Fundraising for the Abbey Capital Appeal has been a long journey, one fraught with unexpected difficulties but also filled with unforeseeable joys. Throughout the last 12 months there has been a hum of anxiety and excitement following one of the strangest, most unexpected phone calls…

Unexpected beginnings

From Bénédicte, Iona Community Business Director
I was sitting at my desk in the morning of Friday 6th October 2017 when a phone call was put through to me, with our receptionist explaining that the lady at the other end of the phone had asked to speak to a senior member in the organisation. The lady introduced herself as a lawyer and proceeded to tell me about a defunct church which had made money from the sale of its building and which needed to give it away to a Christian charity – adding that the Iona Community was the preferred recipient!

Well, I did not believe a word of it at first.

There had been lots of media coverage about very sophisticated fraudsters approaching individuals and organisations with promises of great financial gains in exchange for ‘a small administrative fee’. I was therefore convinced it was a hoax, and kept waiting for the sentence ‘You only need to send us x thousands of pounds for the money to be yours’. It did not come. The lady sounded very genuine, quoting the Charity Commission (a slightly unusual tactic for a fraudster), and some legal process called ‘cy pres’ which meant nothing to me but sounded ‘official’. So I started to think ‘What if…?

My next question was ‘How did you find us?”. She explained that she and her fellow Trustees had been tasked by the Charity Commission to find a suitable recipient for the ARK money, i.e. a charity pursuing similar aims.

This was proving to be a real challenge. Very little was known about the objectives of the original Church apart from ‘furtherance of the Christian religion’ which could potentially apply to tens of thousands of charities.

The Ark of the Covenant Church had, however, also set up a lay Christian community in a remote part of Somerset in order to fulfil its mission. On a whim, with little else to go on, one of the Trustees typed into Google: ‘Building lay Christian Community in a remote area’. You can guess what had come up!

I enquired whether any of them had heard of the Iona Community prior to the search, and the answer was a resounding ‘No’.

I was by then getting more and more excited. This sounded too far-fetched a story for even the most sophisticated of fraudster. My next question was ‘Are you allowed to me how much money is involved?’ There had been several mentions of ‘a large sum of money’, but no information about the amount. ‘Between £850,000 and £900,000’ was her answer – to which my own, rather inane, reply was “Good Grief!”

She asked whether I thought we would have use for this money, and thankfully I had the good sense to say yes.

I went on to talk about the Community’s work on Iona and about the Appeal to refurbish the Abbey accommodation. She in turn became very excited, saying that it would be very fitting for the funds coming from the sale of a Christian building to help another continue to build Christian community. The call ended with promises of further information at both ends.

Could it really be?

We immediately started trying to find out more about the defunct church, and came across a Church Times article providing very useful background to the story of the ARK (available here). This confirmation that the story was genuine came as a great relief!

In November 2017, two of the ARK Trustees and the granddaughter of the second ARK leader came to Glasgow to hear about how Iona Community ‘builds lay community in a remote place’ and re-assure themselves that the ARK funds entrusted to them would be put to good use.

The Trustees agreed there and then that they wanted the money to go to the Iona Community. There was, however, a very lengthy formal process to go through before it could be finally approved. We were advised not to say anything publicly until the Charity Commission had confirmed the gift – very worthwhile advice given that one of the relatives of the deceased Leader lodged a formal objection with the Charity Commission. This created yet more delays – and a lot of worrying at our end!

Miraculous Results

After all the legal proceedings, all the issues raised discussed, the Charity Commission granted the Iona Community a total of £882,857.30p on the stipulation it is used for the rebuilding of the Abbey living spaces.

We have gotten to know the ARK people well through the trials and tribulations of the last year, and are so glad that they are as delighted and relieved as we are that the funds are at long last safely in our account.

‘The Ark trustees are delighted and relieved that the very long-running process of winding up the trust has been brought to such a satisfactory conclusion. We, and family members, are very heartened to know that the funds realised by the sale of the church in London will be put to such a positive and enduring purpose by the Iona Community. We greatly look forward to visiting you on Iona in 2020 to celebrate the completion of the building works.’

We are so grateful that a google search led to a phone call which resulted in being able to move Phase 2 of the building project up by a year.

We are now so close to our final target, there is still time to help and you can still support us by donating now.

Photo © David Coleman

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