VOLUNTEER WITH US
Volunteering with the Iona Community is a wonderful opportunity to build meaningful community on remote Scottish islands and to share in the common life of work and worship.
Volunteer at Iona Abbey Centre in 2024!
Thank you for your interest in volunteering at Iona Abbey Centre where we build community with each other and with our guests.
Volunteers are a vital part of our shared common life on Iona. They come from all over the world and from all walks of life. They span all adult age groups and many faith traditions. They are enthusiastic and passionate, and they contribute hugely to our common tasks: offering practical hospitality, modelling inclusive and creative worship, building community, and supporting our work for peace and social justice and the care of creation. Most volunteers are here for between 6 and 12 weeks, so there are many welcomes and farewells throughout the season throughout the season, which runs from early March to early December.
Volunteering on Iona could be one of the most enriching experiences that you have in life – this is certainly what many of our past volunteers tell us. It is also a demanding and intense experience and is not for everyone. We therefore encourage you to think carefully before applying as to whether it is the right fit for you. In this spirit of discernment, we offer essential reading below on our common life on Iona, together with an outline of some of the joys and challenges of living and working here as a volunteer. Please do read through each section before proceeding with an application, if you decide to apply.
The Iona Abbey Centre
The Abbey Centre is a place of hospitality, spiritual renewal and learning, for guests of all ages, backgrounds and cultures, where they can be inspired to commit to action for justice and peace within their communities and throughout the world. Doing this in community with the staff and volunteer team is a vital part of their time with us on Iona.
The Abbey Centre provides:
- Residential accommodation for up to 44 paying guests, with recently upgraded bedrooms and communal spaces offering a comfortable and relaxing 6-night stay.
- A pattern of daily public worship, prayer and reflection, in the historic Abbey Church, planned and facilitated by the Centre’s staff and volunteers, alongside guests.
- Workshops and sessions around themes of justice, peace and the environment, drawing on the creative skills and talents of staff, members, associates and local people – alongside sessions on the purpose and work of the Iona Community
(for more information, take a look at our 2024 programme)
Our Abbey Centre Community comprises a resident team of 16 staff and up to 20 volunteers at any one time. We are mutually accountable to each other, and share a common life of work and worship, both of which are valued in equal measure.
Volunteer experiences from Iona Abbey
Read Steve’s inspiring story about his first time volunteering at Iona Abbey. He’s been back since.
Listen to Klara’s departing reflections from her time volunteering at Iona Abbey Centre. Klara has also volunteered at Camas:
The Common Life
If you come to volunteer at Iona Abbey Centre, you will be joining a busy, constantly changing, inclusive community of volunteers, resident staff and guests as we work and worship together, and share in the joys and challenges of the Iona Community’s common life.
By living in community, you will have opportunities for deep sharing and learning about yourself, human nature, your relationships with others and with God. It is an opportunity to form friendships, some of which may well be for life. You will have time and space to explore your own spiritual journey and grow in faith. Worshipping together twice a day (9am and 9pm) plays a vital part in our daily rhythm, and everyone is encouraged to participate, including in leading worship (for which support and guidance are offered). You will experience human encounters of a depth and variety that could prove profoundly enriching, and even life-changing.
You will also develop your skills, e.g.,from customer service in the shop, baking scones in the kitchen, folding laundry in housekeeping, DIY in maintenance and much more!
The experience of working and living in community on Iona is made even richer because the island is so small and has few of the amenities and distractions that we find elsewhere. On Iona, people get to know and rely on each other a lot more quickly and deeply than in other settings.
Volunteering with us is an enriching and also intense experience, requiring physical and mental resilience. It can be a very challenging way of life.
You will be with other people nearly all the time, be they colleagues or guests. You are likely to have to share a bedroom with one other person, and a household with other members of the team. You will get on very well with some, and not so well with others. You will also nearly always be sharing meals with other people. If you are someone who needs a lot of personal space or peace and quiet or has specific health needs, then volunteering at the Iona Abbey Centre is unlikely to be the fit for you.
