongly connected in our hearts: in our faith and doubts, in our fears and hopes, in our concerns about others. Each week, during this time of isolation, I will be sending out a few words of encouragement. Please share them with others if you feel that is appropriate. Thank you. Even if far apart, we walk together on the good earth in rain or shine.
Here is Peter’s reflection for March 2020:
If you would like to receive Peter’s monthly reflections, please e-mail him: [email protected]
Peter Millar is a former Warden of Iona Abbey, who has worked in Glasgow, India, Africa and Australia. He is the author of several books, including Our Hearts Still Sing, and A Time to Mend, Wild Goose Publications. He is a soul friend to many.
Candles © David Coleman
Being a hospital chaplain in this time of corona, from member Desirée van der Hijden in the Netherlands
26th March, 2020:
I was asked to share some thoughts on my work as a hospital chaplain and how people can give support.
I find it hard to describe the situation in the hospital where I work. People will have seen the images of Italy with overflowing hospitals and desperate staff; here, at the moment, it’s not like that. It’s a steady flow of Covid-19 patients taking over the wards. Every day a bigger part of our hospital is in lockdown. We see our colleagues through glass doors and wave at them. We phone, leave them chocolate and flowers.
The thing most people – relatives, patients who are awake but in isolation, and hospital staff – find very difficult is the isolation. Usually in times of crisis we come together, hug, share food. None of this is possible. I realise it’s the same for everybody outside – but the more you need emotional support, the harder it hits you when people can’t give you a hug.
What we chaplains do is, every three or four days, phone relatives of people who are in the intensive care unit. Just to see how they are.
We are setting up a system of phoning patients who are awake in isolation. Staff have asked people to bring in babyphones so that they can talk to them from outside their rooms and wave through the window in the door, because every time someone goes in, they have to change completely – we too are running out of masks and protective visors, so interaction is down to the basic minimum. We too would love to go in – but there simply isn’t enough protective material, so this is for doctors and nurses only, and for one visitor a day for each patient. Most partners of patients, of course, are at home in self-isolation.
Our psychologists and social workers have set up a 24/7 support system for our staff. I myself have sent a lot of silly apps to staff I’ve known and worked with for 13 years. We miss each other.
So what can you do yourself?
I’m not advising you to start phoning relatives – unless maybe you’re a best friend since childhood. Most of them will be too tired anyway and don’t need to talk about what’s happening all day. Send them a card, leave some flowers, and make it very clear you don’t expect an answer.
If you offer help, be very specific. Not: ‘Call me if you need me.’ People seldom do. But: ‘Can I do your shopping tomorrow?’, etc.
Also, you might want to support any people you know working in medical professions by offering to cook and leave them a meal, etc.
And pray! For the living, for their relatives, for staff. And ultimately, don’t forget those who die. And look after their loved ones – today and next week and next year.
In our hospital we have created a beautiful Garden for Remembering those who have died. We write their names on stones and light candles. We remember them – and we remember ourselves, that however hard we try, life, ultimately, is not in our power.
– Desirée van der Hijden, Chaplain in the Maasstad Ziekenhuis in Rotterdam, the Netherlands
Remembrance Garden photo, by Desirée Van der Hijden ©
Creativity will see us through, from friend of the Community Jane Darroch-Riley in Barcelona, Spain
Jane has been a designer, typesetter and admin person for Wild Goose Publications for the past 20 years …
23rd March, 2020:
We are now on day 10 of lockdown and it looks like the original 15 days is going to be 30, at least, as the numbers of infected people continue to soar every day here. We can go out one person a day to get food and there are no food shortages, maybe because we are more used to small local shops here rather than supermarkets, but anyway, there is no need to panic-buy; food supply lines stay open. I also say this for the UK, as my cousin is a long-distance lorry driver who is working 24/7 right now. All parks and beaches here are closed and we can be fined 2000 euros if we are foolish enough to try to go out for a run or a cycle. You have to carry the downloadable government form that shows your reason to be out if stopped by the police, who are on patrol everywhere.
One of the lovely things is the nightly round of applause from windows and balconies across the country at 8pm to salute the essential workers risking their lives. Community spirit is strong here and is essential I think for all of us. Our daughter’s special needs school has been amazing – sending videos and doing live broadcasts for the kids on Instagram and Facebook.
Here (below) is a photo of what we turned our cardboard recycling into yesterday. I am eternally grateful that paper, paint and glue have always made me happy and that we had large stores of it in this house. Creativity will see us through. A lot of my musician pals are doing nightly songs from their living rooms – so many lovely gestures out there beyond the immediately practical and life-saving ones. Play some music, write – all those gifts you have are so vital right now.
As the UK heads to lockdown, don’t overstock your food but use those art or gardening or DIY supplies, and be grateful to all those YouTubers who truly have a video out there on every topic; learn the new skills, take the virtual museum tours, do the how-to-do aerobics in tiny hotel room routines, look out for each other, share resources and check in on the lonely and vulnerable, a lot of whom are well-practised in the art of self-isolation and can teach us as much as we can help them. Stay home and stay well; this too shall pass.
