Some twenty years ago I went on sabbatical for three months from my churches in Cornwall, when I was working as a Methodist minister. The aim was to travel around England and Scotland staying in monasteries and convents as well as with Methodist families.
During the day I spent time alone walking, visiting churches, cathedrals and sites of historical interest.
One of the highlights of the two months on the road was the week I spent in retreat with the community on Iona in Western Scotland. Here was the place founded by St Columba when he travelled from Ireland in the 6th century; destroyed by the Vikings but re-built in the 20th century to serve the pilgrim and visitor.
Iona is a small island, a holy island, a place of prayer, a place to be apart working with and in the community.
My job during the time I was there was to care for a small herb garden and collect seaweed from the beach to act as a fertilizer. It was hard, physical work borne in silence and prayer.
But there is something else that makes Iona so special.
It is a ‘thin place’, a place where the veil between heaven and earth is especially thin. Where the connection to God seems effortless and ephemeral signs of God’s presence seem almost palpable among the rocks, sand and beauty.
In a ‘thin place’, the divine is more easily sensed and Iona is such a place.Despite its rocks and thorns and hungry birds, it bears the fruit of Christ’s seed as it did, from the moment that Columba and his followers first set foot on its shore and created a small Celtic Christian community.
But thin does not mean weak.
Columba and those early saints didn’t stay on their little island, the reached out into the vastness of Northern Scotland and beyond, taking the Gospel with them to people and places it had never reached.
As I travel around the county in my job as a producer and presenter with BBC Radio Gloucestershire I meet men and women who, like Columba, have left the doors of the church or chapel behind. They have taken the risk of stepping out from their building to work with and alongside the poor, the outcast and lonely. In villages, hamlets, towns and the city, the people of God are there; working, listening and praying; walking with those in need.
I was reminded of Iona recently when I spent a hugely enjoyable morning recording with Bishop Michael and other pilgrims as they walked through Gloucestershire on the Bishop’s final pilgrimage before retirement.
In Gloucestershire the people of God walk on in faith, hope and love in the presence of Christ and the saints and martyrs, known and unknown, who have trod this way of faith before….
The Revd Richard Atkins, Faith and Ethics Producer, Sunday Breakfast presenter, BBC Radio Gloucestershire
Why not join me each Sunday from 6am for a Gloucestershire Sunday breakfast on FM; AM; DAB and on line at bbc.co.uk/radiogloucestershire. You can also follow us on Twitter @bbcglos and on Facebook.