Assisting in the tasks can be very full on, physically, mentally and relationally. While you will more often be allocated to a team, typically housekeeping, kitchen, maintenance, sacristan, administration or in the shop (see our Team Profile document for more information on each of the teams), our volunteers are expected to be flexible and willing to help out with any of the essential daily tasks.
You will be required to be a full-time volunteer. Weekly duties span over our 7 days a week operation and may involve split shifts and early starts. We arrange a regular rhythm of work with each volunteer, which is reviewed during the regular support sessions held with the volunteer co-ordinator. The rhythm of the week includse 2 full rest days a week.
So why do it?
Kathy Galloway, a former Leader of the Iona Community with extensive experience of living and working on Iona, had this to write on the subject of living in community:
Life in community is hard. It is counter-cultural, and takes away a degree of personal autonomy which most of us are used to. It limits our areas of personal freedom and individual choice. Furthermore, all our little foibles and quirks, which are sometimes easier to hide elsewhere, are magnified in community. Anyone who goes to live in community thinking they can get away from themselves is in for a big shock. It’s the place where you come face to face with yourself, not just as you see yourself, but as others see you. All of this is emotionally and spiritually demanding. In such a context, we cannot live without forgiveness and kindness, and mutual support. Perhaps it is also a way of relieving us of our illusions of self-sufficiency and making us more aware of our need of God.
Why do it? Well, apart from the more obvious attractions of Iona (a fantastically beautiful physical environment, no commuting, no queuing in shops), community does, in my experience, offer deepened joys along with the deepened difficulties; shared celebration, support, intimacy and conviviality. It is also still, I believe, an alternative model to the individualistic one which is crippling the world. It offers spiritual stretching and growth in place of destructive material and economic growth, and helps us to practice voluntary self-limitation, without which the planet will die.
Living on the island of Iona
Iona is undoubtedly a beautiful place: an island which, in spite of its small size, offers an extraordinary range of landscapes – including some lovely sandy beaches suitable for swimming (beware, though, the water is very cold). There is a huge variety of wild flowers, bird life and sea animals to enjoy. The quality of the light can be extraordinary, no matter the weather, and it has drawn numerous artists to Iona over the centuries.
The island can be very crowded in season, but it is not difficult to leave the crowds behind and find yourself alone in settings so beautiful that it makes your heart sing. And of course the sea is ever present, bringing its own rhythm to life.
Iona is also an iconic place in the development of Christianity in the Western world, and the whole island is steeped in history. It attracts every year thousands of visitors and pilgrims from all over the world, and many comment that Iona has a unique feel that they have not experienced elsewhere.
At the same time, Iona is a very challenging place. It is remote: the nearest town is three hours and two ferry rides away. Once the last ferry of the day has left (6.30pm), there is no way of leaving the island before the next morning except by private boat or emergency helicopter. In effect, there is no ‘escape’ – which some people find difficult. As for the local amenities, outside the few specialist shops serving the tourist trade, there is only one small food shop and two hotels with bars, and a bar/restaurant. And the weather? Often wet and windy, it can make daily life difficult – not least because it can prevent the Iona ferry from operating, and when this happens, Iona is cut off from the rest of the world…
It is also important to know that there is no permanent medical presence and no pharmacy on Iona; and no mental health support services on either Iona or Mull. This is why having good physical and mental good health is so important to everyone who volunteers on Iona.
Is volunteering on Iona for you?
It is easy to have a rather romantic idea of what it is like to live in community on the iconic and beautiful island of Iona.
The reality is that volunteering for the Iona Community on Iona can be hugely rewarding if you are very resilient, are willing and able to assist in practical hospitality for several hours a day, and are ready to embrace the experience wholeheartedly. Many of our past volunteers say that their lives have been greatly enriched, and at times transformed, by their experience.