‘Creativity will see us through’ photo © Jane Darroch-Riley
Isolation?, by member Katharine M Preston in Essex, New York, USA
22 March, 2020:
Total ‘self-isolation’. How strange a concept for most of us. For my husband (81) and me (71), our fear is compromising the hospital situation, should we get sick. Our little rural hospitals simply do not have the beds/testing equipment/respirators/personnel to handle the predicted upswing. So, we are advised by wise medical friends to make sure we will not need those resources. But just as important, make sure we don’t inadvertently infect others so that they don’t need the hospital resources either. Stay home at least until the wave of infections that is expected passes. Hold on to the hope that testing and respirators will come soon. And feel good that you have helped to ‘flatten the curve’.
Isolating in a rural setting, when you have a tight-knit farming community, is pretty easy. There are few people around where we live – but there sure is community, and it is taking care of its seniors. Our local food co-operative in the nearest city (40 minutes away) offered to put together all items from my shopping list. A younger friend, not yet in isolation, will pick it up later on today and drop the box off on our porch. Another younger friend is picking up a prescription at the pharmacy and yet another is mailing a package for us. I wipe down the bags at home and wash hands (again).
Our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm down the road has all the veggies we need. This time of year, our share is heavy on the root vegetables, but there is some frozen or pickled produce thrown in for variety. These will help keep us healthy. They put our weekly share outside the barn for my pickup.
We thank God for FaceTime to see family – even our beloved grandkids who live just seven miles down the road. (But we sure do miss the hugs …) And then there is Zoom: Yoga class two days ago, and this coming Sunday, a church worship service. That ought to be a new experience! As my pastor says: Church is NOT closing! WE are the church. Virtual worship does nothing to change that.
Walks outside. We are in the country, blessed with plenty of space to roam. It is getting warmer, day by day. We pray this coronavirus doesn’t like warm – but who knows. We already know ticks love it. I had my first tick bite of the season. (Lyme disease is a big deal around here.) Diseases abounding …
But here’s the thing: We may be physically isolated, but because of the huge virtual community (basically the whole world!), in a sense I feel more in community than ever. News reports (well, maybe too many of those …), family and friends checking in, sharing of things to do while at home. We see offerings of wonderful things on TV – free watching of Metropolitan Opera broadcasts, virtual tours of various museums, re-broadcasts of Public Television series. And then we can watch what others are doing: the Italians cheering for their healthcare workers, bus drivers delivering lunches to kids home from school, children’s authors reading their books to children on YouTube.
There is an element of wonderful, Spirit-led glory and grace here that makes me smile and love the whole world. I do not feel isolated. The mindful caring tempers my fear.
We are in this together – so many people get it!
Which begs the question for me: Is this together-in-the-worldness contagious? Can everything from the realisation of the severity of the problem to the each doing our part, right now, be transmitted to the global climate crisis? We are told there is a relationship between climate change and the origins of this pandemic. So the virus infection is symptomatic. Can the response to the infection be an ‘everything must change’ response that will encompass the climate crisis?
There is greater hope in all this!
Please, may we not recover from these symptoms of God alongside, forgiving our transgressions on creation, spreading grace, comfort and love.
– Katharine M. Preston
Katharine Preston is the author of A Field with a View: Science and Faith in a Time of Climate Change, Wild Goose Publications – and also has a new website: katharinepreston.com
Photo of Katharine M Preston, by John Bingham ©
‘Don’t be afraid’, from associate member John McCall in Taiwan
22 March, 2020:
As we all join in prayer for the world community, especially the most vulnerable countries and groups, I want to share a few glimpses from this part of the world:
Eyes which smile at me …
Taiwan has always been a mask-wearing culture. If people have a cold or are concerned about catching a cold, they will wear masks. So, this pandemic has just increased the number of people wearing masks in public to around 95% of the population. When you are in a public space and everyone is wearing a mask, you only see the eyes. We tend to study the mouth and its expressions, but with everyone’s mouth covered, you learn to study eyes. And eyes communicate a lot. They communicate fear when someone close to you coughs. They communicate a smile when the smile lines show at the edges of the eyes. They communicate a greeting. We are learning to read eyes here. And it is wonderful how many eyes respond to a smile with another smile. In this age of fear, the eyes communicate that we are one family on this earth. The eyes make a connection one-to-the-other. I have been grateful for the many times each day I see eyes which smile at me.
