Being an Iona Community Volunteer

by Stella Cranwell

stella march 2013
Landing on Iona I started to feel ‘at home’ almost immediately (lots of welcoming people, being shown round and introduced to the island) and somewhat daunted as I realised how serious the commitment I had made for the next 10 weeks of my life was (without volunteers the Island Centres couldn ‘t operate). It’s such a short time – but even looking back, so much happened that it still seems much longer.


Here is a short summary of the 10 weeks I spent as a volunteer :

  • Communal living – My fellow volunteers were a variety of ages, nationalities and backgrounds – an ever-changing random group who accepted each other with amazing generosity and kindness. I thought I would find living in this way very challenging – but the accommodation was comfortable, my 12 fellow volunteers found ways of living together peacefully and I discovered that I am more tolerant than I thought (provided people don’t make noise late at night!).
  • Work and Play – the 2 often interwove. There was time and space to experiment and play, even within ones work –it seemed an important part of being welcoming and hospitable to guests not to take yourself too seriously.
  • Hospitality – all are welcome here – this applies to volunteers as well as guests. Celebrations – any excuse for these! Birthdays, arrivals, leavings, anniversaries, National days. Always a cake , often cards. If you think you will lose weight while here, then that is very unlikely to happen. The food is much too good and plentiful.
  • Encouragement – to use any gifts you have – within the Communal life I led a couple of morning services, chaired quite a few meals, helped out with after service coffees – following my personal interests I led 6 weekly sessions of the Aramaic Lords Prayer and found a broken bicycle which the maintenance team repaired to provide a bike for all to share – named the ‘bike of Tranquillity’
  • Worship – many volunteers are Christian of course, but not all – and the option to attend the services is left to the individual. I chose to attend most services, although my background is of a wider spiritual journey.
  • Holding lightly – I found my time on Iona provided wonderful practice in learning to hold things ‘lightly’ – letting people, emotions, events, flow through me – to experience as fully as I could and then ‘let go’.
  • Weather – 10am – heavy rain, waterproofs on; 10.15am – hot and sunny – strip to t-shirt and shorts, put sunglasses on; 10.30am – suddenly cold wind – put jumper on; 10.45am – raining again but wind dropped – take jumper off, put waterproofs back on; 11am – sun’s out …. and so it goes. Island weather in all its majesty and unpredictableness. Wonderful wildness and chaos within the greater rhythm of the season, the tides and the moon.

The 10 weeks passed – as chaotic at times as the weather – but overall an intensely interesting, satisfying and enjoyable experience. And yes, I would do it again.


Past volunteers

Anatoli Trifonov – Bulgaria

Before my time on Iona, volunteering for me was an excellent and affordable way to travel and experience different lifestyle or cultures. During my stay with the Iona community I also realized that being a volunteer gives you a unique chance to build true connections with other people through common life, teamwork and sharing. Iona is a small island with an enormous cultural heritage that offers you an unforgettable experience and spiritual journey.

Emily Hedrick – USA

I was aware when I came to Iona as a volunteer that the majority of the Iona Community members do not live on the island itself. However, as I lived and worked there it came to my attention that there IS an Iona Community that lives on the island: the resident staff and volunteers that run the centres there. Iona attracts an assortment of people of all ages from around the world who willingly spend their time in the kitchen, doing laundry, painting fences, lighting candles, unloading boxes, and any other odds and ends that need to be done.

It was through working with these people, interacting with them, and sharing stories, that I experienced community – one of the most powerful expressions of combining sacred and secular. It was through living this simple life of worship through work that I was able to experience God in a fresh and inspiring way.

Lorna Bowry – Scotland

Being a volunteer gave me the opportunity to experience something completely different to anything I had been involved in before. After leaving school and the security that gives you, it gave me the chance to meet people from around the world of different ages, cultures and life experiences. It allowed me to feel free to be who I wanted to be, and gave me the worship based life I was looking for. Living and working with so many people has its ups and its downs and is a way of life not to miss out on! I’m glad I jumped at the opportunity when I could and am even more glad that I have come out the other end with new skills, lots of tea in my system, a God I can relate to, work experience and, more than anything, great friendships around the world.

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