St John’s, Stranraer on Pilgrimage to Iona

The isle of Iona has long been recognised as a place of pilgrimage. Members of St John’s, Stranraer have joined an eclectic group of pilgrims from Edinburgh, Donaghadee, Northern Ireland, and Melbourne, Australia. The group is led by the Rev Dr Elizabeth Breakey, Priest-in-Charge at Stranraer and Portpatrick, and her Australian colleague, the Rev Lynda Crossley.

Iona is sometimes described as a thin place where Heaven and Earth come close, a place that possesses a sense of God close by. In the summer months, the island is filled with pilgrims. Some come for a day, frantically trying to cover all that the island has to offer. Others stay for longer, quickly falling into the rhythm of the place, set by daily opportunities for prayer-filled joyful worship, while stepping to a beat of shared meals with new companions. Days are full of, well, full of a lot of very little!

There are chances for walks to cafés and opportunities to amble along perfect, white beaches to swim or collect pebbles. If exploring the nearby islands is your desire, it can be achieved quickly, or at a more leisurely pace under sail, everything slows to ‘Iona time’. When the weather closes in, which it inevitably does, pilgrims don waterproofs and cheerfully keep going. Remembering to greet all they meet with a smile. It must be one of the most friendly places! It truly is a place to recharge and refocus before returning to the demands of busy everyday life.

There is no set way of being a pilgrim on Iona. Some stay in local hotels and B&Bs, some are pilgrim guests in the retreat centres or in the Iona Abbey Community itself. St John’s pilgrims are staying in Bishop’s House, the Scottish Episcopal Church retreat centre. Bookings are usually required years in advance, but a chance conversation resulted in Elizabeth booking rooms when another group reduced their booking. It was too good an opportunity to miss!

Elizabeth has now been serving the two charges for almost a year and this pilgrimage gives the participants a chance to reflect on the last year and continue planning for the future. The two congregations are both planning more activities this next year, while continuing to extend a warm welcome to anyone who wishes to worship in an Anglican style.