So many voices each day …
We have been living with the reality of this virus here for two months. So, we just had our second toilet-paper run. The first time happened about a month ago when someone in Taiwan posted online that the paper used for masks is the same paper used to make toilet paper. Immediately folks rushed to the stores and bought out all the toilet paper. But the government assured people that there was plenty of toilet paper available. So just as quickly, the shelves were again full. But with the news from the U.S. this week that there was a run on toilet paper there, Taiwanese got nervous again and this weekend people were again filling their carts. The Premier announced yesterday that toilet paper factories are producing at 60%, so he assured the people that there is plenty. I assume that next week the shelves will again be full of it, and that Taiwanese are using the precious space in small apartments to store so much extra toilet paper. We all are so influenced by so many voices each day that the voice of calm and reason is often not heard.
‘A time to ponder the true meaning of our lives’ …
I teach in Jiangsu Province in China and have many former students and friends there. So, for the past two months, I have been in contact with a good friend and leader in the church in that province. I have been impressed with his perspective on this crisis. In Mandarin the character for crisis has two parts: danger and opportunity. He wrote me when the outbreak was at its worst in China and everyone was confined to their homes: ‘Now in our city it is as if someone pressed the pause button and this huge city suddenly becomes quiet and just stops. People keep their distance from others, and since everyone is wearing a face-mask, you can’t see the facial expressions. But, for me, the good thing is that God is giving the Chinese people a time to be quiet and slow down from the fast pace of our lives to ponder the true meaning of our lives.’
He also wrote me yesterday, saying, ‘In our province, by the Lord’s leading, and the prayers of so many around the world, the good news here is that for the past 29 days there are no new reported cases in our province. All of the 631 infected people have been discharged from hospital and have fully recovered. Jesus Christ continues to connect us together all over the world. We are truly one in Christ. Let’s keep praying for God’s grace and leading as other countries face great challenges.’ The statistics of this pandemic are real people with families and friends.
As we pray and care for one another, we use the opportunity in the danger to be agents of Christ’s peace and love to one another.
‘I have promised to be always near …’
I have always liked a simple song by John Bell from the Iona Community, where I been an associate member for 35 years. Its words say: ‘Don’t be afraid. My love is stronger, my love is stronger than your fear. Don’t be afraid … I have promised, promised to be always near.’ (You can listen to the song online: see the end of this e-Coracle.) That is how I am seeking to accompany the Taiwanese people and the people of the world, as we together rely on God’s strong and tenacious love and lean into God’s promise always to be near.
Associate John McCall has been teaching at seminaries in Taiwan for over twenty years. He also mentors, accompanies and learns from pastors throughout Asia.
John McCall with friends, photo ©
A message to the Iona global family, from associate member Fridah Wafula and Marksen Masinde of Saidiana in Kenya
March 30, 2020:
We are doing well despite the threat posed by the coronavirus, spreading like a wildfire. The authorities are warning people to self-isolate, keep social distance and wash hands regularly. World news of the virus doesn’t look good and we pray for the situation to improve.
Saidiana activities have been scaled down and at the moment we are only handling a few mandatory ones such as farming activities, given now is the planting season, as well as relief-related activities. If the virus spreads further in this country and region it will be a disaster, as many families survive from hand to mouth.
Some of the key Saidiana activities we have suspended include the sewing and knitting classes and the selling of finished goods at open market centres, which have been closed down by the Government to minimise the spread of the virus. This means our volunteers who would otherwise earn from what they do will lose their income. We have decided to help them out for at least March and April with some money to keep them going. We wish the Government would step in to help vulnerable families.
We want to wish you, your family and the Iona global family well; and that God will help all to keep safe and spare the world population from the virus.
– Fridah and Marksen
Saidiana photo ©
Sharing good news, from Laura Gisbourne of the Iona Community’s Young Adults Group
The Young Adults Group have been based online. We use different social media platforms to communicate regularly with each other. Being scattered around the country means that we have only managed to meet as a whole group physically once in the past 18 months. So with the current pandemic we have not had to adapt much to accommodate new ways of communicating during the lockdown. However, we have all agreed that it is now as important as ever to support each other during the current daily corona-fuelled turmoil.
On top of continuing to maintain our saving-the-planet values we have chosen to develop a new support strategy for our small community. To help our group members smile, we have decided to share a daily positive or thought-provoking story or quote with the group. We have assigned a weekday to all eight of the Young Adults Group members. Each day a person shares a good-news story from their life or the news with the group via our Facebook chat. It’s only a small effort, but so far it’s certainly worked, making us all smile, reminding us that we’re not alone and the world isn’t all bad news. Feeling despair and overwhelmed is the easiest hole to fall into, but we must remember how lucky we are in 2020 to have the best modern medical expertise and social technology to help us through.
Sometimes I feel like there is nothing I can do to help, but even this little act of community can lift spirits a little. I suppose if you can make someone smile, there is always something you can do to help. The Young Adults Group are doing what we can to continue behaving as a community. I have never been quite so grateful for social media.
