Below is the Iona Community speech given at the General Assembly
Iona Community Report
Moderator, I thank the General Assembly for the invitation to address it in the year in which the Iona Community will celebrate its 75th anniversary.
Members of the Community are bound together by our Purpose and by our Rule, and we account to one another in our Family Groups for our prayer life and study of the Word of God, for our use of resources including our money and carbon footprint, for our use of time and for our action for justice and peace.
Through the Board’s report the Iona Community accounts to the General Assembly, and through the Church of Scotland to other denominations who have representatives on the Board. We greatly value that accountability.
It helps to keep us rooted – rooted in the Church and rooted in everyday realities.
It keeps us humble and faithful.
Moderator, it is our hope that, over the past 75 years, the Community may have been of service to the wider Church – our members and staff, publications and centres on Iona and Mull, resources for the Church locally, nationally and internationally.
I know also that over those same 75 years the Community may been viewed as provocative and divisive, an irritant and a nuisance. Moderator, I promise we will do our utmost to continue in that manner.
Seventy five years ago George MacLeod thought he was founding a Presbyterian Brotherhood. Today we have matured into a true community of women and men. We have never been more ecumenical in our membership, never more diverse and never more dispersed – all held together by our Purpose and Rule.
We have been enriched by the membership of women active in all areas of the life and leadership of the Community .
We have been blessed by the contribution of our Lesbian, Gay, bi-sexual and transgender members whose compassion and empathy for those who have suffered injustice and discrimination, whose forgiveness and desire to serve Christ and his Church are an inspiration.
We are convinced that the inclusive community that we seek, that we believe God wills, must be embodied in the community we practice.
So over the years the Community has changed and developed yet we remain faithful to George MacLeod’s founding vision. For tradition is a living thing, it is not fixed or static passed unaltered from one generation to another. We honour tradition when we receive it, make it our own then pass it on to those who would follow.
Moderator, honouring our tradition the Community will gather in Govan on St Columba’s Day for a special service of thanksgiving and I am delighted that you are able to join with us on that day – Back to Govan which was both the challenge and the inspiration that led to the founding of our Community.
The poverty and hardship of Govan, the apathy and indifference of the people towards the Church did not dissuade George MacLeod from the belief that the Good News was meant for the people of his parish or that the Christian faith was not only relevant but the key to well being for both people and planet.
George, Lord MacLeod of Fuinary, was an establishment figure and he made good use of every platform that background provided and of every ‘school tie’ and old boy network to which he belonged – a pacifist, socialist, prodigal son.
Today there is no place by right for the Church in its public discourse. To get a hearing we have to earn it and that is as it should be in a society where there are many voices, many opinions, philosophies and ideologies. However, as Christians we do have a voice. Let’s use it not only within this hall, not only in sermons and prayers on a Sunday.
Let us raise the cross in the market place, a quote from George MacLeod I believe you have already heard this week. What we bring to the public realm is Christ – not all the answers nor defensiveness, not fear of lost advantage nor suspicion of others.
Reports that you will consider later today, like those earlier this week, demonstrate that the Church does have something distinctive to say about the stigmatisation of those in receipt of benefits, about the indifference shown towards those living in poverty, about the lack of opportunity for our young people, about growing inequality in our own country and around the world. To this list George MacLeod would have added the blasphemy of the possession of nuclear weapons.
Moderator, never has the case against nuclear weapons been stronger and never has the moment been more critical as the British Government is poised to spend £100 billion on a replacement for Trident at a time when there are surely better, more urgent uses for our money.
It is clear today that the debate about nuclear weapons is not about ethics or defence strategy. It is all about politics. The possession of weapons of mass destruction enables our politicians to take their places at the top table of international affairs whilst lecturing the rest of the world about freedom and democracy. Trident is little more than an expensive status symbol.
The General Assembly has passed deliverances over the years condemning the possession and use of nuclear weapons but this is not enough. Rejection of weapons of mass destruction has sadly, been spoken so seldom, so softly and by so few. As Christians we must do more, more loudly and there must be more of us applying pressure.
On Pentecost Sunday morning a group of pilgrims were given a moving blessing and send off from Iona as they took the first steps on the Just Peace pilgrimage from Iona to Westminster to highlight the folly of nuclear weapons. What a witness, and what a demonstration by a group of Christians that there are indeed issues other than sex for Christians to be concerned about.
Let me leave the Assembly with an image, a vision if you like. Picture a large group of Christians drawn from across the denominations, traditionalists and revisionists, radicals and orthodox, is approaching Faslane Naval Base. Amongst them I can see a giant Church of Scotland banner which reads – In God’s name Scrap Trident.
The marchers reach the gates to find me sitting on the ground, chained to a fence and handcuffed to Albert Bogle! (1)
Why is that funny? Is it so ridiculous? What a statement that would make putting our words into action, demonstrating our desire to be peacemakers for Christ.
Moderator, I thank the General Assembly and would like to take this opportunity to present you with a shawl in the new Isle of Iona tartan commissioned jointly by ourselves and the islands Community Council.
We give it with our prayers and best wishes for your moderatorial year. To avoid any confusion or embarrassment I have enclosed the receipt. (2)
(1) Albert Bogle was Moderator of the General Assembly last year and played a prominent role in the debate earlier in the week on ministers in same sex relationships. His name works well in punchlines.
(2) Lorna Hood, this year’s Moderator, was mistaken as a jewel thief when she took her ring of office into a jewellers.