Equally, the significant challenges of living and working on Iona can mean this is not the right place for you. Some volunteers have had to leave earlier than planned because they found it too difficult. Others comment as they leave that they had not realised until they arrived how physically demanding it is to help provide practical hospitality day in day out, and how challenging it can be to live in close community on a remote island.
This is why we are asking you to think very carefully before you decide whether to apply. We wish you all the best in your discernment process.
Some practical information which you may find helpful in your discernment process:
- Travel expenses are paid against receipts from whatever point you set off from the UK mainland all the way to Iona. We ask that you travel in as an environmentally-friendly way as you can.
- You will be provided with free board and lodging (inclusive of all facilities such as electricity, heating and broadband). We recommend that you ensure that you have sufficient funds to support any other expenses you may incur.
- You will live in Iona Community premises on the island, sometimes in shared bedrooms or dorms.
- There are strict NO SMOKING, NO ALCOHOL and NO DRUGS policies in all Iona Community premises and in the Abbey Centre.
If you do decide to apply:
- Please note that you must be 18 by the time you join our community on Iona.
- We require a commitment of a minimum of 6 weeks, and preferably several months. Preference will generally be given to applicants who can stay for at least three months.
- Your application will be acknowledged on receipt, and considered along the many other applications we receive every month.
- If you do not hear from us within six weeks of sending your application form, it means your application has not been taken forward.
- If your application is selected for the next step, a zoom interview will be arranged, and a decision will be made as to whether we make a provisional offer to you. This offer will only be confirmed after satisfactory references from at least two sources.
- References will be followed up as soon as a provisional offer is made, and the final decision communicated as soon as the references have been received and checked.
If you live outside the UK and are offered a volunteer position:
- Following the UK leaving the European Union, if you do not have UK or ROI citizenship, in most cases, it will be necessary for you to apply for a work visa under the ‘Temporary Work – Charity Worker visa’ category.
- The Iona Community is an authorised ‘A-level’ sponsor and can therefore attain a set number of Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS) under Tier 5 of the Points Based System (PBS).
- If we offer you a volunteer role and you accept it, we will request a sponsorship number from the Home Office on your behalf. This number will give you access to a lengthy online application form in English. On submission of the completed application, you will have to pay with your own funds the visa application fees (typically around £250/£300 at the time of writing).
- If a visa is granted, you will also need to fund your travel to the UK (N.B. once in the UK, your travel expenses to reach Iona will be covered by the Iona Community).
- Please note that there is no guarantee that a visa will be granted once you apply (and have paid the money), and that the Home Office does not refund the application fee if the application is turned down.
Meet the teams!
You will find below a brief description of the teams that you might be asked to assist in. You might end up spending most of your time helping out in a particular team, but please note that all our volunteers are expected to be team players with a flexible approach to work, willing to help out where most needed at the time.
Other key requirements for volunteers are:
- That they support the Iona Community’s aims and purposes (for more information, see https://iona.org.uk/aout/our-vision-and values/, along with the information on page 8 of the introduction document).
- That they are prepared to share in the ministry of hospitality and the common life of the Abbey Centre. When not on days off, this includes attending at least one worship a day, sharing meals with guests, taking turn in being Meal Chair, and assisting with guests’ pilgrimages.
- Good physical strength and stamina. Many of the tasks that our volunteers help with are physically demanding. They often require standing for long periods of time and/or carrying heavy loads.
- Strong resilience – living on a small island off an island with a constant flow of changing guests and visitors can be very demanding mentally and spiritually.
Each team has a ‘Head’ (and sometimes a Deputy). They provide ‘on the job’ induction and training, and have regular check-ins with team members. Their responsibilities also include a significant amount of work ‘behind the scenes’, such as attending meetings, doing paperwork, working out rotas, monitoring stocks and putting through orders.