– Laura Gisbourne
Young Adults Group at Camas, photo ©
Two wings of awareness, from friend of the Community John Philip Newell
From John Philip Newell’s blog on the Heartbeat website:
24th March, 2020:
Hildegard of Bingen, the 12th-century Christian mystic, said that we need to fly with two wings of awareness. The one wing is an awareness of life’s glory and beauty. The other is an awareness of life’s pain and suffering. If we try to fly with only one of these, she said, we will be like an eagle trying to fly with only one wing. In other words, we will not truly see.
We are living through a moment in time that invites a new strength of awareness. We are hearing stories from around the world today of terrible suffering and loss. And, at the same time, we are hearing accounts of great beauty of spirit and love.
I pray for all of us these days that we may be strong in our seeing and in our loving of another. As one of the prayers in Sounds of the Eternal puts it:
Let us serve love with our strength this day,
let us serve love with our strength.
In heart and mind and body this day
let us serve love.
John Philip Newell is a former Warden of Iona Abbey, a teacher and an author.
Photo of John Philip Newell, from the Heartbeat Journey website ©
News from Iona, from Trustee of the Iona Village Hall, Joanne MacInnes
22nd March, 2020:
… Everything is moving quite fast but, as of this morning, everything other than the Spar and Post Office are closed until further notice. The Iona Village Hall construction team is in the process of securing the site for closure today or tomorrow. CalMac are limited to essential travel only, and the islanders are working together, by phone and video-conferencing, to put in place measures to support those who are isolating or those who become unwell. The already unreliable Internet connectivity is going to be stretched as everyone becomes more reliant on it, but we’re working out new ways of working and communicating all the time.
Joanne MacInnes lives on Culbhuig Farm, Iona, is a Trustee of the Iona Village Hall Community Trust and has been working on the Iona Community’s Iona Abbey Capital Appeal since 2015.
New Iona Village Hall photo © Anja Jardine
Support the Scottish islands during Covid-19 by shopping from the comfort of your sofa!
A word on mental health, from Iona Community member Rachel McCann of the Biggar Mental Health Network
At this time it is important to look after our mental health as well as our physical health. Below is a very good resource:
Whilst at home, try to find and focus on the things that nurture and nourish your mental health – music, creativity, watching a tree blossom out of your window, reading … Slow down, take deep breaths and feel the ground beneath your feet.
Remember it is natural to feel fear and anxiety and vulnerability at this time; don’t fight it, don’t be ashamed of it. Just gently allow yourself to feel it and focus on the breath and things that are soothing.
Reach out for help if you need it, to neighbours or friends but also to support lines and online resources.
Finally please reach out to those you know who struggle with preexisting mental health issues. They may already be quite socially isolated and anxiety and depression may be increased. If you are able, chip in to local projects that are supporting vulnerable folk.
Two helpful books: The Happiness Trap: Stop Struggling, Start Living, by Russ Harris (Robinson Publishing), and Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Daily Life, by Thich Nhat Hanh (Rider).
– Rachel McCann
Sunflower, by H and N ©
Enjoy the great indoors: Twenty top tips for change amid crisis, by member Rev. Prof Stephen G Wright, of the Sacred Space Foundation in Cumbria
From Stephen G Wright:
In Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now, Maya Angelou writes: ‘If you can’t change a thing, change the way you think about it.’ In these times where there is so much suffering and we feel loss and fear as so many of our everyday opportunities are closed to us, we have a choice. We can feel angry, afraid and victimised, or we can take stock, accept what is and see what potential lies in this liminal space of lockdown …
Stephen G Wright had a long and distinguished history in academia and as a nurse in the NHS. He is a facilitator of retreats and a consultant to organisations, helping to develop the practice of healing, compassion, spiritual care, leadership, conflict resolution and staff support. He is an ordained interfaith minister and Resident Spiritual Director of the Sacred Space Foundation.
Stephen Wright atop Carrock Fell ©
To members, associates and friends of the Iona Community, from e-Coracle/Coracle Editor, Neil Paynter, and Pat Bennett, Iona Community Programmes Development Worker
From Neil Paynter:
Dear Iona Community folk,
Pat and I are looking to share stories from members, associates and friends about the good things happening in their community right now: people coming together, groups forming to help each other and the world (maybe you’re involved in something?) … We need good news – hope, humanity – and there’s a lot positive going on.
We’re also looking for news about how the Covid-19 crisis is affecting the different justice and peace concerns you’re involved in, and what people can do to help.
Photo of Editor and his Admin Assistant, by HL ©
Member Tom Gordon’s reflections, stories and hymns
Iona Community member and Wild Goose Publications author Tom Gordon has a new blog, where he’s been posting his beautiful reflections, stories and hymns – a good place to visit at this time for hope, inspiration, humour, humanity … Thank you so much, Tom.
Sunrise, by Tom Gordon ©
Online visiting preacher, from member David Coleman, Environmental Chaplain of Eco-Congregation Scotland
At this time, I’m transitioning to being an ‘online visiting preacher’, supporting local churches with their online efforts. Below is my Palm Sunday service for Palm Sunday 2020.
