Sounds of Iona – August 2023

Pilgrimage map

Is it possible to grow as a global community in such a way that it will not ‘cost the earth’? What are we asking of our Members as we expand the boundaries of belonging? A recent online gathering of new Members to understand our global community better included 18 screens representing four continents and 9 countries. As one new Member said: ‘we must learn from the global community about how to operate in the local…..this community offers us places to face common concerns that are no longer bound by nation, people, place, language, religion or history.’ How do we meet with one another in the face of such catastrophic climate break down, when flying in particular is so critically costly? More on this shortly. 

Journeying to the land we now call Australia

In the 1990s some pilgrims from the land we now call Australia travelled to Iona. The common yearning for life in community, focused around a Rule, grounded in the Gospel was explored. Might they seek membership in the Iona Community? What would it mean to be a Member of a Scottish-based community, while living so many miles away? What did indigenous Australian spirituality have to share with the world about living in right relationship? How might we strengthen this sense of common calling? These, and other questions were, I believe, at the heart of so many shared conversations at that time. 

The journey that unfolded is now well-documented in books such as ‘Campfires and Wellsprings in Surprising Places’ by Anne McPherson and Peter Millar. The community that was born at that time, the Wellspring Community has continued to flourish over the decades. Founded in 1992, this community nurtures “a space where spirituality and justice meet” and where members can meet together to “deepen our relationship with God, to care for the earth, to foster the growth of an Australian spirituality and practice peace including working for a just relationship between First Nations communities and the later comers.” 

And so it is that, in the footsteps of other IC Members before me, I set off, on 25th September with Nick, for eight weeks of pilgrimage through Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand, by invitation of the Wellspring Community and partners. Starting in Perth/Boorloo we’ll travel onwards with Lisa Wriley, co-Leader of the Wellspring Community, and Brooke Prentis, indigenous Christian leader, broadcaster and campaigner ending in Meanjin, Yuggera and Turrabul Country (Brisbane). The map above gives you a picture of our Australia route. 


The Celtic Connection

Before heading to Aotearoa/New Zealand for a further four weeks, Nick and I will have taken part in retreats and public meetings; yarning circles and wee sings; radio broadcasts, church services, and walking pilgrimages. All with the aim to raise awareness about the climate catastrophe and to ask: what must we now do to care for Creation together? How might we do this best, drawing on the depths of the spiritual and cultural traditions from the lands that give us birth? What does the bible, the story of Jesus and other sources of wisdom, have to offer us on this journey? The Celtic Connections series digs into some of the questions that we are exploring before we begin our travels: what does it mean to belong? How does the land and our history influence our beliefs? How must we now live together in community? 

The irony that we are flying many thousands of miles in order to focus attention on the climate crisis is not lost on me, or on the organising team. Travel by plane is ultra planet pollution. There is no denying this paradox. I have deep respect for those among you who will have made a decision over many months and years to cut out flying as part of your carbon reduction commitment. In a powerful piece in the August eCoracle by Member Stephen Wright, we are starkly reminded of the catastrophic consequences of our human actions. The ‘deep adaptation’ that is a core part of our response must mean the ‘uneven ending to our current means of sustenance, shelter, security, pleasure, identity and meaning.’ 

As the Iona Community grows globally we will continue to face this and other paradoxes. But let us be clear: as we grow across geography, we are not expecting Members to travel miles by plane. Rather as our international membership expands, we will nurture our infrastructure as locally as possible, standing by the 20-minute community rule of thumb, whereby the needs of all are met as far as possible within a 20-minute radius of home. Family Groups, Regions and CCNs will continue to emerge organically as the Community grows. This will take time. We will also continue to support our Members, and our community collectively to account for our carbon use. And we will support campaigns for large-scale divestment from fossil fuels. For in all of this we live with the knowledge that the change that is required to address the climate crisis is primarily systemic and structural. The Iona Community Council accepted this invitation to fly to, and in Australia, on the basis that together we will make the very most of each opportunity in order to sharpen and focus our collective thinking and acting on the single greatest challenge facing us today. At the same time, as a Community, we are on a costly, uneven journey of ‘Deep Adaptation.’


Image credit: Wellspring Community

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