The Abbey Kitchen Team consists of six people: the Abbey Cook, the Deputy Cook supported by four volunteers. Working in shifts, they prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner for everyone eating in the Abbey refectory (up to 80 people), together with snacks for tea breaks (e.g. scones, rock cakes or flapjacks).
The Abbey food is prepared freshly on the premises, and is mostly vegetarian (bar Sunday lunch which includes a meat option). The emphasis is on wholesome nourishing food and on ethical food policies. Sourcing food ethically (within the limitations of a remote Scottish island) and avoiding waste are key priorities.
Breakfast is a choice of porridge or cereals, together with toast with a range of spreads. Lunch (with the exception of Sunday) consists of soup and bread, together with fillings. Dinner consists of one vegetarian dish and one pudding. The Abbey Kitchen puts a lot of efforts into catering for staff and guests with special diets and allergies (e.g. dairy free, gluten free, vegan), and will provide alternatives when necessary.
The focus is on preparing a wide range of dishes (both savoury and sweet), breadmaking (the Abbey bread is renowned!) and baking, all within tight budget constraints. Every member of the Kitchen team takes part in the cooking and baking, chopping vegetables, washing up, cleaning, and receiving and putting away food deliveries.
Kitchen volunteers are not required to be professionally trained cooks, and appropriate training will be provided. However, experience of cooking in a domestic context and a keen interest in food are highly desirable.
Strong physical health is essential, including the ability to stand for long periods of time and carry loads of up to 15 Kilos.
Early starts to the day are the norm. Usually 7am.
The Sacristy team plays a critical role in ensuring the Abbey Church and other worship spaces are kept clean and in good order, and are prepared for worship in line with the various needs of the wide-ranging style of services held by the Iona Community. Another important part is welcoming visitors attending worship or special events (e.g. weddings, concerts).
Main tasks typically include helping to set up for services and clearing up afterwards, regularly re-filling the candles with paraffin oil, keeping the votive candles stocked up in the Abbey Church and St Oran’s Chapel, emptying donation boxes, assisting with counting the money from these donation boxes and from church collections, and engaging with worshippers visiting the Abbey.
Assisting the Sacristy Team involves split shifts, in the morning and late afternoon/evening, in line with the times of daily worship in the Abbey Church – 9am and 9pm.
A good degree of fitness is required, as the tasks involve manual handling activities and the moving of furniture and other objects, together with standing on a two-step ladder when filling candles. There is also a fair amount of walking involved between the Abbey, Oran Chapel, and the separate paraffin storage space.
The Housekeeping Team consists of the Housekeeper, Deputy Housekeeper supported by four volunteers. Together, the team is responsible for all housekeeping in the Abbey accommodation (e.g. bedrooms, showers and toilets, refectory and common areas) as well as cleaning the public toilets and the offices in the Welcome Centre.
Main tasks typically include laying tables and washing up after meals; regular cleaning of showers, toilets and common areas; changing beds and cleaning bedrooms on change-over days; and laundry. There is also a regime of regular sanitising and cleaning in place.
Housekeeping being physically demanding, excellent physical health is required, together with the ability to carry loads of up to 15 kilos.
Good people’s skills are also important. Members of the Housekeeping team are frequently found in the refectory, which acts as a central hub for guests. They will therefore often be the ones approached when Abbey guests have a question, need assistance, or fancy a chat.
The Programme Team is responsible for the planning and delivery of creative programme events and activities for Abbey guests and visitors of all ages and backgrounds. The focus is on imaginative and inspiring ways in which staff and guests can best experience being part of community and live out the values and vision of the Iona Community. Some of these activities involve children.
The Programme Manager and Deputy Manager are supported in this by volunteers whose tasks includes assisting with welcoming the guests when they arrive on Iona; making practical arrangements prior to programme sessions, such as setting rooms and IT equipment; helping with mid-session refreshments and clearing up; assisting with pilgrimage activities; and helping with the planning and delivery of programme sessions.