A tribute to associate member Sibyl Brown
We are very sad to announce the death, on Friday 28th February, of Sibyl Brown, a longstanding and much loved associate member of the Iona Community, and wife of former Community Leader Graeme Brown.
Sibyl’s funeral was on Saturday 14th March, in Orphir Parish Church, Orkney.
A full tribute to Sibyl will follow at a later date. We know that you will join with us in holding family and friends in your prayers.
Prayer for travelling companions
We recall them with prayers of gratitude –
Those who walked with us,
sharing song and laughter
and tears and passion,
and faith and doubt and dreams.
Together we built community,
and tried to change the world,
praying, ‘Your kingdom come.’
And those who walked ahead,
dreaming dreams, taking risks,
breaking new ground.
We recall them all.
They all walk ahead of us now,
on the next stage of the journey,
on a road still hidden to us.
They give us reason to keep going,
to honour them, keep faith with them.
They invite us to face what will be,
to embrace mystery
and be unafraid of that which we cannot know.
We recall them with prayers of gratitude:
they are not our past, but our future.
– Brian Woodcock, from In the Gift of this New Day: Praying with the Iona Community, Wild Goose Publications
MacLean’s Cross, Iona, by David Coleman ©
Iona, Camas, Glasgow
Iona Prayer Circle letter for April 2020, from Prayer Circle Coordinator, member Chris Polhill
Prayer in a time of coronavirus
bless those suffering from coronavirus
and those who care for them;
may they know your healing;
may the dying know your welcome.
Bless the scientists searching for solutions,
bless the supermarkets seeking to serve us,
bless governments steering a new course;
may they know your wisdom.
Bless these new times we now live in:
hold the grief for what is past,
hold the fear of present and future,
that, within your love,
we may grow in trust and peace.
– Chris Polhill
Prayer Circle Coordinator,
The Iona Community,
21 Carlton Place,
Glasgow G5 9JP
Prayer Circle photo, from the Iona Community website ©
Ruth Harvey – new Leader of the Iona Community, from Brian Crosby, Convener of the Council of the Iona Community
The Iona Community is very pleased to announce the appointment of Ruth Harvey as our new Leader. Ruth will work alongside an Executive Director, sharing the leadership duties and responsibilities.
Ruth is a minister of the Church of Scotland and a member of the Society of Friends (Quakers). She lives in Penrith, Cumbria, with Nick and their three daughters. Ruth has been a member of the Iona Community for 27 years, has served on several of its committees, has been a member of its staff, and has edited Coracle. She is an experienced writer, preacher and trainer/mediator and brings wide-ranging skills in partnership development, reconciliation and conflict transformation and ecumenical work.
Currently Director of Place for Hope (‘accompanying and equipping people and faith communities so that all might reach their potential to be peacemakers’), Ruth has been involved with that charity since its inception in 2009.
Ruth will be hallowed as Leader of the Iona Community in May. She will assume her duties in early June.
Photo of Ruth Harvey ©
Camas team 2020, from Camas Coordinator, Tom Wardle
This is a strange time for Camas, with a new and enthusiastic Resident team but no guests at the moment due to the coronavirus crisis and the islands on lockdown! We’re working hard to make Camas the best place it can be for when we’re able to welcome guests down the track again, whilst recognising and being grateful for our privilege at being isolated in this beautiful location. Hopefully this will give us time to clean out all the nooks and crannies!
A photo below of the 2020 Camas team!:
Tom Wardle – Coordinator
Graeme MacKennon – Activity Worker
Catriona Muckart – Activity Worker
Angela Formby – Environment Worker
Allan Kane – Gardener
Rachel, Rowan and Douglas
Rebecca Crawford – Volunteer
2020 Camas team photo ©
Is God online?: Online Iona Community worship on Tuesday evenings at 7pm, from member Fiona Fidgin
Members of the Community are saying the Office together online on Tuesday evenings at 7pm via Zoom.
This is the first time members have gathered to pray online. It’s a new experience for many of us! So some of the questions we are beginning to explore are: Is God online? Where do we find God online? What helps us to pray online? How do we make and create Community online? We are still working out some of the answers!
The link to connect in is:
Gathered and scattered: God is with us.
In suffering and hope: God is with us.
Now and always: God is with us.
– A prayer from the Iona Community’s daily Office
Photo from the Iona Community Twitter page ©
Free use of Wild Goose Publications liturgy material during this emergency period, from Sandra Kramer, Publishing Manager of Wild Goose Publications
We are allowing churches free use of our liturgy material in online services during this emergency period. Please credit the source, adding ‘Used with permission’, and include our website address (www.ionabooks.com).
If, however, you want to use any of the songs of John L. Bell and the Wild Goose Resource Group, please contact [email protected]
‘We affirm God’s goodness at the heart of humanity’, from the new Iona Abbey Warden, Catriona Robertson
There’s warmth in the air and spring has come to Iona: daffodils, lambs and the changing greens and blues of a less stormy sea.
