A few years back I went to a sacred place in Scotland. Not the home where my dad grew up or ‘The Glen’ where he played (although dad may disagree with me). But rather, I went to Iona (an Eilean Ì in Scots Gaelic) on the west coast of Scotland, a small speck of an island in the Atlantic. Iona is rugged and beautiful, and there is an ancient part of the Christian monastic movement that stems from here. One of the ways people have described Iona is as a ‘thin place’, where the boundary between heaven and earth is ‘thin’. It’s not a literal concept, more poetic or emotive. The early monastic community used this description of the place. 

Going there many years on from its early monastic heyday, I tried to understand what made it a ‘thin place’. What was it that brought the barriers between heaven and earth closer? Where did I feel it? When did I feel it? What was it that made me feel it? Was it the beauty of the place? The stunning Abbey church? The Reilig Òdhrain where the kings of Scotland were interred? 

To be honest it was very hard to pinpoint. The closest I felt was the day we walked along the ancient pilgrim trails, getting lost when they merged with cattle and sheep trails and subsequently veering off into the bogs. We saw ancient monastic cells, huge cairns, and labyrinths made from the beach stones. Perhaps it was the connection to an ancient story that stood out for me. These were the trails that many people, yearning as they were for something more, traversed this small island trying to bring that barrier between heaven and earth closer, or finding the point at which it came close. 

This is something of what I see that church can (and perhaps should) be. A place where that barrier is brought near; a thin place. It’s part of an answer to that yearning for something more that we all feel. 

I’ve been asking this question, not necessarily in those terms, of our Olive Way guests. What is the yearning that they carry? What is the ‘something more’ that they seek? Is it something we can respond to. I’ve been trying to explore different ways of asking these questions, to get a real sense of where people are at. But this is something we need to ask once we’ve got some food in the belly and a warm cup of tea or coffee in their hands. 

Peter Blair, Olive Way Pastor