The Maintenance Team looks after the interiors of the Abbey premises (where the guests are accommodated) and the Abbey Herb garden, together with Iona Community’s various properties and gardens on Iona. The team is responsible for driving the Community van in support of day-to-day operations (e.g. transporting guests’ luggage). The team also carries out most Health & Safety checks such as fire alarm, and assists other departments with heavy duty works (e.g. putting bins out or receiving deliveries).
Main tasks of any volunteer helping the Maintenance Team typically involve a wide range of minor repairs of various kinds (both indoors and outdoors), painting and decorating, grass cutting and gardening, driving the van, and compliance checks.
Abbey Music Team
The Abbey Music Team is responsible for supporting the services in the Abbey Church with carefully selected hymns and pieces chosen out of a wide repertoire of church and other music resources. It also supports guests’ programme sessions and other events at which music is required. A particular focus is on using and teaching Iona Community’s own worship material, including that of the Wild Goose Resource Group.
Musician volunteers helps in the following ways: playing the piano in the Abbey Church for some of the services, and in others performing alongside the resident musician on an instrument other than piano; assisting in sourcing and choosing hymns and music for services; helping to organise guest and staff involvement, and supporting rehearsals to enable guests and staff to use their instrumental skills in worship; helping with occasional ‘open mic’ sessions (informal concerts) for guests; and helping to lead the ‘Wee Sing’ sessions in the Guests’ Programme (where guests are introduced to some of the week’s songs, including Iona Community material).
Assisting with music involves split shifts around the 9am (with the exception of the 10.30am Sunday communion service) and 9pm worship.
The Iona Community material is often taught by rote, so volunteers assisting the music team would need the confidence and ability to do this. Flexibility, punctuality, reliability and attention to detail are important, along with a creative and inclusive approach to music and worship.
Music is provided from the compact music loft in the Abbey Church, so nimbleness and an ability to share small spaces will be an asset.
The Admin team is based in the Welcome Centre – a separate building opposite the Abbey.
The Community’s Administrator welcomes help in the following areas: helping to answer the phone; dealing with queries from visitors to the island; sorting the post and other deliveries; dealing with general email and booking enquiries; providing support with photocopying, printing, scanning or typing; formatting documents; updating spreadsheets; and writing minutes.
Volunteers assisting in the administrative tasks would be expected to have good computer literacy, good written and spoken English, and good people’s skills.
Iona Community Shop Team
The team is responsible for the busy Iona Community’s shop, which welcomes tens of thousands of visitors every year. The shop opens seven days a week in season, and has a turnover of over £250,000. The team is led by a Shop Manager and an Assistant Shop Manager, supported by up to 4 volunteers
The shop sells a wide range of products – books, CDs, Celtic jewellery, clothes, gifts, cards and much more. A key priority is to stock items and resources produced by the Iona Community, together with items supplied by fair trade organisations and local craft workers. The shop also has a hot-drinks vending machine.
Helping in the shop typically involves receiving and unpacking deliveries, stocking shelves, serving customers and operating the till and credit card machine, cashing up at day end, setting up stock displays, assisting with special events (e.g. author reading), together with general cleaning duties. It is a physically demanding role, which requires standing for long periods, bending, lifting and moving heavy boxes.
Please only proceed with filling in the application form if you have read all the information and team roles listed in the links above.
Applications are considered on an ongoing basis but most of the volunteer positions for 2024 will be in progress by the end of 2023. We strongly recommend applying before the 17th November for a better chance of being offered a place.
If you have any query about completing this form, contact the Operations Manager by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call +44 1681 700 404
If you volunteered on Iona in 2022 or 2023 and would like to return in 2024 you do not need to complete the form again. Contact the email@example.com and give information about how long you would like to volunteer for, when you would be available, and your preferred team.