We were on track for moving into a beautifully refurbished Abbey, welcoming hundreds of guests to join us in living the common life week by week. This will surely happen!
But for now, our immediate plans are on hold. We’ve said goodbye to folk who had hoped to spend longer with us and we’re following guidance to ‘smooth the curve’ of virus infection so that our NHS can treat all in need.
Iona is remote, yet highly connected. We’ll be sharing the beauty of the island and the values of the Iona Community with the thousands of people worldwide who have visited, or who are familiar with our liturgies, our songs and our calling to rebuild community.
We continue to worship together at 9am, Monday to Saturday, using the Morning Service in the Iona Worship Book. If you are able, join us in prayer at the same time.
Our prayers for healing continue each Tuesday, recognising the social dimension of divided communities and nations and the healing of the earth itself, alongside broken bodies, hurt minds and wounded hearts. Requests for prayer are included in this service.
‘We affirm God’s goodness at the heart of humanity,
planted more deeply than all that is wrong.’
(From an Iona Community affirmation)
– Catriona Robertson
About Catriona, from Catriona:
Arriving over stormy seas to lightning-struck buildings without landlines or Wi-Fi, friends of mine wondered if I’d joined an enclosed order, not the Iona Community. It was chilly, but the welcome on the jetty was warm – I couldn’t be with a better bunch, especially under current circumstances.
Born and brought up in Scotland, my background is in how different religious and non-religious people get along, particularly Christians and Muslims, and in closing the gap between local communities and public services. How do we live well and equitably together, without having to be the same? Able to be ourselves yet also part of a meaningful group? What does that look like in 2020?
My family has happy memories of summers on Iona; my children have already been up visiting and my husband hopes to spend more time here after the public health crisis is over. Change is surely on the way, and that is what we’re talking about here on the island.
Catriona and her son Gabriel, who was up visiting, photo ©
But Grace abounds: A letter from Iona from George MacLeod, from members John and Molly Harvey
From John and Molly Harvey:
By way of background: Molly’s father was Hugh Douglas, latterly The Very Rev. Dr, etc., but back in 1938, simply the Rev. Mr Douglas, one of the many young assistant ministers who worked with George MacLeod in Govan during the 1930s. When George resigned from Govan Old in 1938, to begin what he called ‘the Iona experiment’, he left Govan Old in the care of three assistant ministers – Harry Whitley, Duncan McGillveray and Hugh Douglas.
Many years later, Hugh began to write up his autobiography. He didn’t finish it, unfortunately, but Molly has it, and she has edited it, and it’s now in a loose-leaf ring binder. The pages I’m about to quote from describe the events that took place when George left Govan and there was quite a fuss throughout the Church of Scotland about ‘the Iona experiment’. In the General Assembly, one minister complained that rebuilding the ruined monastic buildings would be seen ‘as a slight on the work already being done’ (i.e. the rebuilding of the Abbey Church done by the Trustees earlier), but another distinguished minister called it ‘a fine venture of faith’. Many strange comments were made elsewhere. At that time, there was the big Empire Exhibition in Bellahouston Park (I was apparently taken there in my pram, aged all of one year old!), and a local worthy said of the Roman Catholic pavilion there that it was like ‘a monastery for Trapeze monks’. This story got transferred to the Iona experiment, and in time entered the mythology of the Iona Community, or so says Hugh, to the effect that ‘George MacLeod had gone on a pilgrimage to Iona to found an order of Trapeze monks!’
Then Hugh goes on to write this:
The spirit of those early days is captured in a letter written by George at 10pm on 8th July, 1938, from Iona:
Dear Harry, Dunc and Hugh,
I had such high resolve to write EACH one of you TONIGHT and say Thank you for standing by me through the Fog. I can never thank you enough. All and each. So please pass this around.
1. Water was found yesterday (4 gallons a minute) in the Monastery well. Not a bad place to find it. [When they first arrived a few weeks earlier, they were dismayed to find that there seemed no source of running water nearby, and thought the whole thing would have to be called off. Then a bunch of archaeologists who were there started looking in the ruins of the old well for coins – and found water instead!]
2. The Office of Works [i.e. the Historic Scotland of those days] have suddenly said: ‘You can build the Huts: we will be sympathetic to modern approaches in the Building.’ If that is not Grace I don’t know what it is.
3. We opened the Hut with a half gill of whisky each (Highland Custom). The Aberdeen student nearly left on smelling it.
4. We had Divine Worship in Abbey at 7 (attended by the Warden of All Souls) [an Oxford College which has no students, only professors]. I pronounced the Benediction from the Communion Table in a soft collar and with no cassock on.
5. David Scott (one of the original members) sat on an open pen knife at 9.50 and bled like a pig. Thank God Petrovitch [a doctor] was here. We have put him in Highland Cottage with Petro.
6. Queries. a. Did St Finian sit down on a sharp flint the very night those first fanatics arrived from Ireland?
b. Did St C. – that first night – feel a glow of Ethereal Light or did it seem like a Blooming Nightmare?
