Dove of the Church
The Isle of Iona.
Small but significant.
The place where, tradition has it, an educated, cultured Irishman from a distinguished family embarked from a small boat in the year 563.
He never returned to the island from which he had come but he did not lose the disciplines instilled in him by the old priest back home: his writing revealed his love of language and poetry and, of course, the Word of the Lord.
Like many before and since whom God has called into service, there was some sort of crisis (in this case, possibly a dispute over copying a psalm) that propelled him to the starting blocks for a journey, both physical and spiritual, whose impact is still felt in our own time.
This was Columba, a name which means “Dove of the Church”. He once wrote this prayer:
“See that you be at peace among yourselves, my children, and love one another. Follow the example of good men of old, and God will comfort you and help you, both in this world and in the world which is to come; Amen
The 1500th anniversary of Columba’s birth (9th June 521) was celebrated in the Abbey Church on Iona on 7th June and it was not the only celebration that day. After an extensive programme of work on the building, not simply to stop it falling down but rather to make it as eco-friendly as possible, and as welcoming as possible, for many many years to come.
For instance there is now a lift – no easy thing to install in a place of historic and architectural significance. The windows close easily to keep out the wind and rain. The bunk beds have gone but the same number of people can be accommodated. And so much more.
The church could not be filled to capacity for the service of blessing, because of Covid, but there were representatives of the local community, including primary school pupils who took part in the service, the Iona Community, current and previous members of Community staff, people who had been involved in the planning and execution of the refurbishment. They were joined virtually by over 400 supporters from around the world.
There is no statue of St Columba anywhere on Iona. Arguably it is not required and would provide a distraction, for the peace that most people experience as they worship in the Abbey Church, or live together for a week in the Abbey or MacLeod Centre, does not come from a human being - St Columba, founder of the Community George MacLeod, or anyone else - but from the Holy Spirit of God.
Though it is the Spirit who inspires us and gives us the work to do, to the glory of God's holy name.