Apply here: 2024-Iona-Volunteer-Application-form
Find out more about the Iona Community
The Iona Community is
- an ecumenical Christian community of people from different walks of life and different traditions in the Church;
- committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and to following where that leads, even into the unknown;
- engaged together, and with people of goodwill across the world, in acting, reflecting and praying for justice, peace and the integrity of creation;
- convinced that the inclusive community we seek must be embodied in the community we practice.
We share a common discipline of:
- Daily prayer, and regular engagement with the Bible and other material which nourishes us
- Working for justice and peace, wholeness and reconciliation in our localities, society and the whole creation
- Supporting one another in prayer and by meeting, communicating, and accounting with one another for the use of our gifts, money and time, our use of the earth’s resources and our keeping of all aspects of the Rule.
- Sharing in the corporate life and organisation of the Community
The Iona Community was founded in Govan and Iona in 1938 by George MacLeod, minister, visionary and prophetic witness for peace, in the context of the poverty and despair of the Depression. The original task of rebuilding the monastic ruins of Iona Abbey was to serve as a sign of hopeful rebuilding of community in Scotland and beyond.
Today, we are about 280 Members, mostly in Britain, with 1,450 Associate Members and 1250 Friends worldwide. The Iona Community welcomes people from all walks of life at its centres on the islands of Iona and Mull. It trades through Wild Goose Publications and the Iona Community Shop on Iona, and resources a wide range of church and community organizations through its Wild Goose Resource Group. The Iona Prayer Circle is a worldwide network which prays for people and places in distress. Coracle is the magazine of the Iona Community, which seeks the exchange of thoughts and ideas as a basis for finding common ground.
Through participating in Family Groups, Regional Groups and Common Concern Networks, Members, Associate Members, Friends and our Young Adults Group share concerns, faith and tasks: a common life together.
The Iona Community’s work on Iona
The Iona Community’s Abbey Centre on Iona exists today both as a resource and a challenge, not only to ourselves and to all who visit, but also to the wider Church and indeed to people of all faiths and of none.
The agreed priorities of the Abbey Centre over the next 2 years are to:
- Offer all who come to the Abbey Centre a clear experience of the concerns of the Iona Community as reflected in our Rule, our Working Principles and our Charter.
- Develop a model of radical hospitality in the intentional common life of the Community, including those who come to live and work in the Abbey Centre, offering:
- a warm welcome
- deep encounter and challenge
- an enriching rhythm of work and worship / prayer and action
- Increasingly prioritise as guests in our centres, those living with social, physical, mental and economic disadvantage, alongside a wider diversity of guests and visitors, building sustainable relationships before, during and after their stay.
- Facilitate a model of worship, prayer and reflection as part of everyday life, enabling members, guests and visitors to make more meaningful their Island Centre experiences and their lives.
- Offer innovative programmes, which challenge participants to work for peace, social justice and the integrity of creation, and explore the development of an Iona Community Learning and Equipping Framework, along with the local Island and wider community.
- Maximise the extraordinary dedication, skills and expertise of our staff and volunteers, through ensuring optimal staffing levels, clear roles and responsibilities, robust supervision and support, and opportunities for training and innovation.
(Taken from the 3-year strategic plan for the Iona Abbey Centre)
We hope this means that those who come to our Iona Abbey Centre will experience it as:
- A safe place, in which to explore the meaning of Christian life together, both within the life of the mainstream churches and also within the many new ways of being church, and how to live a committed Christian life in a multicultural and multi-faith world;
- A place of openness, where people at different stages on their personal journeys can share and learn from each other what God is saying to and through them, and through the story of the Iona Community and the world-wide church;
- An empowering place, from which people may go forward on their pilgrimage strengthened and emboldened to make a difference in the world in which they live.
Coming Soon – Volunteer at Camas Centre in 2024!
Come and volunteer with the Iona Community at Camas in 2024.
We will soon be opening recruitment for short term volunteers who can commit a few weeks (4 to 8) to come and live and work with the resident staff team to offer radical hospitality to our guests.
The Camas volunteer role is incredibly varied and rewarding.