I can’t make out what I feel. A bit of both. You three under God are earnests of The Light.
7. Of course it has rained since we arrived.
So there you go – it was tough back then – it’s been tough ever since – it’s tough today – but Grace abounds!
Photo of George MacLeod from George MacLeod: A Biography, by Ron Ferguson, Wild Goose Publications, photo ©
From the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament:
… Now with an underfunded NHS, we see the true cost of Trident.
We are inviting you to join our placard-making challenge …
Photo from the SCND website ©
Bethlehem is now officially on lockdown and the West Bank has more or less been shut down. The streets in Bethlehem and Ramallah were nearly empty this week, with most shops closed …
Photo from the Sabeel-Kairos website ©
Christian Aid Week, 10-16 May, 2020
As the coronavirus threatens to turn aid crises into ‘humanitarian catastrophes’ (The Guardian). Let’s remember Christian Aid and Christian Aid Week. (Ed.)
From Christian Aid:
Droughts are now more frequent and more intense due to the climate crisis. Millions of people in Kenya are struggling to get enough food and water.
Your gift could help a community build an earth dam, so when the rains do come, they will have the water they need to live.
Photo from the Christian Aid website ©
Five years of war in Yemen, from Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT)
From CAAT, 25th March, 2020:
Today we stand in solidarity with Yemen. At a time when millions of people across the world are concerned about food supplies and the ability of our health systems to respond to crisis, Yemen must not be forgotten.
Today marks five years since a Saudi-Arabian-led coalition began bombing Yemen – five years in which Yemen’s health system has ‘almost collapsed’. Yemen has no recorded cases of Covid-19 yet, but it is already enduring a humanitarian catastrophe with millions facing starvation and disease …
From the CAAT website ©
‘The undervalued heroes of the coronavirus crisis need our thanks – and our support’, by Owen Jones, from The Guardian
‘London, United Kingdom, June 4th, 2019: Journalist Owen Jones speaks to the crowd in Whitehall near Downing Street at the Rally Against Trump‘, photo © Ben Gingell | Dreamstime.com
Some resources for staying at home
Some Iona/Iona Community-themed ideas … Take care (Ed.)
Poetry, by members Jan Sutch Pickard and Thom M Shuman
Because, by Jan Sutch Pickard
The government is banning gatherings in certain buildings
where people may come too close, the church must be locked –
it’s for our own good –
I live nearest to the church, when the community’s in lockdown,
that job has fallen to me – to fasten the sturdy oak door –
I don’t have a key to a door that has never been locked
and no one knows where it might be,
I will need to put up a sign forbidding folk
from crossing a threshold that most don’t anyway,
they see this place for funerals, weddings maybe –
not private or public prayer,
I believe that these are all valid ways
to use this building with its shabby holiness,
I don’t want to turn anyone away;
I’ve been asked I’ll do it, I’ll try,
which is why I’m standing here,
with a sign whipped about by a rising wind,
trying to drive drawing pins into the solid oak,
and my fingertips start bleeding;
and I’m crying
– Jan Sutch Pickard
We haven’t cancelled worship, by Thom M Shuman
We haven’t cancelled worship;
we’ve cancelled a religious service
at a specific time, in a specific place,
on a specific day, but folk will still
worship God when they are caring
for the grand-kids and walking their dogs;
worship as they serve beside Jesus at foodbanks
and pick up groceries for a neighbour;
worship when they share the Spirit’s peace
by singing songs over the phone to a parent;
worship when they work from home;
worship when they endure extra shifts
in nursing homes and group homes;
worship when they e-mail someone far away
and wave to a stranger across the street;
worship when they take toilet paper
to a homeless shelter
and volunteer at a polling place.
We haven’t cancelled worship,
just the ‘official’ part
that may be the smallest part
of it all.
– Thom M Shuman
Jan Sutch Pickard is a poet, preacher and storyteller living on Mull. She is a former Warden of Iona Abbey.
Thom M Shuman lives in Columbus, Ohio, where he serves as a transitional pastor.
Doors of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany, photo by David Coleman
7 prayers for these days, from members Thom M Shuman and Rosemary Power
You might want to use these prayers over a week. (Ed.)
Beatitudes for these days
Blessed are they who wash their hands,
for they shall hold living water;
blessed are those who keep their distance,
for they shall draw closer to God;
blessed are they who self-quarantine,
for they shall help others;
blessed are those who do not hoard,
for they shall feed families;
blessed are those who sing songs to sheltering neighbours,
for they shall be members of the heavenly host;
blessed are parents who learn to teach at home,
for they shall learn from their children;
blessed are they who shop for older folk,
for they shall receive everlasting thanks;
blessed are the frontline health workers,
for they shall be called healers of humanity.
– Thom M Shuman
God keeps a generous table
God grace us to turn from selfish hoarding,
as the rich farmer learnt that the food offered to the poor nourished his own soul.
