As I stood in line in the ferry terminal, the woman behind me said, “You look like a pastor on your way to Iona.” I have never been told that I look like a pastor! No really – never!  Most people say I don’t look like a pastor! Or they say with an air of disbelief, “Wait – you are a pastor??!”

But, I suppose, Iona is not just a place you happen upon. It is a place you really have to WANT to visit! And it is a magnet for faithful church pastors and dedicated church laity alike. The travel from Edinburgh, by train, ferry, and bus, showcased Scotland’s beauty: rolling hills, steep mountains, rippled lakes, grazing sheep, bouncing lambs, quaint villages, vast seas, and beautiful islands.

The final ferry delivered us to the Isle of Iona, where its ancient and inviting stone abbey stands prominently. It was beautiful. I could feel the emotion of it lodged in my throat. I could see the wonder of it pooled in my mom’s eyes. Though I had imagined this moment for decades, it was an experience I could never fully imagine.

Iona is more than an island, more than an abbey, and more than a conservation landmark. Iona is a community of Christians, on the island and around the world, who come together to build Christian community, renew worship, and work for justice and peace. While we were there, we gathered together for worship twice daily, for ethically sourced meals, for a program of faith exploration, and for chores which benefit all. I was assigned bathroom cleaning. Yay! I hate cleaning the bathroom at home, but (shh…) I didn’t hate it at Iona. Since I shared the task with another woman, each day we met to scrub the showers, clean the mirrors, and forge a friendship that filled our hearts with joy. We chatted and chuckled. We scoured and shined. It was playful and productive, and we became fast friends.

I thought it was the place that makes Iona remarkable, but I soon discovered that it is the people! And one of the best gifts Iona gave me was the priceless time I shared with my mother. Our Iona community quickly learned that we were mother and daughter, since we sat together at every meal and worship service. Still, my mother and I often charted our own courses in the afternoons.

One day, I joined 20 or so folks from our group for a pilgrimage around the island. We paused at many sites and learned about their significance. Then, we were led in a reflection, a prayer, and often a song. Imagine… my amazing, strong, wise, 85-year-old mother opted out of the 8-mile pilgrimage hike! But lest you think she acted her age on this trip, please know that she joined me for an excursion to a neighboring island where nesting puffins abound. This was no small feat, requiring her to scale steep steps and hike uneven terrain, all to witness the most darling puffins hop and flutter only a few yards away from us. It was magical.

Truthfully, I cannot begin to capture the Iona experience for you all in a blog. You will have to trust that you will hear more about it in stories as they bubble up in work and worship. I will say, though, that Iona captured my heart and soul. By the time we boarded the ferry to make our way home, we were surrounded by a community of friends and fellow sojourners in our Christian faith. And if arriving at Iona gave me a lump in my throat, leaving it left me in a puddle of tears.

To know and be known… to serve and be served… to love and be loved… These were Iona’s gifts. No, these were the gifts of God made manifest in the people we met at Iona. Thanks be to God.