Most people cannot say they spent their summer working in a kitchen on an island off of Scotland, but Emily Hedrick and Stephanie Hollenberg can.
Banoffi pie, ratatouille and apple curry soup were just a few of the numerous dishes that Hedrick, a junior, and Hollenberg, a senior, helped prepare while serving as volunteers on the rocky isle of Iona this summer. Both women worked eight hours a day, five to six days a week, cooking for 70 or more guests on the island.
“We worked hard, crying as we chopped mounds of onions and sweating as we washed mounds of pots, dancing around each other as we darted around the kitchen,” said Hollenberg
So why travel more than 3,000 miles to volunteer in a remote island kitchen?
Two words: Iona Community.
Located on a three-mile-long island filled with sheep, boulders and bogs, the Iona Community is an ecumenical Christian community of men and women from diverse backgrounds and faith traditions who are committed to peace and social justice. The Iona Community operates two centers on the island, which attract people from all over the world who seek a safe space to reflect on their lives.
Guests and staff at Iona are expected to share all aspects of life, including meals, daily worship, chores and social events. Even the Queen of England would be required to clean the toilets just like anyone else, joked Hedrick. The purpose of sharing work, worship and conversation is to create mutuality, community and healing for volunteers and visitors.
Hollenberg agreed that Iona was an ideal space to find healing and support.
“For some reason, Iona was a place where people found the courage to expose their stories of brokenness and where we held each other in our brokenness,” said Hollenberg. “Most volunteers come during a transitional time in their life, making them that much more vulnerable to discomfort and disorientation. As we met one another in this threshold, something naturally opened between us.”
Hedrick, too, recalled how people at Iona genuinely cared about each other and wanted to share their stories. “There was one volunteer who frequently asked, ‘And how is your soul today?’ and people really answered,” Hedrick said with a smile. “I found myself having deep, spiritual conversations with people from England, Australia, Paraguay, you name it. It really taught me the value of living in community.”
Hedrick found healing not only in conversations with other volunteers but also in the kitchen. For Hedrick, preparing food for people was a small but meaningful way to serve the community that was simultaneously serving her in other ways.
“I enjoyed the simplicity of cooking. You don’t have to think about the complexity of life. All you have to do is cut up a pepper and put it in a pot and make a meal. And that simple action makes people really, really happy.”
Both Hollenberg and Hedrick described how Iona ultimately became a place of great spiritual growth for them this summer. For Hollenberg, allowing herself to be vulnerable with others was an eye-opening, renewing experience.
“I was hesitant to share my story at first, but in time I did and discovered how transforming and healing it is to live in that threshold space with others,” said Hollenberg.
Hedrick, meanwhile, said her time at Iona taught her to see God in everyday life. “When I came back to the States, the thing that struck me the most about churches here was their constant calling out for God,” said Hedrick. “I wanted to yell, ‘God is right here! God is present and within us and in everything we see. It’s simply a matter of paying attention.’”