Communal living is not for everyone. To live and work in the Iona Community is not just a job; it is a way of life.
Iona is one of the oldest and most successful intentional Christian communities in existence. While Iona is a commune for those who live and work there, it is also a spiritual retreat center.
The community has over 240 resident members who live and work on the tiny island off the coast of Scotland. They claim 1,500 associate members and around 1,500 friends around the world. Women and men, laity and ordained ministers come from many denominations and backgrounds to commit themselves to a “Fivefold Rule” of devotional discipline, sharing and accounting for use of time and money, regular meeting and action for justice and peace, according to Jan Sutch Pickard, the Iona warden.
The Iona Community was founded during the Depression years of the 1930s when George MacLeod took a group of ministers in training and some unemployed ship workers from Glasgow to rebuild the ancient Celtic abbey. MacCleod’s group became a community that worked and worshipped together.
Today the community residents are responsible for running two centers that welcome guests for programs. Pickard said the centers attract up to 110 guests each week.
These guests “are welcomed to experience life in community, combining work and worship, discussion and reflection. They join staff members, who have come to Iona for between six weeks and three years, to run the Centers, care for the guests, lead worship—and learn about life in community,” Pickard said.
The Iona Community includes those who live off campus. “So we work here on behalf of the dispersed Iona Community, but are ourselves living in community—in Iona,” said Pickard.
Guests participate in week-long programs to extend horizons and forge relationships through a common life in worship, work, discussion and relaxation. Like those who made their way to Iona in the early years, many of those who come now seek fresh inspiration for their own life journey.
A modern building was constructed in honor of MacLeod. The MacLeod Center is used for reaching and teaching young people; it also accommodates those who are disabled. In addition, the community also runs Camas, a summer camp for young people on the nearby Isle of Mull.
Community members renew their commitment on a yearly basis, said Pickard.
“The focus of the Community’s work lies in ecumenical activity, work with the poor and the exploited, inter-religious relations, racism matters, concern for justice, peace and the integrity of creation, for democracy, for sexuality, work with young people, and the rediscovery of spirituality today,” she said. “These concerns are reflected in the community life, which all, both staff and guests, share week by week in the Community centers on the islands.”
Ray Furris a freelance writer and operates his own communications/marketing business in Poquoson, Va.