Grant that we share your resources, our concern, our time and our lamentation,
that all may grieve and give and grow together.
Whether we are home alone,
weary with giving, exhausted with serving, isolated in grief,
we are God’s guests on earth,
and God keeps a generous table.
– Rosemary Power
God is the healthcare folk
all around us:
encouraging us to stay home,
reminding us to wash our hands
so we can help others be safe,
teaching us how to be mindful
and watch over ourselves and others.
Even as we shelter,
we will not give in to fear,
for God is with us,
in those who phone us and care for us,
in those who shop for us,
and those who treat us.
Around a lonely table,
in a houseful of family,
in a hospital with strangers,
God feeds us with grace,
pouring out hope upon us,
filling us with peace in the sleepless night.
I know, without any doubt,
that God’s gentleness and compassion
are walking right beside us,
showing us the way home
to the One who holds us
in Love’s Heart forever.
– Thom M Shuman
Reflection on isolation
quiet places, to reflect,
to pray, to continue to grow
in faith and hope,
he knew something about
yes, by God, he did.
Watching as people drew
further and further away
from his challenges,
his invitations, his life
(even those closest
and dearest to him),
he knew something about
yes, by God, he did.
Walking that dusty road
of loneliness and fears,
not certain where it might
lead him, not sure if it
was worth it to keep on,
he knew something about
stress, worry, doubt;
yes, by God, he did.
and yet, he went on,
he continued to trust and hope,
he continued to put one step
in front of another weary
step in that journey we call Lent;
yes, by God, he did.
– Thom M Shuman
Another walks beside
Our God, our help down all the years
who walks with us through all our fears,
be present with us now.
Remind us we are not at war
with illness but we need remorse
and tears for hope to grow.
We cannot now with guns or drones
or bombs and bitterness make known
our unease, greed, self-will.
We know of floods, pollution, dearth
of stunted crops on famished earth,
where creatures fall and fail.
Now illness that we cannot see,
cannot control, and cannot flee,
may take us, rich or poor.
Before we’re ready, those we know,
and those we love, and those we loathe
may lie at heaven’s door.
Give us lament, the ancient voice
of courage speaking of the choice
we made to go astray;
help us bewail, and cleanse with grief,
the cost of trusting self-belief
and making others pay.
In life, in health, through famine, fear,
in isolation, grief, we find
another walks beside;
who never heeds what’s wealth’s preserve,
but sees the cost and risk that serves
the needs of humankind.
– Rosemary Power
it is no longer
an exegetical puzzle
to be solved in our study;
it is no longer a (really)
long reading to get through;
it is no longer a story
we blow the dust off every three years.
it is our story;
it is about us;
it is us inside that
dank, dark tomb:
stinking of fear,
wrapped in the bands
blinded by the handkerchief
for just a footstep,
just a tear dropping on the ground,
just a whisper of Jesus
pacing before the stone,
growling in his spirit
in anger and frustration,
before he cries out,
in hope and joy and life:
we are not casual bystanders;
we are Lazarus
– Thom M Shuman
Affirmation of faith (based on Psalm 130)
We believe in God:
who hears our cries when we find ourselves
sheltering from the fears around us,
who hears our voices from the hollows
of our worries and longing,
who pays close attention to our words,
who does not dismiss them as being of no consequence.
We believe in Jesus:
who does not carry around a notebook
to write down every foolish mistake we make
or all those hurtful words we offer to others,
but who gathers them up like so much dust
and scatters them to the wind,
inviting us to join hand in hand
in the dance of forgiveness and grace.
We believe in the Spirit:
who teaches us the patience we need
so that in the waiting,
we might learn
that we are not alone in days
of worry, of uncertainty, of loss;
so that we might discover the gift of watching
for the signs of grace in the songs from balconies,
for the wonder of life in neighbours reaching out to us,
for the serenity that comes in the quiet of night.
And, in the watching,
may we see you coming to us:
God, overflowing with steadfast love;
Jesus, with armfuls of grace like bouquets of flowers;
Spirit, whose peace is the power which sustains us in these days.
– Thom M Shuman
Rosemary Power is a member of the Iona Community who has been in pastoral, sector and congregational ministries. She writes and speaks on the history of Iona, spirituality and issues of social justice.
Thom M Shuman lives in Columbus, Ohio, where he serves as a transitional pastor. He is an associate member of the Iona Community.
Photo from the Iona Community website ©
Don’t be afraid, by John L Bell and Graham Maule, from YouTube
Associate member John McCall, in his reflection in this edition of e-Coracle, writes about the power of this simple song.
The words are by John Bell and Graham Maule (based on Isaiah) and the arrangement is John’s, produced here for the Sing with the World CD, by GIA (Pro Musica children’s chorus, directed by William Chin). The song is also on the Come All You People CD, Wild Goose Worship Group, Wild Goose Publications.